OE Construction Corp

Planning to Fail or Failing to Plan?

Risk management is essential in construction, as in most other industries.

Benjamin Franklin said it best: ““If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

The key to successfully avoiding failure is to plan for it. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Why would you want to plan for failure rather than success? Your most likely way to avoid pitfalls that lead to failure is to account for them in your planning strategy for every project. Yes, you need the positive overall goals, but not planning for possible failures / risks is almost asking for them to happen!

Why should you plan to fail?

Part of any project management plan needs to be a clear path from beginning to the end goal, with milestones to achieve along the way. When you plot out a clear course, it’s important to not only look at the success / milestones to achieve but to plan for what to do if something gets in the way of achieving them.

In other words, you need to plan for what you’re going to do if the project goes off the rails. For example, if there is bad weather that is preventing you from finishing a part of an excavation plan, what are you going to do? Hopefully, in the planning process, you’ve planned some contingency time to allow for this kind of ‘act of god’ intervention.

You also need to look at intentions. If there is a point where a project needs to stop, what is that point? Is it based on resource usage? On safety? What is the point where a project needs to be halted—and there could be several—and what is the contingency plan to work through the problem?

If you plan how you’re going to handle problems that come up in a project, you’ll know what to do long before you hit a snag. If you don’t? You might end up going into project survival mode: instead of working the problem, you’ll either throw solutions up without thinking them through or perhaps not even deal with the problem at all. The downstream consequences of avoiding issues in any project can be expensive, and potentially dangerous, particularly in the construction industry, so running around like a chicken with its head cut off is not a solution.

You want to establish a clear cut strategy for possible risks that will affect the project’s timeline so that you go directly into action mode, should the need arise. That means really understanding what the risks are. Sure, a tornado might not be in the offing in June, but if your project is underway at the height of tornado season, not having a contingency plan for dealing with one is a risk not worth taking.

How do you plan to fail?

Look at your project details and goals closely, including when you are supposed to have completed it by. Then work backwards and evaluate any possible failure points / risks. How will you deal with these if they come up and does your plan account for them, both in terms of resources and time management?

Document the plan, the triggers and what the solutions will be in as much detail as you can. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, if site flooding is a concern because of the location and the predicted weather based on time of year, it’s important to not just plan for “If there is flooding, do this…”. Be specific: “If there is 1” of flooding, do this. If there is 2-4” of flooding, do this.” and so on. Every person on your team should know almost instinctively what to do in the event of a trigger that could lead to a real project problem.

By doing this, you are effectively training everyone to look at the project in terms of positive goals and risks that could impact them. The reaction your team needs to have when a risk is taking shape needs to be practically automatic. This will help your project plans to be more effective and accurate, with the ability to deliver on your timelines as expected, and within budget.

OE Safety Meeting Jan 2019

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