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Plan B – The Secret Way to Make Plan A Succeed

by Paul Forsythe

in Product Development

Have you ever made a careful decision, turned it into a workable plan and still failed to achieve the result you wanted ? Maybe you even talked about trying Plan B.

Poor Plan B always gets a negative press. We regard it as a sign of failure or make jokes about it. If we do this, we’re missing the point that it has a very important part to play in our decision making, planning and execution.

I first stumbled across this fact years ago when I was planning some product development trials with a partner in the middle of Europe. As well as the experiments, the work involved transporting the equipment and materials across several customs borders. I used to find any customer visit very stressful and would actually be physically ill the night before. This would be one of the most difficult challenges that I’d faced.

My solution was to plan for what could wrong using a simple three step process :

  • What’s the worst possible thing that could go wrong ?
  • If this happens, what can I do about it ?
  • What can I do to prevent it ?

I then looked at the second worst thing and so on…

By the time I’d gone around the loop twenty times, all that remained were problems that could be easily dealt with or were so unlikely that they could be ignored.

This Plan B thinking produced a number of positive results:

  • I improved the plan to reduce the risk of problems
  • I had mentally rehearsed my actions to deal with any problems so that I was able to instantly react to a couple that couldn’t be prevented
  • My new confidence meant that it was the most enjoyable development trial that I had ever conducted

I strongly recommend a very similar approach as the final step before any decision that could have a significant impact on a business – however attractive the forecast may be:

  •  What are the worst possible consequences if the decision is incorrect ?
  •  How likely is the decision to be incorrect ?
  •  Are the consequences and the risk acceptable ?
  •  If not, what can we do to reduce them to an acceptable level ?

In my view, the failure to ask these questions in time to modify the plan is a major cause of delays and increased costs. It’s understable that teams may be reluctant to question an outstanding option that, for example, forecasts telephone number profits. The leader must therefore make clear that this examination isn’t negative or a lack of confidence – it’s ensuring that risks are controlled and that plans are protected from unexpected obstacles and cost or time over-runs

If you would like to discuss this subject further, please contact me via the link below and also receive my report Ten practical tips to find original answers to any business problem”.

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