April 12, 2014

What's our Plan B?

“I love this idea! what’s our Plan B?”
Anyone who has worked with me has heard me use this phrase. I say it often. It only takes a few meetings to learn that having a Plan B is necessary in order to get an idea green lit, funded and resourced.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no "Debbie Downer". It's just that no matter how confident we are in the success of a program at the start, there is always the chance of execution error, miscalculations or just run-of-the-mill, unexplainable, under-performance. And it’s better to be cognizant of this potential at the start.
Projects are about engaging with risk, not avoiding them
An Econsultancy blog around recognizing the risk in project management says this:
Projects are about engaging with risks, not avoiding them. We engage with risk in order to achieve commensurate rewards. If we can eliminate all risks, then the project is probably trivial, the rewards inconsequential. Most of us want to work on projects that make a difference. So we have to deal with risk.
It goes on to confirm that the best time to think about risk is at the outset of the project. And to ensure the team is aware of the signs so that issues can be dealt with as they occur, not when too many of the dominoes have fallen.
2 more benefits of establishing a Plan B
In my experience there are additional benefits to teams who clarify their Plan B up front.
1. Clarity and transparency around the metrics
I’ve written about the many benefits of getting everyone singing off the same metric song sheet and it applies here too. The program team needs to be on the same page around the metrics that will trigger the decision to move to the established Plan B.
2. Fosters a risk tolerant culture
I want team members to bring me their move-the-needle ideas. And I want them feeling good about what the business learns from every test. Establishing a Plan B as part of their original idea removes much of the destructive “blame game” dynamics that could potentially come into play. 
Because the Plan B is part of the team's original idea, if/when a Plan B needs to be implemented, the program itself isn't a failure. And the focus can be on gaining learnings that can later be rolled into the next idea.
Planning for Plan B
Business-moving ideas will always involve some risk. Proactively planning a Plan B helps mitigate that risk. There is less hesitancy in calling issues out and putting the already-agreed-upon alternative plan into action. And it keeps the focus on learnings for the business vs. an innovation-crushing blame game or witch hunt.  

Happily, I have been fortunate to work in online businesses where technologies like A/B testing, content management systems (CMS) and marketing automation tools allow programs to be easily monitored and quickly adjusted to Plan B when it’s been needed.  

Tell me what you have learned about managing risk while fostering a risk tolerant culture?