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Author: Carolyn Ellis

Surviving Residual Risk

Those that know me know that I am not one for holding back in life. For some that means that I seem to take a lot of risks in the outdoor pursuits that I enjoy. Cycle to work in Wellington? You must be mad! Go ice-climbing on Mount Ruapehu? Aren’t you scared of falling?!

Yes, there are loads of risks riding your bike to work in Wellington, New Zealand. Given that Wellington is not a cycle-friendly city (understatement) the risks are too numerous to mention. But the key ones I’m aware of have action plans in place to, at the very least, minimise them. Hence the bright clothing, the front and rear lights, not listening to music when I ride, not trusting motor vehicle drivers, pedestrians and animals and, always, keeping my hands close to the brakes. Does this mean I come out of cycle commuting unscathed? Unfortunately not. There’s this thing called residual risk. That’s the risk that is left over once you’ve put all your actions into place. For me that means that, over the past three years, I’ve had a couple of moderate spills. A review of those incidents has changed my action plans. That doesn’t mean I won’t come off my bike again but it makes that ride a little safer than it was before. (Gosh, I hope that this article doesn’t get quoted at my funeral!!!)

And, yes, there is a risk of falling or other negative outcomes when climbing ice waterfalls. Again, put in place some action plans and you’re left with the residual risk. Those plans include checking the avalanche risk in the area, checking the weather, ensuring you have three solid connections to the ice at any one time (that might mean two ice axes into the ice plus the crampons on one foot or crampons on both feet plus one ice axe), having bullet-proof anchors as well as having a more than competent belayer that you trust. With those plans in place the likelihood of an incident are greatly reduced but, of course, never completely removed. Again, there is residual risk involved. Equipment failure could happen. That chunk of ice you’re nicely attached too could fail.

The thing with residual risk is that you then have to review that remaining risk and make a go / no-go decision. Much like we would with a project. We ask ourselves, with that remaining risk, is it wise to proceed or should we stop? That’s the trickiest part and can be the hardest one to get agreement on. That’s when we, as business analysts, need to make sure the residual risk is recognised and the right decision is made. Firstly look at the overall risk factors and the action plans: If I don’t have those three points of contact on the ice, or my bike lights are not working or the reputation of the organisation we are working for is likely to be negatively impacted due to proceeding with the project then we need to have the courage to put the brakes on and stop. If, on the other hand, those three points of contact are solid, the batteries in my lights are fresh or the appropriate mitigations of project risks have been successfully applied, then let’s consider the residual risk. Analyse the likelihood and severity should that residual risk be realised and get agreement on whether to take a leap and go for it or be courageous and call a halt to proceeding.

What have your experiences been (work-wise or personally) where residual risk has been a factor in success or otherwise?

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