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Project Planning for The Great Unknown

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My project team and I had embarked on a massive renovation to our company's main movie theater. It was one of the largest projects we'd done to date. And it was one of those "your job is on the line if something goes wrong" type of projects.

Such a big project brings some very big potential risks. My project delivery team and I made a list of possible risks plus a list of planned responses. Should one of the risks actually manifest, we knew exactly what to do.

As you may have guessed by now, this huge project that couldn't go wrong went very, very wrong.

Our team realized one thing while planning: We know that we don't know. Irritating as that phrase is, it may keep you from ruining what would be an otherwise successful project.

We knew that even our collective genius may not be enough to avoid disaster. But rather than spend the time creating mitigation plans for unpredictable risks, we created a mitigation plan for the actual risk of not knowing what could happen.

The plan included an eight-step process tailored to how the project team operates and how we run our projects. This gave us a standard procedure to follow if trouble arose. And when it did, we used that mitigation plan. There was no need to worry. Everything was under control, even for a risk we hadn't specifically planned for.

Because of this project, my team and I still always assume an "unplanned for" risk is on the horizon. We always give our due diligence to risk management and create responses for risks we can specifically identify. But then we review our eight-step plan to ensure we're all prepared for the unknown.

Do you have a risk-management response-mitigation plan in place for risks you know you don't know? 


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And are those mitigation plans funded, located in the Integrated Master Schedule, and have assessment point to determine their probability of occurance and the work efforts performed to reduce this probability - so the risk can be "retired" before they before issues?

@Anglea - thanks for sharing your experience! You're absolutely right that there is risk in all projects. Regardless of the size of a project, something can always go just a bit wrong. Not only have I had unknown risks materialize, I've also had a seemingly small "issue" turn into a huge deal.

Project Managers should be talking about risk regularly, not thinking it can't happen to them, and move risk management from a least important factor to one they should pay some amount of attention to - if not the most important factor.

Risk management is sometimes one of the least important factors when some project managers make a plan.

I share your opinion and highlight the importance of doing that, because there is a risk in all projects. In my experience, I was leading an installation project, we missed this part and we have a big problem with the customer. From that, we created a plan to avoid configuration mistakes, which is one of the bigger risks in the project.

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