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Why a Worst Case Scenario is Your Best Idea

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Project managers aren’t paid to be optimists. And yet I’ve seen many project managers plan an ideal scenario and expect everything to run accordingly. And so, when the poop hits the proverbial fan, they’re caught flat-footed. They don’t know what to do and there are no more resources available to help, so the project spirals out of control and it eventually fails.

What they should’ve done instead is construct another plan: a worst-case scenario. This is usually done in addition to the ideal project plan, so it definitely involves more work. But this is one of the best things you can do to ensure project success.

Here’s why:

You Can Identify Risks

Crafting a worst-case scenario is an excellent way to identify possible project risks. There are many methodologies that can help you root out the probabilities involved (the Monte Carlo Simulation, for instance), but the core exercise is finding out where your project is vulnerable and how you can adjust to it. Consider designating a risk officer to root them out.

Determines the level of quality

Now that you’ve identified the worst-case scenario, what quality of deliverable is the customer likely to get if everything goes wrong?

Upon identifying the nature of the project risks, you’ll be able to identify the level of quality your team will provide. Not just of the final deliverable, but also of the work itself. For instance, if you predict manpower shortages, the resources that are left will be overworked and the deadlines more difficult to meet. This may lead to a rushed deliverable riddled with errors.

Sets customer expectations

Presenting the customer with a side-by-side comparison of best-case and worst-case scenarios gives them an excellent idea of what they can expect over the course of the project. The customer will know the likelihood of any delays, and what the project team will do if they encounter problems.

The worst-case scenario can also emphasize how important it is that the customer cooperates with you. Customers will be more motivated to give their feedback on time if they see that dragging their feet affects the project X number of days.

Aids in decision making

Worst-case scenarios can greatly assist the decision-making process, especially during the project pre-planning phase. Stakeholders and project sponsors can use it to determine whether or not a project’s benefits outweighs the costs and risk. If implementing a project carries a high chance of failure with significant consequences, then maybe the project should be shelved for a later time.

It’s a good idea to create a worst-case scenario at the same time you’re assessing your project’s scope, time, and costs. Once you know the potential pitfalls, you can develop contingency plans if they occur, or even work to remove those risks entirely.

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