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What is contingency planning?

by Dan Power

Contingency planning is a systematic approach to identifying what can go wrong in a situation. Rather than hoping that everything will turn out OK or that "fate will be on your side", a planner should try to identify contingency events and be prepared with plans, strategies and approaches for avoiding, coping or even exploiting them

Contingencies are relevant events anticipated by a planner, including low-probability events that would have major impacts. Contingency planning is a "What if?" skill important in all types of planning domains, but especially in contested and competitive domains. The objective of contingency planning is not to identify and develop a plan for every possible contingency. That would be impossible and a terrible waste of time. Rather, the objective is to encourage one to think about major contingencies and possible responses. Few situations actually unfold according to the assumptions of a plan. However, people who have given thought to contingencies and possible reponses are more likely to meet major goals and targets successfully. The following questions can help develop contingency plans:

  1. What events may occur that require a response?

  2. What disasters might happen during execution of the plan?

  3. What is the worst case scenario of events for the situation?

  4. What scenarios are possible for the situation?

  5. What event would cause the greatest disruption of current activities and plans?

  6. What happens if costs of the plan are excessive? what happens if delays occur?

  7. What if key people leave the organization?

  8. What are the expected moves of antagonists and competitors?

  9. Who or what might impede implementation of the plan?


Power, D. J., Gannon, M., McGinnis, M. and Schweiger, D., Strategic Management Skills, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1986, ISBN: 0201139782.

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