Project Management, Denial, and the Death Zone

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Lessons from Everest and Antarctica (Nominated for the PMI 2015 Cleland Project Management Award)
By Grant Avery, MBA, PMP
Hardcover, 6 x 9, 264 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60427-119-5
October 2015

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Project success rates haven’t changed in 20 years…Learn why, and what you can do to improve them in your organization

Using examples and lessons learned from the failures and achievements of Antarctic explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and Mount Everest expedition leader John Hunt and others, this captivating guide provides powerful insights into the causes of project and program failure and how to manage them to significantly improve project success rates. This title has been recognized by the global PM community for its contribution and ingenuity. It has received the following industry honors:

  • Nomination for the prestigious PMI® David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award
  • WInner of the 2016 RiskNZ National Awards of Excellence Exemplar Award (RiskNZ is the peak sector and professional body in New Zealand bringing together those people and organisations managing risk)
  • Chosen as The Book of the Month in PMI’s inaugural, Book Club

Key Features

  • Explains the consistency of project failure, risk homeostasis, the principle of outcome-maximizing, the emerging concept of risk appetite, and provides real-world solutions that can be applied in organizations to improve project results
  • Introduces new concepts such as the CORA triangle that focuses on achieving balance in the management of Capabilities, Outcomes, and Risk Appetite; and neuroleadership and its importance to complex, high-risk projects and managing change
  • Defines the circle of project ethos and the narcissistic and organizational-structural factors in common between Everest climbers and major ICT-EB projects today, including the risks they can create and how to deal with them
  • WAV offers multi-factor tables to test for high risk-propensity and Death Zone risk factors, Level-3 project maturity success factors, estimating a project’s relative complexity, and assessing potential leaders to manage complex projects — available from the Web Added Value™ Download Resource Center

About the author(s)

Grant Avery, PMP, is a leading expert and international speaker on the subject of risk, quality assurance, business cases, and capability maturity models in project and program management. Mr. Avery has reviewed or overseen the quality, risk and success assurance of over $20 billion of high-risk projects and programs in New Zealand and Australian public and private sectors, including over 100 ICT-enabled business change projects. He is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Registered Consultant in Project and Program Management and P3M3 capability maturity assessments, with an MBA of Distinction from Victoria University, New Zealand.

Earlier in his career, Grant developed a unique perspective on the successful management of project and program risk in part from the knowledge and experience gained as Manager of New Zealand’s Scott Base where he was responsible for science support, search and rescue in Antarctica, and a team lead for the joint (USA-NZ) Antarctica search and rescue team (JASART). Prior to developing his own business, Grant was KPMG Director (Project Advisory), New Zealand.

Mr. Avery is now President of Outcome Insights, a specialized consultancy that provides success and quality assurance advice and reviews for large and high-risk projects and programs delivering ICT-enabled business change, and initiatives introducing new organizational capabilities. Mr. Avery, co-author of the current edition of the P3M3® maturity model, provides specialist assessment and capability improvement advice on the project, program, and portfolio management practices in organizations. He is an active member of PMI International and the New Zealand Risk Society. His organization’s website is

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The constancy of Failure

Chapter 2: A Risk-Rich Environment

Chapter 3: Risk Homeostasis Theory

Chapter 4: Risk Appetite

Chapter 5: The CORA Triangle

Chapter 6: Managing Risk Appetite

Chapter 7: Denial

Chapter 8: The Death Zone

Chapter 9: The Level 3 Organization

Chapter 10: The Heroic Manager

Chapter 11: Advanced Basics

Chapter 12: The Circle of PM Ethos

Chapter 13: Strong Humble Servants

Chapter 14: Epilogue


“This is without doubt the best book I have read on the subject of project risk management. It is a must read for all project managers, risk management specialists, leaders and company executives. It’s contents will change the way you view projects and organizational risks. Used properly, it will allow you to make clear and informed decisions, which will benefit you and your organization.”
Lloyd Figgins, FRGS (International Risk Mitigator, Author, Keynote Speaker)

“Wonderful, instructive, and exciting reading… from mountain top to ice field to business boardroom, Avery carefully analyzes the wide landscape of risk and opportunity, hubris, aspirations, and failure.”
 Dr. Gerald J. S. Wilde, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Queen’s University

 “… a book filled with inspiring and useful lessons.”
Margot Morrell, Author of New York Times best seller Shackleton’s Way

“…a genuinely insightful book that confronts the real reasons behind the constant unacceptable failure rate of so many large projects. I strongly commend it.”
Professor Brad Jackson, Head of School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington

“Avery has written a fascinating and unique book about the challenges of project management in high-risk environments. The lessons learned from various high-risk adventures from the past should give project managers new insights into the challenges they face in their current project environments.”
Prof. Michael Elmes, Ph.D., Professor of Organization Studies, Foisie School of Business, WPI, Worcestor, MA, USA

“The parallels with modern business risk become very clear the more one reads.”
Iain Fraser, PMP, MoP, PMI Fellow, Fellow PMINZ

“I loved how the exciting stories from the high risk mountain top explorations demonstrated the CORA triangle (capabilities, outcomes, and risk appetite). Grant Avery then applied modern tools to business high-risk projects and led us down a path for improving project success…Project managers, organizational leaders, board members, and team players can all benefit from the valuable lessons to improve project success by understanding decisions that influence how projects are selected and implemented. Leadership skills and behaviors can positively or negatively influence outcomes in high-risk environments. There are principles shared from a wide variety of recognized organizations and highly regarded experts.”
Jan Watson, MBA, PMP (from PM World Journal)

“…enjoyable and thought-provoking. Most literature in the area of risk management is designed to be technically rich and fulfills the needs of professionals and organizations. This book, on the other hand, is written for anyone who wants to be more aware of the reasons behind their success and failures regardless of their background. The advice is simple, realistic and easy to apply. This book is a must read.”
Sara Piracha, PMP (from PM World Journal)