How important a Plan B can be in project management

Project managers are ambitious in pursuing their goals, continue to develop plans and navigate the often unstable waters of their projects with determination. But despite all the targeted work and pre-planning, project managers should also always have a Plan B in hand, because any problems that may arise when pursuing the project goals must not be ignored. A good project manager must therefore always work with foresight – and that means having alternatives to the preferred route up their sleeve. In politics you hear about decisions without alternatives – some people interpret this as comfort, others find it consistent or even heroic. But in project management it is always necessary to take alternative paths. And the task of a good project manager is always to know a viable alternative.
A person is standing in the forest at a fork in the road.


Finding alternatives and having them ready

Especially in small, supposedly less important actions and projects, it becomes clear that a Plan B can be extremely important. You have to give a presentation and find out on site that your computer cannot be connected to the existing beamer. But with foresight you have also saved the presentation on a flash drive or in the cloud and can therefore start your presentation from any other device. In such a case, no one will come up with the idea of claiming that there are no alternatives.
The same can happen with a project worth millions. Of course, you cannot prepare for all sorts of situations, because there will always be moments when something really unexpected happens, leaving those involved in the project at a loss. In these moments, the project manager must take the initiative and encourage his colleagues and employees to think creatively. If the project manager does not have a Plan B ready, one must be developed as soon as possible, which can be presented to the customer as an alternative.

Develop Plan B on the right basis

For the probable scenarios and the foreseeable small and large project disasters, there should always be a developed Plan B at the start of the project. There are strategies and techniques to identify possible sources of error and stumbling blocks with the help of a sound risk analysis right from the start. Some possible problems occur again and again, so they are easily calculable and can be recognized very easily.
There is a risk that you will not receive the building permit on time. It could be that no suitable offer is submitted for the complicated facade work that the customer wishes, because only very few companies carry out this work at all and these are overloaded. Good project managers recognize such eventualities at the beginning of a project, and they address the possible alternatives at an early stage. When it comes to this, replanning is necessary, but at least they already know how to react and what consequences the alternative will have in terms of time and costs.

Risk analysis and critical path

However, from time to time, problems and stumbling blocks are not so easily predictable. You know the strategy of the critical path, in which you identify all the tasks that may have an influence on the end result? Special attention is then paid to these tasks.
In a similar way, you can summarise and view the non-critical but important elements. Pay particular attention to those factors that are unique and exceptional, as well as those that, in your experience, can cause problems. If there is only one person in the project team who can draw up the specifications or if there is only one road that leads to the construction site and is wide enough so that larger deliveries can be made via it, a disturbance at this point can lead to a far-reaching obstruction of the project. But you could enquire early on about external offices that could step in if the worst came to the worst. You could check whether it is possible to temporarily widen one of the other roads and find out what that costs. All these anticipatory measures cost time and you obviously need to focus more on the actual project management tasks at hand and not get bogged down in risk defence. Weigh carefully what you invest your time in but always think about alternatives to have at least a vague idea. This will help you avoid panic and knee-jerk reactions. You also inspire confidence in the client because he sees that you have always thought of everything and considered an alternative early on.

Opportunities and risks

In the course of your professional life, you will learn techniques with which you can systematically search your project for opportunities and risks and thus create real added value for your project. Try to see alternatives not as defeat, but possibly as an opportunity.
In addition, a hectic, hasty problem solving is never effective. Don't mourn the strategies that didn't work but look to the future and focus your energy on making Plan B work well.
Do you already have experience in analysing risks and identifying opportunities? Then show this to your customers and future clients with the Certified Senior Project Manager (IAPM) certification.

Plan B in project management - The IAPM logo.
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Risks

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