How to Avoid a Risk: Prudence

Prudence used to be one of the four cardinal virtues in the Greek world – along with justice, temperance, and courage.  Now prudence is a seldom-used word.  But it means to act with discretion and be practical in one’s affairs.  Such behavior is still a virtue.

For project managers prudence means paying attention to the environment around them – situational awareness.  We pay attention to exits, handrails, and caution signs. In project risk management classes we teach that it is the job of the manager to walk around the job site with an eye to identifying the risks that might be present.

One of the features of Houston, near where I live, is the presence of flood gauges on the highway underpasses.  When I first moved here I noticed them and thought, “Hmm, that is unusual.”  It caused me to spend a little time looking into the question of how often the highways flood in this area.  I had never lived in a flood-prone area before. But there is always a reason for a flood gauge.

So I have included the picture in this post (a flood gauge on an underpass near the University of Houston) in my Risk Management slides and used it in discussions of the impact of a risk upon an environment where it is known and expected (like floods in Houston) versus where it would be completely unexpected (like Palm Springs, CA).

Risk management is about considering risks before they happen, in fact, once they happen we don’t consider them a risk (they become “problems” when they happen).  It is prudent to look at the gauges and warning signs we pass on the highway.