Overview: Contingency plans vary widely in their size, scope, appearance, and context. They might be as simple as a “Plan B” in case “Plan A” fails, or they might have a sophisticated set of if-then propositions. Some judgment is in order to not overdo the contingency plan, jeopardizing the time and effort required to complete the initiative’s plan. Still, more times than not, contingency planning is inadequately performed.

Events having low probability but high consequence require thorough contingency planning. For example, if there is a fixed completion date that is not moveable, evaluation of risks (such as not having enough staff to complete the initiative) becomes imperative.

A basic framework for establishing a set of practical contingency steps is “time, cost, and scope.” Brainstorming “what-ifs” around each of the three categories is a useful exercise. What-if time runs 10% longer than expected? What-if cost is 10% more than expected? What-if the project can not address all areas originally defined as in-scope?

Considerations: A matrix or grid is a convenient method of summarizing contingencies. Allow the left-hand column to list all of the “what-ifs” and scenarios. Allow the right-hand column to describe the action that should be taken if the scenario comes about. Many times, simply going through the effort to construct such a table will provide valuable insight in the design of the project plan itself. The project plan might become more detailed to mitigate some of the risks after going through this exercise. Who has experience with failed projects in the past that might shed some light on this subject?


  • Construct a two-column table labeled scenario on the left and action on the right column.
  • Use time, cost, and scope as the basis for brainstorming, and identification of several what-if scenarios.
  • For smaller projects, the table suggested here will suffice. For large projects, an entire document may be warranted.