In this interview, Director of Aravun Karlene Agard, talks on how effective risk and value management can save small and large businesses alike.
In the current competitive economic climate, 20% of small businesses are closing within their first year. Business Insider claims that figure rises to 44% within the first four years of operation. Karlene supports the general industry awareness that these alarmingly high rates can be related to a lack of risk and value management strategies from key leaders and decision makers within organisations.
I spoke with Karlene recently to learn more about her mission to apply powerful risk and value management to both megaprojects and startups.
Kerri L Watt: Karlene, welcome! Let’s discuss that stark statistic: 44% of businesses are failing within the first four years, and risk management is playing a substantial part in that figure. Does that surprise you?
Karlene Agard: No, it doesn’t. I think for a lot of small businesses in particular, they don’t really understand risk management and think it may be too complicated to incorporate. I think to a certain extent it’s quite neglected, and even in larger organisations it’s not always dealt with in the most effective way. When you don’t address the risk it leads to problems occurring; so I’m not surprised to hear that.
Kerri L Watt: I haven’t heard of ‘value management’ before, can you tell us what the term means?
Karlene Agard: Value management is about getting the most out of the resources you have. There’s actually a ratio to follow. Value is your benefits or functions, divided by your resources. Typically your resources are cost or time maximising that ratio, so you get more out of what you, more of what you want out of the resources that you have available to you.
In large organisations you have a misconception that risk management is just a tick box exercise and a task you do to satisfy your auditing and statutory requirements, while in smaller organisations they generally don’t understand it and subsequently don’t undertake it.
Kerri L Watt: What drew you to go into the world of risk and project management?
Karlene Agard: I was actually working at Network Rail as a Change Project Management Assistant and, after my initial training, I was hosting risk workshops when I saw a job vacancy as the Risk and Value Analyst. I thought the role sounded interesting. It talked about the opportunities to help projects succeed and help them understand how Risk and Value strategy can assist them getting the outcomes that they want. I’ve always had an analytical way of thinking, maths was one of my strongest subjects at school. It seemed like an interesting role to go for. It turns out, I was right!
Kerri L Watt: What made you start your own business, Aravun?
Karlene Agard: Working as a Risk and Value Analyst, I really loved what I was doing. I was fortunate to run workshops and help get the largest projects set up correctly, making sure they’re really clear on what outcomes they need to achieve. Rather than doing the same thing that they’ve always done by default, they can consider other options, more innovative routes for achieving their outcomes which could potentially save them both time and money.
I thrived in the role, and helping the company understand the risk that comes with delivering the project for the organisation. I was able to work on megaprojects because I had a talent for risk management, value management in particular, which was recognized in the organisation.
I was even nominated for awards internally and with external bodies. I loved what I did and I enjoyed this element the most of my career. I chose to use this passion with my experience and start my own company.
Kerri L Watt: How does your skill set compliment the services you offer to organisations and companies?
Karlene Agard: Workshops are a really effective way of simply covering a lot of ground with my clients. The key is in the preparation. If you can speak to the key person beforehand, gauge a clear idea of what it is that you need to get out of the workshops. You need the right people in the room to share knowledge, ensure you prepare yourself as a facilitator and prepare those around you who will also be providing input. Workshops really are a superb way of getting things done.
Kerri L Watt: You also act as a speaker. I wondered if you could tell us a little about your talk, From Failure to Forbes, and about the story behind this?
Karlene Agard: Normally my speaking roles are focused on value and risk management and starting megaprojects effectively. These are the core topics within my discipline. This time I was asked to speak on the topic of empowering self for the 25th anniversary of the Women in Project Management Group within the Association for Project Management. The theme of the conference was empowerment, which is an excellent topic. I was asked to speak in the empowering self stream, which is not the easiest thing for me to do because I needed to be more vulnerable and discuss my personal story.
I struggled and procrastinated a lot through University. I suffered with depression and wasn’t doing well with my degree. I was disheartened. Even though I didn’t fail my degree, to me I felt like a failure. All my peers went on to secure jobs in banking, as lawyers, in the top consulting firms. I began temping in jobs that did not challenge me but I decided to push myself and work my way up the ladder. One temporary role become permanent and I received two further promotions within three years.
I’d found my stride and up skilled so I could work on the most exciting projects within the company.
Kerri L Watt: That vulnerability and speaking about failure is something a lot of people will be able to resonate with, especially the idea of not failing on paper but feeling a failure to yourself. What are your thoughts on the competitive element of failure, whereby we constantly judge our success to our peers?