Michael Wood | 21 February 2014
Speed – Planning, change control and tolerance
In this blog I want to explore the film "Speed" and what it has
to say about project and programme management. As with my
previous film blogs, I should start by shouting SPOILER
ALERT! I may be giving away key plot points in my
So, speed… Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper. A real all-out action movie. Now, although there is a fair bit of build up to this point in the film, I want to concentrate on the main part of the plot; the bus, and the bomb.
RISK - defined as an event, or set of events, that IF they
occurred, would have an effect on objectives. Well, obviously,
there's a bomb, how much risk do you want? If you think about most
bombs in films though, they have a timer, and it's all about
stopping it before it goes off. In this way, those bombs are not a
risk, it is not uncertain, they WILL go off, so they are an issue.
The bus bomb will only go off if they slow down, thus, there is
only a probability that it will go off, and therefore it is a
risk. Most people use the word risk in a negative way, but
it's not the negative consequence that's the point, it's the
uncertainty. In an election, there is a probability that one side
or the other will win. If one side wins, this may actually be good
for you, the uncertainty of a positive event is called a risk
opportunity. So you could say that, if you buy a ticket, there is a
risk that you will win lottery. Of course, Dennis Hopper's bomb
cannot be interpreted as having a positive outcome in any way, so
this is a risk threat, the uncertainty of a bad event. In keeping
the speed of the bus above 50, the bomb is kept inactive, and so
this risk response keeps the probability of the risk occurring low,
however everyone involved is aware that the impact, should it
occur, is painfully high, and thus it is managed with all available
TOLERANCE - a key subject in PRINCE2 in particular. Tolerance is permissible level of deviation from plan beyond which you must escalate to the next level of management. It's clear, however, that in this scenario if the tolerance is breached there won't be any chance for escalation, but the idea of tolerance is relevant. Interestingly however, if the bus slows to below 50, the bomb explodes, but there is no limit to how fast it can go. This demonstrates a common situation in project management; that you only have tolerance one way. Often it is normally to have to escalate if you are going to be late, but early is ok, or vice versa in some cases.
CHANGE - our heroes try to steer the bus around town, keeping it at the 50 minimum speed required. The is the original plan, but it becomes clear pretty early on that this won't work; the roads are too narrow to turn safely, there are too many people about and they can't predict what is coming quickly enough, as the famous bridge jump stunt demonstrates. So they make the decision to drive to the airport, which requires some logistical shenanigans to resolve getting the roads cleared and a couple of runways. This "agile thinking" and the ability to drop one plan in favour of an alternative more likely to succeed is an essential skill in projects. Dogmatically sticking to one approach even when it's clearly not working can lead to disaster, literally if you are Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
So, Speed, a rollercoaster ride that ends in a giant explosion, sounds like a typical project to me…