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Project Disaster Planning: What Assumptions Can You Make?

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 12/31/2010

Disaster planning assumptions should be made as part of any project management strategy. The ability to prepare for the worst makes it possible to sustain significant setbacks without losing control of the project and its mission. Take a look at a few assumptions to make when planning for disaster.

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    Vulnerable Assets

    Disasters happen that threaten the completion of projects, so recovery planning is essential based on reasonable and unreasonableELBA  assumptions. Part of the disaster planning assumptions should focus on the facilities, equipment, and other assets that can be lost or destroyed. This requires an honest and frank assessment that acknowledges that sometimes everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

    While identifying vulnerabilities, the timing of possible disasters should be carefully estimated so managers can have adequate contingencies planned and ready at critical moments. After all, recognizing danger is not sufficient to keep disaster from curtailing the effectiveness of the project: A recognition of when internal and external factors will most likely impact each asset is required in order to effectively plan for disaster.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/F1jmm

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    Communications and Transportation

    Failure to assume that disasters will happen is a mistake of the inexperienced project manager. One assumption to make when planning for a project disaster is that communications will be challenging. To begin with, an adequate communication system needs to be in place so team members can learn when disaster occurs. With systems in place that will quickly alert the project team when an asset that is required for the project has failed, an appropriate planned response can be implemented.

    Similarly, communication systems must be in place so that stakeholders can coordinate their responses after disaster has struck. In the event that assets such as IT infrastructure are affected by a disaster, this part of the disaster recovery plan may be the most important.

    Another common assumption concerning project disasters is that in many cases transportation can be involved. First, the disruption of transportation can be disastrous. Proper assumptions for disaster planning would anticipate the weaknesses in the transport of people and materials so alternate delivery methods can be used. Union strikes, harsh weather, acts of terror, and other events may affect reliable transportation, so alternate systems should be in place from the outset.

    Transportation is also needed to respond to project disasters. How will team members arrive on the scene when disaster strikes? The need to adequately assemble people in the event of a diasaster can be almost as important as foreseeing the disaster in the first place.

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    Personnel Assumptions

    Disaster planning assumptions should include a pessimistic assessment of all assets associated with the project, including personnel. In fact, human resources is one part of disaster management that should never be overlooked.

    Critical knowledge workers can abruptly become unavailable due to illness, death, layoffs, and dismissals. By assuming that no person is guaranteed to be avaialble to the project at all times, project managers can plan to have appropriate human resources available when disaster strikes.

    While the project manager plans for human resource disaster on the part of team members and related assets, at least one stakehold should consider the disaster planning assumptions involved if the project manager suddenly becomes unavaialble. Because of this, all user names, passwords, and other credentials should be accessible to multiple team members, and whenever possible, two team members should be present for meetings, conference calls, and other decision points so that the project does not completely collapse when important team members disappear.

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    Stuff Happens

    One thing team members at all levels should realize is that stuff happens. Although setbacks may routinely occur, crises may also occur that can result in major disruptions in the execution of the project plan. By making some disaster planning assumptions, the effects of catastrophic events on the project can be minimized and the project can still achieve its mission.