Expect the Unexpected: The Importance of Situational Awareness in Discovery Management

As a pilot for over 30 years, constant “situational awareness” is a basic requirement to fly safely. The same principle holds true in discovery during litigation. Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend what is happening. It’s knowing what is going on around you at all times so you can make the right decisions.
Obstacles to good project situational awareness:

  1. Not monitoring the project baseline. If you are not monitoring the baseline of your project requirements, you will not recognize the presence of factors that can cause a project disturbance or threat such as misunderstandings on scope.
  2. Normalcy Bias (complacency). Even though we may sense when things are not going right, many times we will ignore the warning signs due to the desire for things to be going according to plan. We have a natural bias towards the status quo. Always expect the unexpected!
  3. Focus Lock. A distraction that focuses all of our awareness on one thing and can block all other project threats. Focus lock can rob us of awareness when we need it most. If a problem arises during a project, it is important to keep a sharp look out for other potential problems that may be arising as well.

Good project situational awareness requires effective communication and a combination of the following actions:

  1. Recognize when the project team deviates from standard operating procedures.
  2. Monitor performance of team members.
  3. Provide information in advance to the team.
  4. Identify potential or existing problems.
  5. Demonstrate awareness of task performance.
  6. Clearly communicate a course of action to follow.
  7. Demonstrate ongoing awareness of project status.
  8. Continually assess and reassess the situation in relation to project goal(s).
  9. Clarifying expectations of all team members eliminates doubt.

Assuming everything is “under control” is a common mistake. When we lose situational awareness, we increase risk and the potential for mistakes. Good situational awareness habits will allow you to sense project threats before they occur.