The phrase "black swan" has its roots back to the first century, the first reference is by the Roman poet Juvenal – “to that a perfect wife is a rare bird: a rare bird in the earth and most similar to a black swan”
Ignoring the slight to wives in general, the phrase “black swan” evolved into 16th century London as a statement of the impossible. It comes from the presumption that all swans are white because all contemporary records of the time reported swans had white feathers. That is until 1697 when explorers reported the discovery of black swans in Australia. The term morphed to mean that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.
We now talk about Black Swan events, those that are:
A surprise to the observer
Have an extreme impact
Are rationalized in hindsight
So what does this have to do with project work? Research shows that project work, especially large project work is highly susceptible to extreme and adverse impact. A 2011 HBR study found of 1900+ large public sector projects reviewed, one in six met the definition of a Black Swan event, with average cost overruns of 200% and schedule overruns of 70%. Now that you know this, what actions can you take to avoid this type of extreme issue? (To be continued...) Written by Joanne Vatz