Thursday, July 14, 2005

Contingency Planning

Contingency Planning is like getting enough exercise and eating right. Most of us know we should do it; most of us don't do enough of it. I recently had an experience that reminded us the truth in the old proverb about the best laid plans of men and mice. We moved across the USA. In 2005 this should not be an adventure. We are good project managers. We created a realistic plan. We picked (or appeared to) a good team. We communicated the plan to the team and got agreement. We setup monitoring metrics and worked out a tracking/status reporting system...

Luckily we also setup contingency plans. We did it tongue in cheek. We did not believe people like us would need contingency plans. Contigency plans are for poor plans. We are not mediocre planners, we are excellent planners. Our plans were realistic, bought-in, well staffed, properly monitored. Well bucko we learned a valuable lesson. Our excellent plan failed quickly. Two very different critical partners failed and could not deliver on time. We had to scramble to quickly replace them. Some of the delayed tasks almost impacted the critical path and could have caused significant financial issues.

We were again reminded of two verities about project management. Whether you have a success or a disaster depends on the quality of your people, especially your leadership. Pay attention to your contingency plans, they may save your ass.

Well the story has an happy ending. We learned some critical lessons and our critical path was not impacted. There was a lot of inconvenience, some anxious days and many many phone calls. But we also learnt some great things about our support organization, while we would not want to go through this experience again, we walked away much more confident in our capabilities as project managers.

The take home value:

* Investing in developing good contingency plans is very important
* Once you have developed your contingency plans make sure they are well understoond and bought-in. Every one involved needs to know when they will be invoked and what they will be called to do.

When a contingency plan is invoked it means that there is going to be pain, but done correctly it should be much less pain compared to a project failure.