You Can’t Keep a Good Plan Down

15-05-23-Berlin-Sachsendamm-Tesla-RalfR-N3S_7354 Cropped

From time to time I teach a “Project Management Essentials for the Unofficial Project Manager” course at work. In the class, we talk about a lot of good, insightful material, but perhaps my favorite is the section on “Risk Management”.

In this section, I do an activity where I create a fictitious project (such as planning an employee picnic). I provide a few constraints and details on the project to make the activity work, and then I stand next to a great big piece of paper, marker in hand to record responses, and ask:


The room usually lights up as everyone starts talking over each other to get their ideas heard. For some reason, everyone enjoys this activity, perhaps because it’s always fun to talk about the hilariously terrible things that could happen on a project they aren’t managing:

  • Rain!
  • The caterer doesn’t show up!
  • The boss changes their mind at the last minute!
  • A UFO lands in Washington DC and we go on worldwide emergency alert!
  • The Spurs have a playoff game that same day!
  • Someone gets hurt at the event!
  • We run out of food!
  • The budget gets cut at the last minute!

You get the idea.

As much fun as this is, however, we as planners tend to either overthink or UNDERthink how we will deal with these issues. You can’t plan for every contingency. If you did, that’s all you’d spend your time doing. On the other hand, you can’t ignore these possibilities and hope for the best!

The solution is right in the middle. What is the likelihood of these things happening? What would be the impact if they did?

The risks that are most likely, and most impactful, are the risks we must plan for.

This is how a good plan overcomes the crazy things that try to get in the way.

The best part, I tell participants, is that this method isn’t limited to project management. You can use this every single day at home or at work.


What are the things most likely to get in between you and accomplishing your most important work? What impact would they have?

Now make a plan to overcome them.


Image credit: "15-05-23-Berlin-Sachsendamm-Tesla-RalfR-N3S 7354" by Ralf Roletschek - Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

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