Risk as a Function of Time – Part 1

I have just delivered a short presentation in a University project management course under sponsorship of a local oil and gas company when a student followed me out to ask about risk as a function of time. It is amazing that many talks about risks without delving or even mentioning the time element. To underscore its role is almost like trying desperately to instill a modern concept in the skull of a cave man.

As you can imagine, I was quite happy to oblige. Time is one of the essential risk attributes often missed that I feel anyone who shows interest on the subject, is a friend. Learning starts with interest. He was quite interested how I explained in class the risk concepts surrounding impact and consequence. However, he was doubly interested on how time plays a major part to risk-based management and how to visualize risk against a timeline.

It is worth the time for any risk practitioner to reflect on risk and time. To underline the importance of time should be given huge consideration in making decision. It is a vital component to touch on when explaining action plan to stakeholders.

As the time element increases into the future, the probabilities of achieving the deliverables change. The probability can go up or down depending on the objective, and nature or measure of the projected consequence. Time is an important, mandatory consideration in risk and risk-based management Figure 1).

050415-Risk as a Function of Time

Figure 1 – Risk as a Function of Time

Police will say, for example, “…the probability of finding a missing child alive decreases as the days pass by” for obvious reasons we are all aware of. If a walk-a-ton has no time limit, the probability of each participant completing the race increases. It is not a hundred percent that all will finish considering a time constraint. One can expect a hundred percent probability of completion if one is to finish the race next month or month after, or within a year. The risk taken against the background of time makes it more revealing. It makes us appreciate risk more!

Another example is home fires. It starts small and spread quickly. There is relatively very little time before it burns one to the ground. In fact, in less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a serious fire. History will show that it only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house and then consumed in flames.

How does one mitigate the consequence of fire? What is the probability of dying if caught up inside the house in 60 seconds from when the fire starts? What is the probability of surviving a conflagration within 15 seconds from when the fire started? As you can clearly imagine, the longer the time you stay inside the house from when the fire started, the lesser the probability of you surviving the ordeal (Figure 2).

050415-Risk to Life of House FireFigure 2 – The Risk of Fire

Risks revolve around objective or objectives so you have to be careful who provides the inputs during risk assessment. Whose interest you represent provides the framework of understanding. Ensure clarity on what you are asking or what you are after.

In additions to impact, consequence, time, one has to understand that business risk is dual. Dual being, it can be an opportunity or/and a threat. Keep that in the back of your mind.

During risk identification and assessment, considering the priority of driving objectives is critical. This is when one has to take what I call in risk-based management, the “objective point of view.” An objective point of view is standing on the footing of each driving objectives and making the assessment.

I want you to reflect on the logic of the example below. The situation calls for more understanding than meets the eye. Once you digest the message, you will appreciate the fact that risk is relative. I call it risk relativity theory (RRT). If you start thinking about it, a theory is already a misnomer because it can easily pass as a principle.

“For a thief, a good security system is a threat. To the security guard, it is an opportunity to lessen the risk of robbery and to increase the chance of catching the thieves. Depending on individual perspectives and to which side of the fence someone belongs, a risk can be a threat or an opportunity. Each individual player within the risk universe will see things a bit differently compared to another, with some seeing exactly the opposite. In each case, one can see only one attribute. It will either be a Threat OR an Opportunity, depending on his/her involvement to the goal at play. Risk is objective-based or interest-based. For me, business risk is a product of probability and consequence and a function of time (Frago, Risk Concepts, Philosophies, Methods and Approaches, 2013 and Frago, R., 2015, Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities).”

Readers will find more detailed discussions about the subject of Risk and Time in the paperback edition of the book “Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective.”

It is also available in Amazon’s Kindle edition. Follow the hyperlinks below for more information. Grab a copy now!


Rufran C. Frago (050715) – Author


About rcfrago

Rufran C. Frago is a practicing Professional Engineer (APEGA), a PMP (PMI), a CCP (AACE) and a RMP (PMI). He has published more than 100 articles. He is the author of the book Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective He studied at Batangas State University and University of Batangas graduating with a Diploma in Petroleum Refinery Maintenance Technician (1979), Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (1984), and Bachelor of Science in Management Engineering in 1987 respectively. He was in his senior year taking up Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, needing only one semester to complete, when he took a break to concentrate on married life. Rufran has never stopped academic learning after getting his degrees in the University. He continues his education by taking up some MBA courses under the University of the Philippines-PBMIT Consortium (1987-1988). He completed Computer Technician Program at International Correspondence School, Pennsylvania, USA in 1994, Applied Project Management Certificate program at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in 2009, and Professional Management Certificate program specializing in Construction Management in 2014. He is now completing the Professional Management Certificate program specializing in Risk Management. He was a recipient of the Gerry Roxas Leadership Award (1976) and the American Field Service (AFS) Scholarship in 1976-77, studying in America for a year. Upon his return in 1977, California-Texas Philippines (Caltex Philippines Inc.), one of Asia’s biggest oil and gas refineries at the time, awards him with a two-year national college scholarship, specializing in Petroleum Refinery Maintenance. He went on extensive training in various maintenance disciplines for the next two years. Caltex hired him upon his graduation in 1979. He has spent more than 38 years of his life working in the Oil & Gas, Petrochemicals, Oleo-chemicals, Sugar Refining/Manufacturing, Consultancy, High School and University Education industries in Asia, Middle East, Canada, and North Africa). Rufran has worked with Caltex, Uniman, Unichem (now Cocochem), ARAMCO-KSA, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Arabian Gulf Oil Company-Libya, Batangas State University, St. Bridget’s College, JG Summit Petrochemicals, Halliburton-Kellogg, Brown and Root, and OPTI Canada. He works with Suncor Energy Inc at present. He has wide range of expertise that includes problem solving, project management, training and mentoring, programs and projects planning and scheduling, cost management, risk-based management, construction management, project review and auditing, estimating, engineering and design, fabrication and module management, maintenance, operation, material selection, warehousing, EH&S and reliability engineering (predictive and preventive maintenance). He wants to share his knowledge and leave behind some form of legacy to all specially his wife, children and grandchildren, Eva and Mia.
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2 Responses to Risk as a Function of Time – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Conducting Project Analysis: Using PIRCAD Approach Part 2 | Your World, Our Risk Universe

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