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  • Writer's pictureMarianne Bateup

Common blindspots and how to overcome them: Planning for new risks means failure

This article is part of an Abilitise series on common blindspots people face in the workplace and in life and how to address them.

Are you a project manager who thinks that planning for contingencies and buffers will set you up to fail?

I have heard this from many of my clients concerning their project management since COVID-19 and recent severe weather events brought about additional and significant uncertainties. However, project managers have always planned out their project’s timeline and milestones, and within this process, have considered what would happen if something went wrong. For example, when planning a timeline for building a house, project managers would have included a buffer for rainy days. Planning for contingencies and allowing buffer time is important, as things can, and likely will turn upside down.

However, the new risks we are facing are often not being considered with project managers only prioritising the old ones.

Holding onto the prior approach

Project managers are used to planning for contingencies and creating buffers for potential issues which may have occurred before the pandemic and the severe weather events. However, with supply chain restrictions and supply shortages, minimal staff availability and worsening weather, the potential for new challenges has risen – and we need to prepare for this.

Project managers are using their current mind-set with it being second nature, and thus new risks are not being considered. This may impact their projects and timelines. For example, a team member may get COVID-19 and may not be able to attend work for a period of time, or it may take longer to receive supply due to the current shortages.

What would failure look like?

Often, what’s holding project managers back is fear of failure. They believe they forecast failure because they’re taking new and different contingencies to their customers which are potentially worse than before. They fear that customers may not understand or even accept these new contingencies and buffers, possibly resulting in the loss of clients.

However, if you’re not honest with your customers by pushing realistic challenges aside, then you might be overpromising and underdelivering. By doing this, you may actually fail and therewith lose business.

Project managers have been planning for contingencies and allowing for buffers for a long time, and since the risks they were planning for were normal and expected, there was no fear around bringing them up. However, project managers need to work towards normalising these new risks as well, with the world constantly changing, our planning approach will also need to change.

Utilise common tools for familiarity

How are you setting yourself up to fail if you’re forecasting something realistic?

If you choose to ignore these new potential challenges by not planning for reality, then you may actually be setting yourself up to fail because you might overpromise and underdeliver to your customers. If anything, rather underpromise with caution and overdeliver. If you complete a building project a few days early for example, this could come as a pleasant surprise to clients. You may gain respect due to being ahead of time and organised. Not only will it show your customers that you are aware of the new risks which may occur in current times, but also that you have prepared for them. However, remain cautious not to sell yourself too short either.

Risk management is a key tool for project managers – they’re good at it and are familiar with it. This includes identifying, planning for, evaluating, reducing and managing risks. Project managers should try to consider new risks with the tools they are used to. This will add a sense of familiarity when integrating something new. Using familiar tools such as a risk matrix or a risk management template can help you integrate new risks and contingencies into your plan. See figure one.

Figure one

When I recently facilitated a risk management workshop, it was refreshing to hear from the attendees that they had actually begun to work with their clients to identity and acknowledge new risks and contingencies. Although they have not completely integrated them as a norm yet, beginning the process is the first step towards normalisation.

Risk management needs to be undertaken also in relation to recently experienced challenges. This enables project success and can decrease the chances and seriousness of potential project risks by recognising them early. Should something go wrong, project managers will be equipped to handle it with their prepared action plan, maximising the outcomes of the project and decreasing the chances of unwanted surprises. By thoroughly and realistically planning, budgets are more accurate, and the process becomes more streamlined, enhancing productivity and customer satisfaction. However, if project managers do not plan for new risks and contingencies, this streamlined process will not occur.

Do you need help with your project strategies or management? Reach out to Abilitise today!

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