The low risk option

confused-girlTalking today about a serious problem with a short term deliverable it was mentioned that we should choose the solution with the least risk. An interesting point, but what does least risk really mean?

For me, there’s two options – least risk in the short term or least risk in the long term. To decide between the two you just need to decide if the higher short term risk is so high that it might actually put you out of business.

In this case, the question was a software fix vs. a hardware fix. The short term fix involved getting more hardware – but not only was there still a chance that this wouldn’t work, if the demand was so great then even with the new hardware it would not be enough. The alternative was to change the architecture of the software to place less of a demand on the hardware in the first place. The risk here was that changing the fundamental architecture of the software may cascade into hundreds of bugs in the system.

As far as I’m concerned it’s still an easy decision though. We can quickly patch the software to fix these bugs and the system keeps running. We can’t patch the hardware, and if the demand grows we won’t be able to plug in enough new boxes in time. Humans are risk averse by nature, so where we can minimize the chance of short term failure we tend to short change the long term payout.

So, a high risk, high reward strategy in the short term results in the least risk in the longer term – unlike a supposedly lower risk yet lower reward system that will still need addressing later. Yes, of course there are hundreds of possible factors that may affect the decision, and yes, we could analyse the code and make some small improvements but sometimes you just need to get it done.

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