Risk Management: Synaptic

Introduction

A risk is an inherent problem that companies face. Furthermore, the problem can be amplified or reduced with different mechanisms. Risks can either be attributed to the external environment or to the internal environment or even worse to both. Synaptic, a biotechnology company, faces a risk that emanates from the internal operations of the company as demonstrated by Makarov. By virtue of a going concern, the company needs to institute measures that will tame and bring the risks to controllable levels. To do this, the paper will identify the risks and provide recommendations of how the risks can be eliminated or controlled. This paper will categorize the risks into scope risk, schedule risk, and resource risk as explained by Kendrick (2003). 

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Risk Identification

Scope Risk 

According to Kendrick (2003), scope risk is mostly related to changes and defects in the deliverables of a project. As such, for Synaptic, this paper identifies deliverable risk and documentation risk.

Deliverable and documentation risk is realized by changes that mutate with the project’s advancement. To Synaptic, this risk is imminent due to the kind of work that the Computational Biology Department is handling. The environment in the department is characterized by free flow since it is about coming up with new discoveries. As the department gets deeper into their work, their requirements and final deliverables change. As such, the schedule and delivery date might not be fixed. Documentation of computational projects, as evaluated in PMBOK Guide (p.170), in the department has been identified as critical and it might be consequential in this case.  As such, the department should actively engage in documentation as soon as changes reveal themselves. 

Outsourcing Risk 

The use of Fast Inc. by Synaptic is exposes the company to significant risks especially when it comes to Intellectual Properties (IP). According to Khan, Niazi, and Ahmad (2011), outsourcing, especially in high tech companies exposes to major party to risks such as industrial espionage and cultural incompatibility of the two parties. 

Schedule Risk 

The development of drugs in Synaptic is based on proteins and peptides. To achieve this, the company requires the input of two departments (Computational Biology and Information Management) who do not have trust amongst themselves. Their cultures are also different, a concept that was not taken into consideration when planning the project. As such, the schedule risks that waylay this company include decision risk, information risk, interface coordination risk, and activity duration risk. 

Delays are likely to be a function of both the decision risk and information risk. Kendrik asserts that delay risk accounts for more than 50% of schedule risks and almost a sixth of all risks. These statistics underline the importance of delay risks. Making decisions at the right time is the lifeline in avoiding delay risks. With information being necessary between the two concerned departments, there should be a means through which such information is requested if it is not available. Tasks, especially secondary tasks, are severely affected by information risk and this has a consequence on the project. If there is new information with the current arrangement, it is almost certain that very few people will be in a position to get such information on time. This makes team members operate with no or with obsolete information, which has a direct impact on the project quality as well as its schedule. 

Interface coordination risk has a dimension on dependency risk. More specifically, this is because a project is characterized by many interrelated parts with numerous connections. Interface coordination risks have an impact on the project timelines and budgets. The difference in cultures between the two departments amplifies the risk since there is no synchrony. 

Projects are time sensitive. In Synaptic, activity duration risk is evident, especially when the difference in culture is put into perspective. Biases in activity duration estimations are likely to contribute to the problem. The Information Management Department can provide estimates about a given task, which might further require collaboration with the Computational Biology department. Given the current relationship between the two departments, it is almost certain that coordination will be delayed. Given the fact that some members of staff are hosting their work in private servers, issues get complicated when other project members cannot access such servers. Further, extending time estimates would definitely have an adverse bearing to the project budget. It is, therefore, paramount that the two departments work together. 

Resource Risk 

Kendrick (2003) confirms that with resources, the best approach to use is opportunity management, instead of risk management. With opportunity management, the emphasis is on what better output can be generated from the same resource. Such opportunities include communications, training, technological, and project decomposition opportunities. 

Synaptic is inhibited by poor communication strategies, which are calling for a complete overhaul. One contributing factor to this mismatch between the two departments is culture and different work ethics. Training, technological, and project decomposition opportunities reflect on the scope changes. It is evident that the personnel in both departments have a missing link despite being qualified. This missing link can only be addressed if an appropriate needs assessment is done and training engineered to make the personnel better, especially with people’s skills. The opportunity that exists in technology is a continuous upgrade that will ensure that all aspects of operations are covered and they make everyone comfortable. Project decomposition opportunities exist when the team takes it upon themselves to improve the project through reviews and making the necessary changes

The Pareto Diagram below shows a presentation of the risks above. To document these risks, this paper used a total weight factor of 200. Rating risks is important since it demonstrates the importance of risks relative to the others. With these weights, it is possible to allocate resources to mitigate the risks appropriately. 

