Every project I’ve worked on starts the same… we define the ask, determine the cost and establish the timebox. No matter the process we follow, there is always a timebox, either the process dictates it (scrum) or the customer does when they don’t like our estimates. Regardless, many people I’ve encountered plan for success. They determine what steps, or tasks, need to be completed, dependencies and plot out a date the facts tell them is achievable. They often fail and are shocked. Their success plan never takes into account the unknown, inevitable issues and unaccounted risks.
The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War
As Sun Tzu teaches, you must plan for mistakes, issues and ensure you have a mitigation strategy from the earliest stages of the project. Mixing my metaphors further, if you only build a strategy based on what you can see of the iceberg, the vast majority you can’t see is almost guaranteed to foul you up.
In an IT project, there are several methods for mitigating risk or planning for failure, but the main ones include:
- well documented design – a good design will call out the unknown and risk areas such as details you can not decide until actually begin construction/integration
- schedule padding – this is often viewed as a bad thing, but it’s not as long as the team doesn’t abuse it. Do not do it blindly, but pad the risky tasks that aren’t fully defined. Also, practice complete transparency here. Mitigating risk is a good thing that your management and customers will appreciate
- frequent status meetings – ok, I hate meeting just to meet, but well organized, focused meetings can be very useful for early identification of risk. This allows the leads to more quickly create mitigation plans
You can never quantify or predict what will go wrong in the future, but if you build a plan that only assumes success, you are guaranteed to fail. So, hope for success and plan for failure.