Project Skills: 5 Ways To Be Prepared for the Worst-Case Scenario

There If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I send a regular newsletter every fortnight, filled with project delivery techniques and articles to help you deliver more powerful projects.

But at the time of writing this, I’m a week late. 

This is as a result of illness. Thankfully I’ve recovered and am back to full health. But for two weeks there, I couldn’t spend more than 5 minutes on something without needing to have a sleep due to complete exhaustion. 

Before I got sick, I was fairly rundown. And while I have a team that helps me, my business is dependent on me. When I’m out of action, things come to a bit of a standstill.

Do you even need to adopt a project delivery methodology?

Because I’m all about lessons learned, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what I could have done differently, what I can improve upon and how I can prepare for a similar situation. 

I’ve also looked at the things I did well – because finding the positives is also important (it’s not all about punishing yourself!)

Here’s what I’ve learned about being prepared for the worst-case scenario.

For I think my five tips relate to every area of life, but they most definitely apply to the worst-case scenario when it comes to projects.

#1 Ask for help early

For us independent go-getters, this is often one of the hardest things to do.

Realising that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves has so many benefits and not just for us. In fact, dividing and conquering is one of the best ways to succeed.

As a lesson learned, the best-case asking for help scenario is to ask for help before you ever need it. But in the worst-case scenario, if like me, you couldn’t plan for the thing that happened (such as being ill), then ask for help while you’re down and need time to recover. 

Often, you’ll be surprised how the smallest ask to someone else, will provide the greatest relief to you when you’re most in need.

The benefits of asking.

Some of the benefits to sharing the load includes freeing up your time, giving someone else an opportunity to step up and discover something they may love and be great at, and diversifying the skills across your team.

But the most important benefit by far, comes when you need to drop things unexpectedly.

sking for help early provides you with people who understand how you work, so they are skilled-up and ready to jump in to help until you’re back on deck.

What to consider when asking.

There are two factors to consider when asking for help.

This requires getting to know yourself and what you are good at doing as well as what you enjoy.

It’s important that there are always a certain number of things we do in our work that we actually love. Whether that’s being creative, innovative, strategic, administrative, or conversational, you want to try not to outsource these things you love.

Whatever it is for you, make sure to build it into your routine. When you do what you love you are far more productive in everything you do and that includes when doing the things you aren’t as passionate about.

The next factor is to work out what you can’t delegate.

An example is needing to make a final decision on a matter. It might be that this can only be done by you.

Consider though that the lead up activities to making the decision may be things you can delegate before it gets to you for a final decision.

This might include gathering the information, making smaller decisions along the way, or consulting with other people. Delegating such tasks empowers your team to understand your needs and priorities. It allows them to take initiative in day-to-day tasks and help to manage stakeholders as well as allowing them to make mini decisions along the way. 

Anything outside of these two main factors are things that you can choose whether or not to ask for support with.

You’ll need to consider things like cost, availability of resources, and time commitments required from you to get people up to speed.

#2 Have a long and short-term plan

Your long-term plan is your outlook.

And your short-term plan is what you work to daily.

Regardless of the length of your plan it is vitally important to allow some flexibility within both your long-term and short-term plans.

When unexpected impacts pop up, having spare time for movement (also known as slack) gives you and the team peace of mind during a risk prone and stressful time.

The way this would look on your plan is a few extra days for certain more complex tasks or an extra percentage across each task.

Your short-term plan may have an extra 5 days for those unexpected occurrences and on a long-term plan this may result in an extra 2 weeks.

When you‘re hit with an unexpected situation, a long- and short-term plan with built in time for movement helps you to reprioritise more quickly and find others who can fill in while you’re out of action.

The long-term plan

On a long-term plan the forecast time will be dependent on the length of your project.

So, if your project is expected to last for 1 year then your long-term goal will be for 1 year or even slightly over that to include post implementation.

Unless your project is a quick turnaround such as 1 month, at a minimum, your long-term plan should be no less than 3 months. While long-term plans are more likely to change, in a time of crisis it provides a roadmap of what you will need to have, do, and achieve to take on or delegate upcoming tasks.

Short-term plans

A short-term plan allows you to see what tasks will be at risk, which can be immediately delegated, or which can be temporarily paused.

This information coupled with what’s on your long-term plan allows anyone involved, particularly those who you’ve asked help from, to make more informed decisions about how the plan should be changed to suit the situation while working within the commitments.

#3 Priorities

Once you have planned out your short- and long-term needs, it’s time to re-prioritise them.

Deciding priorities

Tasks can be prioritised in several ways depending on what’s important and available to you and the team.

I’ve listed some common project priorities below. But remember, priorities will be unique to each situation and each team, and they should factor in several, if not all of these considerations.

  • Must haves to nice to haves

Must haves to nice to haves

  • Disruption

Least to most disruptive to users

  • Risk Mitigation

Largest to least problem resolution

  • Costs

Least to most costly

  • Progress

Quickest wins to most complex

  • Dependencies

Quickest wins to most complex

#4 Automate as much as possible

The thought of automation can be a full-time job of process review and at times can create an increase in costs… so be cautious when considering what can be automated on your projects. 

The best place to start is to create templates and a set of instructions for regular repeatable processes. This will allow you to pass on tasks quickly and easily to someone else when you need help.

And when you don’t need help, you have a repeatable process or template to make your time more efficient.

#5 Keep channels of communication open

The reality is when you’re out of action, communication with you will likely be low. 

When you work with others (and particularly now that you’re going to be prepared for the unexpected – right!), you should regularly check in with people who can help you in preparation for unplanned impacts.

Let them know what you’re doing (as much as conveniently possible).

Share your obstacles as well as your learnings. Give them and yourself as many opportunities to know how you both work and allow the trust to develop in each other.  

Because if you trust someone to help you when you’re feeling vulnerable, you will automatically be more empowered to recover and succeed on your projects.

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