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What my time machine taught me about project contingency

Adeline Teoh ed.
September 25, 2012

You always learn valuable lessons the hard way. You learn, for example, that beer and ice cream don’t mix just as you’re about to speak at your best friend’s 21st. You learn that you should never delay having your favourite dress dry-cleaned on the day of your brother’s wedding. You learn that you should always save your files as you go on the morning a big assignment—the one you have been working on all night—is due.

Last week I discovered that I had lost all my email contacts from the last three years. Something was up with my email program and it decided, pretty much of its own accord, to go back in time to the beginning of 2010, when Steve Jobs was still alive and before 50 Shades of Grey was a thing. I despaired. Mostly I despaired because a lot of interesting people had emailed me in that time and, because our communication was initiated online, I did not have the fallback of a business card.

Then, in a flash of inspiration, I remembered I’d backed up my computer a few weeks ago. Backing up my files is an irregular habit, often brought on by my rather disciplined partner’s nagging. He backs up his computer every month on two hard drives and keeps one hard drive offsite, which is almost incredible for someone who continually forgets to close the pantry after breakfast.

I whipped out my Time Machine. For those who don’t know, Time Machine is an Apple program that makes backing up files as easy as sticking in a hard drive and clicking a button. Surely it would be just as simple to restore my email database? Apparently not. Of all the email programs in all the gin joints in all the world, mine was incompatible with the Time Machine. It’d backed up the file but the file didn’t lead to a recent address book full of glorious email addresses.

I learnt a valuable lesson from my Time Machine: don’t get complacent. If you’re doing things the right way, you will have mapped out all the likely negative risks in your latest project and devised cunning contingency plans. But let me ask you this: do you know whether those contingency plans will rescue your project in its time of need? It’s standard to draw up a risk matrix for a project, but less often to consider what to do if a contingency plan doesn’t work. What are you going to do if there are no bandages in the first aid kit?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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One thought on “What my time machine taught me about project contingency

  1. Nice article. Most experienced project managers do plan for contingency in their projects for those false assumptions and unknown unknowns. The better project managers often don’t have to dip in the contingencies. Having said that one can’t plan enough for those ever decreasing project time lines and ever shrinking budgets so its better to check and double check the assumptions for they may not be true!


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