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Topic: March 2012
Date: Tuesday - March 20, 2012
Topic: Human-Centered Risk Management
Speaker: Rick Brenner


Human-Centered Risk Management

Effective risk management is a critical success factor for most projects. Although most of us can do a pretty good job assessing market risks and technological risks, risks related to human behavior — and misbehavior — tend to resist many of our best efforts.

This program provides executives, managers, project sponsors, project managers, and risk managers a framework for assessing and monitoring risks that relate to human behavior — including the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations, and people in the larger context outside the organization.

Most risk managers are accustomed to dealing with factors associated with old and new technologies, markets, and “acts of God.” Human-centered risk is different from these risks, because objective assessment and evaluation requires acknowledging personal and organizational limitations and past failures.

Since some of those limitations and failures might apply to the risk managers themselves, or to their superiors, there is a tendency to deny their existence, to underestimate their effects, or to invent alternative explanations for past performance disappointments.

Our approach relies on two sets of tools. The first is a framework of categories related to capability, organization, external context, risk management, and workplace politics. The second is a set of principles for guiding the assessment and management of human-centered risk.

Using a framework encourages risk managers and their superiors to accept a more objective assessment of the realities of human-centered risk.

Finally, because no methodology is universal, we show how to extend these tools to suit the needs of any specific situation.

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About the Speaker

Photo - Rick Brenner

Rick Brenner

Rick Brenner is principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting. He works with people in dynamic problem-solving organizations that are making products so novel or complex that they need state-of-the-art teamwork and stronger relationships among their people. In his 25 years as a software developer, project manager, software development manager, entrepreneur, consultant, and coach, he has de-veloped valuable insights into the interactions between people in complex dy-namic environments, and between people and the media in which they work.

As a coach, he works with managers at all levels, emphasizing development of in-terpersonal skills, especially in fluid, high-stress contexts, such as organizations that are moving from a strict operational orientation to one in which ongoing op-erations must compete for resources with special enterprise-scale projects. Such a mixed environment creates organizational stresses that leaders must under-stand, not only because of the change-related issues that arise, but also because of the challenges to managers that they create, even when equilibrium is at-tained.

Over a period of seven years, he attended or assisted in numerous workshops under Jerry Weinberg, Dani Weinberg, and Jean McLendon. It was during this pe-riod that he acquired his skills in designing and facilitating experiential education. He was a founding member of the AYE Conference.

Mr. Brenner has held positions at Symbolics, Inc., and at Draper Laboratory, both of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Symbolics, he was responsible for development of products based on Macsyma, a computer algebra system. At Draper, he was a principal investigator in a DARPA program, the Evolutionary Design of Complex Software, where he conducted research into advanced concepts for software de-velopment environments based on dynamic object-oriented programming lan-guages. Since 1993, he has taught Spreadsheet Models for Managers, a course he devised, at the Harvard University Extension School.

He serves as the facilitator and group administrator for a discussion group he created at Office Politics, Workplace Politics, and Organizational Politics. Discussions there are energetic and enlightening. The group now has over 750 members.

Mr. Brenner holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT. He is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the Boston Software Proc-ess Improvement Network, and the Agile New England Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has served in various leadership roles ranging from board member to vice president to chair (president) in local chapters of these so-cieties. He was selected Chapter Member of the Year for NSA New England in 2001 and 2007.

His current interests focus on improving personal and organizational effectiveness in abnormal situations, such as dramatic change, enterprise emergencies, and high-pressure project environments. He has written a number of essays on these subjects, available at his Web site,, and writes and publishes a weekly email newsletter, Point Lookout, which now has just over 3,000 subscribers.


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