Do you know people that have a Plan B for everything? They have a backup plan in case they miss a movie or miss a flight. They have a contingency plan in place if they can’t make it to pick up their kids on time. They always seem to have another option at their disposal in the event that something doesn’t go 100% right with their “A” Plan.
How would you describe this person? Typically, they are very composed, relaxed, and not terribly stressed. They know that they’re covered in the event that something goes wrong.
On the other hand, how would you describe those people that barely have a Plan A let alone a Plan B? They always seem to be living their life on the edge, going from one crisis and emergency to the next with minimal progress and traction being made as they go through the throes of their daily lives. What’s more, they leave a wake of destruction behind them of other people they have negatively impacted due to poor project planning on their part.
Which type of project manager are you? Do you always have a Plan B to fall back on or are you living your professional life on the edge and leaving a trail of chaos and despair behind you? If you fall into the second category, read on for some suggestions on how to incorporate Plan B into your project planning process.
Why You Need Plan B
If you’ve been around IT projects for some time, you will quickly realize that nothing ever goes as planned. Technology is complicated. That’s why they call it technology. It’s always moving and there are new and exciting ways of doing things better and faster.
There is uncharted territory when it comes to pushing the envelope from an IT perspective. But, this comes with steep learning curves and the possibility of mistakes that could happen at any time and throw a heretofore well executed plan off kilter quick.
Plus, technology resources have a tendency to be, let’s say, a little “conservative” in their estimates for how long something will take. It never fails to amaze me how long someone thinks something will take when you compare it to how long it actually took. The numbers can be in the order of 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 times longer (if not more) than previously expected.
I’m not sure why this is, whether the person providing the estimate always believes that everything will go without a hitch to maybe just having short-term memories of how long things actually take.
Regardless, it’s up to you as a project manager during the IT project planning process to make sure you understand this phenomenon and account for and compensate for conservative estimates.
Finally, there’s the other “fires” that get in the way of a smooth running project that will quickly relegate your project to the back-burner to be worked on later.
There may be a big deal that was just signed, and in order to get the engagement requires that a very aggressive timeline be met. All resources are pulled from current projects and thrown toward this game-changer of a project.
The trick is that it’s not like the date for your current projects change. It still remains the same. It’s that it has now ignited into another fire itself!
How Can You Implement Plan B?
Do you include a section in your plan that says “Plan B?” Of course not! Ideally, you won’t have to implement Plan B. But, in the event that things do go wrong, Plan B is something you carry around with you in your back pocket to pull out later, if it becomes apparent you need to buy some time. Here are three ways you can incorporate a backup plan into project.
1. Add More Time to the Plan
We’re not talking about padding the project schedule for the sake of sandbagging and then bringing in the project earlier than expected. Rather, we are talking about being extremely realistic and pragmatic about the numbers you are receiving from your resources. There is no set rule on how long something will take above and beyond the initial estimates, but you’ll be able to figure that out in your environment based upon experience.
2. Line Up Additional Resources
Throwing more resources at an activity on the project is called crashing the project schedule. In some cases this works well, in other cases it can go terribly wrong by having too many cooks in the kitchen. Having to bring everyone up to speed sometimes takes time and may not be the most beneficial path to take. In the event that it does work, you want to make sure you have resources identified up front that, in the event of getting behind, can be applied to the project and get things back on track.
3. Negotiate Plan B
This one is a bit tricky when it comes to the planning process. Let’s say you are working with a client on a project. You know that it’s running behind. You also know that if given a bit more time you could include an additional feature without too much overhead from your side in addition to the original scope. You offer to the client that you could do both as long as the time frame was extended a bit. Some clients will jump all over that offer and others may reject it and say they want the original scope on the original date. It’s now up to you to figure out how to make that happen with a different approach to Plan B.
Should You Tell Your Project Team About Plan B?
Not necessarily. You’re not being Machiavellian here by not telling your team all that is going on or that you have something in your back pocket that can be used in the case of an emergency. Remember, you are working down Plan A…ideally you will never have to use Plan B. Keep everyone focused on Plan A, have everyone push as hard as they can for the original plan and remember the best case is to get it done.
Your team members will figure it out eventually that you always have a Plan B in the case of an emergency. They will also appreciate that you’re doing and have done all you can to keep chaos and discord out of everyone’s professional life by sticking to Plan A. Stay one step ahead of your project team and you’ll be a highly valued project manager.
Do You Have a Career Plan B?
By extension, having a Plan B applies to your career as well. I’ve seen too many people put all of their eggs in one basket and think that nothing could possibly go awry with the company where they have been employed for many years.
Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, they may find themselves out on the street because the company went out of business, was bought by or merged with another company, or layoffs occurred. Have a contingency plan in the event this worst case scenario comes to fruition with your career. Always have your resume up to date, take advantage of networking opportunities to meet other people, and most importantly help others out while you are in the position to do so.
You’ll be glad to be in the position of having a Plan B in the event of a disaster within your company as you step right over into your next position. You’ll always be one step ahead of your project team by anticipating that things may go wrong and planning for them accordingly.
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