Recommendations to Synaptic Corporation

Managing Scope Risk 

To manage scope risk, it is often important to begin with scope planning and a clear definition of deliverables (Kendrick, 2003). It has been identified that Synaptic, more so its computational department, faces the challenge of operating in a continuously mutating environment. To handle this, the project should start with an understanding of the project requirements. This means having clearer goals and objectives right at the initial stage of any project. The deliverables should be broken into specific tasks complete with milestones and timelines. When changes are requested, milestones and timelines should also be revised in a manner that is consistent with the budget. Synaptic should have a policy that outlines the process for changing scope. In the policy, the company should specify how changes will be effected and by whom. Further, it should be made clear as to who should make requests to change the scope and who should grant such requests. The financial side of such decisions should also be put into consideration. 

Managing Outsourcing Risk

To handle outsourcing risk, Synaptic can engage Fast Inc. to a point of entering into a contract. The contract should stipulate how IP should be treated. Another way of handling IP risks is through the use of licenses. Synaptic should develop a strategy that allows the development of a third party license from which Fast Inc. will read from. 

Schedule Risks

The importance of having a centralized hosting environment is necessary. This will ensure that projects are accessible by everyone who is authorized and at the right time. Further, the company should address the inherent problems regarding the version of database management systems that are in place in the company. One department is of the opinion that the current version of database management is obsolete and it should be the prerogative of Synaptic to ensure that all systems are up to date. This is a primary reason that has magnified the scheduling risk by making information inaccessible due to private hosting. Secondly, the company should provide clear policies to employees on availing their work at a central location. This will reduce the propensity of losing data hosted in private servers, as well as, in the event of theft or natural disaster. Thirdly, planning of activity time estimates as advised by PMBOK Guide (p.194) should be done collaboratively to ensure that there are realistic timelines, which are mutually agreed upon to prevent sideshows and supremacy battles. 

To schedule costs and revenues, it is important for Synaptic to understand the importance of probability forecasting. With accurately forecasted probabilities, Synaptic will put itself in a better position to review accurately its budgets. Consequently, it will be able to schedule impacts and other consequent risks tied to the budget. To achieve this, the company can use forecasting software such as @Risk Software which will help in presenting probability distributions which can be used to make important decisions. 

Resource Risk

To help ease the tension between the two departments, a liaison officer to manage communication between the two was a brilliant idea but it will in the long-run increase costs. The liaison officer should work towards bringing harmony between the two to a level, which both appreciate each other and establish relationships based on mutuality and respect. Work sessions, simulations, meetings, and team building activities should be encouraged to develop informal communication as well as be avenues to build processes necessary for sufficient communication. To train effectively the members on interpersonal skills and opportunity identification, Synaptic should have a needs assessment that will advise on the necessary training method and topics. 

In conclusion, it has been established that Synaptic faces numerous risks that require immediate attention. This paper has identified that the company faces risks that are categorized into scope risk, schedule risk, and resource risk. To counter the risks, it has been identified that the company should look internally and develop communication plans, employee training, as well as, have a policy on how a change in projects should be managed and develop a clear policy on how to manage technology in terms of updates and the use of servers.

References

Kendrick, Tom. “Overcoming Project Risk: Lessons from the PERIL Database.” Program Manager, Hewlett-Packard Company (2003).

Khan, S. U., Niazi, M., & Ahmad, R. (2011). Barriers in the selection of offshore software development outsourcing vendors: An exploratory study using a systematic literature review. Information and Software Technology, 53(7), 693-706.

PMBOK Guide (PMI, 2017), Part 1, section 6.4 “Estimate Activity Durations”, page 194 to section 6.4.3 “Estimate Activity Durations: Basis of Estimates” p.204

PMBOK Guide (PMI, 2017), Part 1, section 5.6  “Control Scope”, p.167 through 5.6.3.4 “Project Document Updates”, page 170

Makarov, “Synaptic Corporation case study”, 2004 

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