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Being Prepared for the Unexpected

~ By Kenneth Darter

Be prepared presentation on background of puzzle pieces

One of the joys of working on projects is that you will never grow bored. All projects are different, and each has its own issues and unexpected occurrences. Even if the exact same system is implemented a second time, the project will be different: the customer will have different ideas, the technology will have changed or the project team members will have different ideas about the system. Whatever the project is, the project manager should always be prepared for the unexpected on a project.

No plan is fool proof, and there are always occurrences that were not thought of before the project was started. These unexpected problems can quickly turn a project from "green" to "red", slowing it down and in the worst case stopping it from moving forward. While project managers cannot create policies and procedures for every eventuality that might occur during the project, they can plan for most of the possible contingencies and create processes and ideas for how to deal with those unexpected issues. The following are some ideas and guidelines for project managers to keep in mind when preparing for the unexpected.

Build Contingency Into the Schedule

The first step to dealing with the unknown occurs before the project even starts. When the schedule is being created, there should be enough slack in it to account for contingencies that happen during the project. A project manager can add a buffer at the end of the schedule or during each major phase, or the project manager can over-estimate task durations. This sort of contingency planning in the schedule will help everyone deal with unexpected problems or issues during the project execution phase. The project manager might even need to put a contingency buffer in the scope and the budget in addition to the schedule.

Keep Resources at the Ready

With contingency built into the schedule, the next step is to determine what people are available to help with unexpected issues. Of course, these people are not sitting around just waiting for something to happen. Some of these people will be assigned to your project and some will be assigned to other projects. However, it is still important for project managers to understand ahead of time where they can pull people from to handle problems with the project. Identifying these people and how they can be utilised on the project will help the project manager deal with problems down the road.

Use a Good Playbook

Like any good coach, a project manager needs to have a good playbook. What happens when a key leader on the project leaves the company, what happens when the customer rethinks the proposed solution, or what happens when testing runs over the allotted time or too many defects are found? All of these general problems can and do occur on projects, and the project manager needs to know how he is going to handle it. Will he look to the customer to delay, will he assign more resources to the project or will he rely on executive management to work through the problems? Creating a great playbook will help a project manager be better prepared when problems happen.

Look at History

The project manager should also be spending a great deal of time looking at what happened in the past on other projects. Seeing the problems and issues that happened then will help the project manager be ready for the unexpected problems that can occur on the present project. Understanding what worked and what did not on the other projects will help make the case for the scheduled contingency and will help the project manager build up his own playbook and handle the unexpected.

In conclusion, project managers cannot create policies and procedures for every eventuality that might occur during a project; however, they can plan for unexpected problems. It is important to include some contingency in your schedule, identify people who can help in the case of problems, create a great playbook and review and act on the lessons from past projects. Being prepare for the unexpected will ensure you know how to react should any problems arise.


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Topic: Being Prepared for the Unexpected
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13th September 2014 5:59am
Praveen Malik says...
I think the last part of article is very appropriate. History teaches us many things. In addition, I would say that a PM should not think about the unexpected rather think about "what is expected".

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