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Project Management - How Do 'What If' Scenarios Work?

Updated on March 29, 2015
Good project management involves more than keeping your fingers crossed!
Good project management involves more than keeping your fingers crossed! | Source

Introduction

Part of project management involves managing risks, issues and dependencies in an effective way. This can be accomplished through using 'What If?' scenarios. A comprehensive risk and issue management plan that includes 'What If?' scenarios can help project managers and teams to minimize disruptions to the project and help it to deliver what it needs to.

By its very nature, a project makes a number of changes to create new products, deliver new services, tweak business processes or avoid other problems. Good project management means dealing with circumstances outside normal business operations.

Risks, issues and dependencies are a problem for any project, and that's why 'What If?' scenarios are essential. In this article we'll explore what risks, issues and dependencies are and how these scenarios can assist a project in minimizing impact and delivering on time, on budget and on scope. We'll cover:

  • What are risks, issues and dependencies?
  • Risk, issue and dependency management
  • Resolving or mitigating risks, issues and dependencies
  • 'What If?' scenarios

What are risks, issues and dependencies?

'What If?' scenarios are focussed on effectively managing and mitigating risks, issues and dependencies.

  • Risks - A project risk is something that has not happened yet, but could conceivably happen in the future and have a negative impact on the project.
  • Issues - An issue is something that has or is happening and is causing a negative impact on the project.
  • Dependencies - A dependency is a relationship between a project and something else that needs to take place for the project to be successful.

Don't trust your project to the whims of fate or luck
Don't trust your project to the whims of fate or luck | Source
Planning for the worst gives your project the best chance of succeeding
Planning for the worst gives your project the best chance of succeeding | Source

Risk, issue and dependency management

Part of managing risks, issues and dependencies is having plans in place to deal with problems if and when they occur. Typically, a risk, issue or dependency management plan will include the following:

  • A description of the risk, issue or dependency.
  • The thing(s) that would need to happen to trigger the risk, issue or dependency.
  • The likelihood of the risk, issue or dependency happening.
  • The severity or impact of the risk, issue or dependency on the project.
  • Actions that can be taken to minimize or remove the risk, issue or dependency.

Resolving or mitigating risks, issues and dependencies

If there is a negative impact on a project, there are a number of solutions that can be used to remove risks, issues or dependencies, these include:

  • Putting a work-around in place
  • Fixing the underlying cause
  • Changing what the project is going to do
  • Remove the risk, issue or dependency

Sometimes you need a temporary solution, sometimes you'll need to get your hands dirty
Sometimes you need a temporary solution, sometimes you'll need to get your hands dirty | Source

Putting a work-around in place

Creating a work-around so that the situation that caused the risk, issue or dependency is avoided, minimizing the impact on the project. This is normally a temporary solution.

Fixing the underlying cause

Understanding the root cause that created the risk, issue or dependency in the first place and fixing it.

Changing what the project is going to do

If the risk issue or dependency cannot be avoided, the activities, timescale, budget or other parts of the project might be changed.

Remove the risk, issue or dependency

If there is an option to remove the impact, through prioritization, changes or other means, these can also be used.

'What If?' scenarios

A 'What If' scenario is simply predicting what might happen to cause a risk, issue or dependency and having contingency plans in place to deal with it. Good project managers are able to preempt risks, issues and dependencies that could occur and create 'What If' scenarios and mitigating actions that can be deployed quickly and effectively.

A comprehensive list of realistic 'What If' scenarios will mean that your project can react quickly and appropriately if something unexpected happens
A comprehensive list of realistic 'What If' scenarios will mean that your project can react quickly and appropriately if something unexpected happens | Source

Read more of our helpful, expert guides to successfully managing a project:

Have you used risk management or 'What If' scenarios in your projects?

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In closing

Managing risks, issues and dependencies, especially using 'What If?' scenarios is a crucial part of effective project management. A comprehensive risk and issue management plan can help project managers and teams to minimize disruptions to the project and help it to deliver what it needs to.

Risk management in projects

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