Need More Contingency? Run a Fast Project!

Need More Contingency? Run a Fast Project!

Of the many benefits of running a fast project, a somewhat unexpected one is what it can do to your store of contingency.

Contingency is one of the more troubled areas of project management. Sensible industries – such as construction, for example, or filmmaking – expect to see contingency in a plan. Then, there are industries – most high tech industries are guilty here – where if bosses or customers or project stakeholders see contingency in a plan, they’re more than likely to take a red pen to it, draw a line through it and say, ‘Well that can come out for starters’.

But contingency is essential in a plan. It’s essential because it’s tied to the crucial question of change control.

When a change occurs on a project there are only ever three ways you can respond to that change:

  1. You can say, ‘Hey, that’s a big change. That’s not what we originally agreed.’ Changes to project scope, changes to resourcing and assumptions turning out not to be true – these are big changes.
  2. If something isn’t a big change, you can use the contingency (provided you have some).
  3. If something is a big change, but you don’t have the guts to say that to the people for whom you’re doing the project, and there’s no contingency in the plan, either because you never put it in in the first place or you did, but then some idiot took it out and you didn’t stop them, there’s only one other possibility when changes occur and – quite simply – that’s to suck it up. Work nights, work weekends, bring work home with you, phone up your significant other and say ‘give my dinner to the dog, I won’t be home tonight’ and so on.

If you have no contingency in your plan, you’re reduced to two options – either something’s a big change or you’re going to have to suck it up. To put that another way, your plan can now only succeed with some level of sucking it up. The problem with that, of course, is that there’s a limit to how much sucking it up you can do. There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in the week, and a finite number of people on your team.

All of which brings me to running a fast project. One of the really nifty by-products of running a fast project is that it generates contingency. Each day you save is a day you can add to your store of contingency. This has four effects:

  • If you started out with no contingency, you now suddenly have some.
  • It reduces the likelihood that your project is going to run late.
  • It gives you more wiggle room if you get unexpected surprises late in the project.
  • It means that when some unexpected big change does occur – especially late in the project – you may be able to say to your stakeholders that this is one you can ‘absorb’ i.e. you’re not going to hit them with a big change.

It used to be that there were only two options where contingency was concerned – put in explicitly (and run the risk of the stakeholders whipping it out) or hide it so they couldn’t find it. With fast projects you have a third option – you can generate it as the project unfolds. Nice!


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