Today, my desk was on the brink of avalanche. As is often the case when I’m being buried by paper, the song “In a hole” went through my head, which goes, “I’m in a hole, and I’m digging it deeper, I don’t know how I’m gonna get out….” It’s by Joe Flood, and I heard it performed by Ron Sunshine and Full Swing at a wedding many years ago. It’s stayed with me all this time, even though I haven’t heard it since. Funny, how a good song can do that.
Something else that stayed with me, from that wedding, was that it rained cats and dogs, and there was a power failure, just as the band was heating up. It was an afternoon affair, so lighting wasn’t a major problem, but the band’s PA system obviously went dead, and that would have put a lesser band out of business. (Fire engines came, for some reason, but that’s another story.)
But when the lights went out, without missing a beat, Ron Sunshine and Full Swing launched into an unplugged set, with songs that included clapping parts as accompaniments, and it sounded so good, it would have fit right in with their usual set. It didn’t come across at all as a consolation prize. They grooved just as hard as they did with electricity, and as is often the case in rainy weddings, the party grew more intimate and more unified, as we huddled together, away from the elements. The energy didn’t dip a kilowatt.
Ron Sunshine and his band’s response to the circumstance struck me as an incredible display of professionalism and risk readiness. Frankly, despite what could have been a disaster, it was among the most fun weddings ever—and I’m not saying “frankly” just because it was my friend Frank who got married that day. The band gets much of the credit for that.
My question, then, is this: Are you ready, if the power goes out?
Considering a risk analysis chart like this might help you with some risk planning, so that you too can launch heroic recoveries. Formal risk planning can (and sometimes should) become a much more complex endeavor (a full time job, in some organizations), but this is a good place to start. The idea here is that you list generic dimensions of your project in each row, and then consider various internal and external ways that issues could potentially become manifest, in each box.
Take the first row, “People,” for example. Say your project is an outdoor wedding in a tent. The “internal/people” are in your project team, such as your band. External people are the client, the partiers, the caterer, and so on. What risks are associated with each? Well, the band might not show up. They might not rehearse enough. They might play too loudly. They might forget their gear. The partiers might not like your music, or they might be drunk and rowdy, or they might insist on running up to the bandstand, grabbing the mic, and singing along. The party planner might be really mean and try to stick your band in a crowded corner.
Imagining potentially problematic circumstances beforehand and planning mitigation strategies, should they come about, will help you respond to more issues that actually arise. Do you have backup musicians to call, in the case of emergencies? What’s your policy for drunken reveler singalongs? Is everyone ready for an unplugged set? Can you discuss setup requirements in advance of the event? For each reasonably likely circumstance, write out your backup plan.
When you’ve exhausted “People,” do the same for Gear/Facilities, and other items on the list, and then arrive at possibilities like “the power goes out.” Add your own rows to customize the chart to your circumstance.
Going through this exercise (preferably, doing it as a project team) and charting your contingencies can make you more resilient, and if major circumstances do come about, hopefully the resulting stories will have happy endings.