Contingency Planning

Project management can sometimes feel like divination. Telling the future is not an easy task – yet the project manager is expected to not only tell the future, but shape it! Maybe some project managers can read entrails, or divine the signs of the heavens, but my go to trick is planning for every possible situation ahead of time. Sure, it’s not as fun, and it takes a lot of work. But you’ll look like a prophet when you whip out the contingency plan seconds after disaster strikes.

How do you plan for every contingency? After all, there are “Black Swan” events that can’t be predicted, let alone planned for. No matter how vivid your imagination, you won’t conceive of every possibility – unless you can already tell the future, in which case, you don’t need to contingency plan at all…

So how do you contingency plan for the unknowable? With what I call the “Multiple Paths Approach.”

Multiple Paths Approach

You want to plot out multiple paths to each milestone. Think of your morning commute – your GPS will give you three ways to travel. At any point along the journey, you can re-check for routes, and you’ll get three options. (If this sounds like agile, it’s borrowed from the idea.)

contingency planning

Conceive of your project the same way. Each destination along the way should have “route options” that you can switch to when problems arise. Sometimes this can be as simple as having a list of different possible vendors. Other times it’s as complicated as a new project plan branching off from a particular point.

For example, after each completed task, have a few different possible schedules for the remaining tasks – shorter deadlines in one place, longer in others. Have some different task options, too. Instead of coding that update, outsource it. This goes all the way to different project plans – instead of building that office, we’re renting one, and getting it up to speed instead. Whatever the particular details of your project, have your route options¬†in your back pocket at all times, and no crisis can sink your project.

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