Guest post from Susan de Sousa
When you first start off in project management, spending time writing a contingency plan can seem like a complete waste of time. After all there are so many other things which appear to have a much higher priority, that planning contingency for risks which might never happen doesn’t seem like a good use of time.
I have to admit that I certainly fell into this category when I first started off, and in fact even having a risk log appeared to be an alien concept. Certainly when confronted by a sub-section of project managers who are process bound and spend an inordinate amount of time raising risks whilst developing ever more convoluted contingency plans, this can seem like a smart shortcut. However I have learned over 13 years of interim project management that project managers who avoid this completely are simply storing up problems for the future.
The key thing to remember is that simply doing this work will not give you any tangible additional benefit, in much the same way that simply having a risk log won’t help much either by itself. What is important is knowing how to raise the potential problems which really matter and then understand which of these could benefit from being mitigated. This is much harder than it sounds. Get it wrong and your whole delivery could be in jeopardy over something minor, which you overlooked.
Therefore the top 2 reasons for contingency planning are:
1. Successful Project Manager’s know that without this work, the delivery effort is essentially running on a wing and a prayer with the PM desperately hoping that nothing unforeseen occurs to derail it. Of course in these cases the worst always does tend to happen.
2. Top notch Project Manager’s know that by being smart and understanding what to concentrate on and prioritize, it is possible to ensure no matter what happens, you as the Project Manager look “good” and in total control of the delivery. This of course means that you as the Project Manager are in the ideal “win win” situation
Of course it is one thing to know that you should do contingency planning, it is a whole different ball game to be able to do it successfully. It is after all, something which is usually extremely time intensive; something which no Project Manager ever has the luxury of.
Therefore you need to really understand how to balance this work and make sure your efforts are effective enough, whilst not jeopardizing the future of the project, because you weren’t spending enough time controlling it.