When two is one and one is none

Why having a backup plan is crucial in project management

Having a backup plan is crucial in project management. Without it, a project is highly susceptible to risks and likely headed for failure. When two is one and one is none, why multiple backup plans are not optional in your project risk management strategy.

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL who received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq War. He also commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi. The man has a history of leading unordinary individuals amongst ordinary individuals (top performers).

Jocko uses a phrase commonly spoken of amongst Navy SEALs stating “two is one and one is none.”

Jocko explains: “It just means, “Have a backup plan.” If you have two of something, you will break or lose one and end up with one remaining: if you have one, you will break or lose it and be screwed.”

A more common way of putting it is “better to have, and not need than to need, and not have.” In working with technicians who go out to take service calls, they have a van full of tools and commonly used items for these exact cases. If you question whether to bring it or not, you should bring it.

Start to answer the questions before they are asked. This approach will help you think of the things necessary to complete the job. Someone will report a leaking sprinkler system or faucet. Think of the common instances which would cause this to happen.

A faulty sprinkler head, a hole in the line, a seal is broken, and so on are all possibilities. Rather than wait to get out there to see what the issue is, you will be prepared for all common instances and have the appropriate tools necessary to fix immediately.

On a broader scale, Jocko specifies “single points of failure” in your business. If a particular contract is terminated, can your company survive? Are you relying too heavily on one revenue stream? Remember, if you have one, you have none.

A cash cow project or program is an example of something that should it go bust could end a company quickly. The company’s portfolio may be diverse having many divisions operating in different categories. You could have an underground utility division, a grading division, an aggregate division, and a paving division.

However, if one of those divisions (say the underground utilities) makes up for 70% of the overall revenue, this company has a single point of failure. Should that division fail, an entire organization may fail. While on paper you have four divisions, in reality, you have one, which ultimately means you have none.

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