The Ghost Rider of the Magnificent Seven

Home The Savvy PM Blog The Ghost Rider of the Magnificent Seven


Ah, the unseen rider – the ghost rider – no visible action, but evidence of its presence if one thinks to look closely…

If you have been following along, you’ll recall my analogy of the seven strategies of risk response to The Magnificent Seven – the heroes of the 1960 western film.  In this concluding segment of the topic stream, I look back at the first six:

  1. Risk Avoidance,
  2. Risk Mitigation,
  3. Risk Transference,
  4. Risk Sharing,
  5. Risk Enhancement, and
  6. Risk Exploitation.

As you prepare for the PMP® Exam, you should study to understand these six explicit, defined approaches to responding to project threats and project opportunities.  The actions to invoke these strategies are direct and apparent.  You should also know the seventh strategy, applicable to both threats and opportunities, though it is not as apparent or direct.  In the absence of the other six, this response to risk is present.  This default risk response strategy is Risk Acceptance.

In our projects, the demand for one of the first six response strategies is driven by the tolerance level for risk in the organization or of the project key stakeholders.  The more the risk tolerance is classed as “risk averse,” then the more drive exists to actively employ one of these six responses.  In the case of the environment being more risk tolerant, risk events with low probabilities of occurring and/or low impacts if they do occur may simply be accepted.  You’ve probably heard phrases like “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”, or “we can take that in stride.”  A threat may not pose an impact so great that it exceeds the organization’s ability to cope with it in the normal day-to-day operation.  An opportunity may not be so attractive that it is worthy of the investment to exploit, enhance, or share it.

Risk Acceptance may be a conscious decision, or it may be a posture assumed as the default response if no other response strategy is actively targeted.  In fact, accepting a risk event may be a very passive event – no action or thought visible or present.

Alternatively to passive acceptance, an active method of risk acceptance may be considered.  Though no active steps are undertaken, conscious thought occurs as to what would be the course of action if the risk event were to come to fruition.  A contingency plan, in other words, is thought out in advance.

For example, suppose a team member named Joe informs you, the project manager, that there is a chance that he will be moving to another company.  Uncertainty – risk – a threat – now exists!  What responses might be taken in view of this newly identified risk event?

  • Mitigation: Assign Sally, a new team member, to shadow Joe to understand his project responsibilities.  If Joe decides to leave, the impact of his departure will be reduced because Sally will be up to speed with Joe’s team role.
  • Avoidance: Offer Joe an incentive to stay on the team (a retention bonus) until the project is complete.  The threat is eliminated!
  • Passive Acceptance: Decide on no other response, or actually forget about it and not make any decisions at all!  If and when Joe leaves the team, deal with it at the time.  Some workaround would need to be designed.  (Workarounds are designed after the event occurs.)
  • Active Acceptance: Decide to do nothing now.  However, think of a contingency plan – what will occur if Joe leaves the team.  Maybe plan to ask Sally to assume Joe’s responsibilities at that time, but with no mitigation of Sally’s learning Joe’s role in advance.  A contingency plan is differentiated from a workaround in that workarounds are not planned in advance – or else they would be contingency plans!

To summarize this series of discussions about project risk response strategies, think about the Magnificent Seven.  When facing uncertain events during your project planning, decide which of the seven heroes you should call upon for the most appropriate posture in handling uncertainty.

Huuummmm….    What should I write about in my upcoming blogs?  Today, I am uncertain.  To quote Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”