Monday, October 03, 2011

Planning For the Unexpected

If you ever watch the programme Grand Designs you’ll know regardless of how different the various building projects are, one aspect of all the projects is always the same – the people concerned  never allow enough contingency in their plans and virtually always exceed their budget and schedule.

This tendency to be unrealistic in planning is a trap that many people fall into when managing their workload. Busy people are especially prone to over committing their time, ending up with little breathing space and spending vast amounts of stressful energy rescheduling and juggling priorities.

So here are three tips from a professional project manager:

First - Recognise that optimism is a natural human trait that brings with it many positives, but it also results in us being naturally prone to underestimating how long things will take and how much things will really cost.  By recognising this this is not a failure in any one person, but a trait natural to us all, we can accept it and put plans in place to compensate.

Second - Avoid fragmentation. Important tasks require concentration – if you keep picking them up and putting them down you’ll lose momentum and they will take much longer to complete.

Third - Plan for the unknown. You simply cannot predict the future, so add contingency so that you have some capacity for dealing with the unknown.  Remember, a schedule with no contingency in it is unrealistic from the start and that most professional project managers would add 20% on to any timescales to allow for the unexpected.   

Allowing for contingency gives you flexibility – and applying it even in your weekly schedule has real advantages. The simplest way to do this is to always leave half a day a week unscheduled. It will give you the capacity to handle urgent things that come up or to step back from your busy schedule and plan for the future.  And on those rare occasions when your spare half a day is not needed, you can take a well-earned break!

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