As a project manager, you should expect things to go wrong. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the skills and experience of you and your team. Even if you’re incredible at your job and have an amazing team assigned to the project, things can still go wrong. While you can hope that they won’t, you should also assume that they will.
If you’re prepared for things to go wrong then you won’t be caught blindsided if anything bad does happen. This can minimize the negative impact an error or another incident has on the progress of your project. As well as mentally preparing yourself for these situations, you also need an actual plan in place, known as a contingency plan, or more colloquially as “Plan B”.
How to prepare for risks in project management
To best prepare yourself for things going wrong, you need to be aware of what is likely to go wrong in the first place. Assess your upcoming project to identify any potential risk factors and make a comprehensive list of them. This means even things that are improbable, but still possible, to an extent. It can be useful to look at past projects to see what went wrong with those, especially if you missed deadlines or made mistakes, for example.
What risks should you prepare for?
The risks facing your project and team may differ from one team or one project to the next, but here are some common ones that project managers often come up against:
- Budget cuts
- Human error
- Scope creep
- Deadline changes
- Employees taking sick leave
- Employees leaving the company
- Technological failures
- Losing your suppliers
While this is not a definitive list, it should help you get started when identifying the risks that your company and your project could face.
Once you have a list of potential risks, you should also assess how each one would affect the project if it were to occur. How severe would the event be? Would it completely derail the project or just delay it slightly? You may also consider the likelihood of each risk happening at this point. Assessing each risk this way allows you to essentially rank them, with the most likely risks or those that will have the biggest impact on your project bring your top priorities.
You should then create a contingency plan so that, if any of the risks you’ve identified do occur, you know how to respond most effectively. It is a good idea to create a contingency plan for each risk you’ve identified. If you have limited time and are unable to do this, then you can tackle the risks in order of priority as mentioned above, in terms of probability and severity.
Creating a contingency plan
Planning for failure may seem like a negative exercise, but contingency planning is essential for keeping your project running smoothly even in the face of disaster. A contingency plan is a formally recorded Plan B. It outlines what actions you will take in light of a specific event occurring, usually a negative event.
Hopefully, you won’t need your contingency plans, but having them in place reassures you that your team can adapt quickly and cope if something does go awry. When this does happen, it can mean a great deal of stress for you and your team as you have to fight even harder in order to meet the deadline and satisfy all conditions of the project.
With an effective contingency plan to follow, you can get your project back on track, and hopefully still to deadline and budget, with as little stress as possible for you and your team. Your employees don’t want to be always fighting fires throughout your project, so contingency planning is great for job satisfaction and employee morale.
How to create a contingency plan
Preparing a contingency plan takes a little problem-solving. You need to figure out a way around a problem or an alternative way to get from point A to point B. Here are some key questions to consider when devising a contingency plan:
- Do you have any extra resources that can be called upon?
- How could you obtain extra resources when necessary?
- Are there any alternative courses of action in your initial plan?
- Do you know who to contact in case of technological failures?
You should also identify a Plan B for your vendors or suppliers. If your usual vendor goes out of business, is unavailable at the time you need them, or runs out of the stock you need, you don’t want to spend time in the middle of your project looking for someone else. You should have a list of pre-approved vendors that you can call upon as a second choice.
Answering these questions and considering all viable options should help you to come up with a plan to get you around some of the most common problems you’re likely to face.
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