Contingency Planning: work the “backup to the backup” plan!

Over the course of the 175+ essays on this blog, I have often commented on the importance of executional excellence in achieving success in business.  I have been so focused on this idea that I have captured a subset of 48 essays (this will be #49) in my “topic archive” (found on the left side of this blog’s homepage) that is themed “Performance Management and Execution.”  Rather than being inspired by a current client challenge, or a historic business experience, today’s essay was inspired by the birth of a friend’s first child.

My good friend Cory and his wife Spenser celebrated the birth of their son Eliot in the past week or so and the pictures brought back all of my memories of the birth of our son Bryson almost 20 years ago.  We were living in Baltimore at the time and living on the northern edge of the city and Jennie had a great relationship with a local doctor who was all set to deliver young Bryson.  We had attended all the “pre-natal” classes, and had not only practiced our route to GBMC (Greater Baltimore Medical Center), but had figured out a backup route in case of traffic.  I thought we were all set …. little did I know!

Jennie’s pregnancy was going along well, but towards the third trimester (in mid June) it became clear that Bryson was positioned “transverse”, and that unless something really changed we were probably heading to a planned c-section when he came to term in mid July.  After a regular appointment, Jennie’s doctor let us know that she was heading out of town for a week or so on vacation, and introduced Jennie to her backup doctor “just in case.”  All seemed set and we left that appointment thinking that we would probably see the doctor again in about a month for the planned c-section that was discussed …. again, little did I know!

Just a few days later (thank goodness I was in town!!) Jennie called my car phone (this was 1998, the early days of mobile phones) and said that her water broken, that she was going into labor, and that I needed to get home immediately!!  I was right around the corner so I pulled into the driveway in just a few minutes and found Jennie VERY upset.  Not only was our doctor out of town on vacation, the backup doctor was nowhere to be found, and we were being connected with the “backup to the backup” doctor who practiced at a different hospital in a different part of Baltimore.  A total freakout! My wife was going into labor and were were heading to meet this “backup to the backup” doctor for the first time at a hospital that we had never visited … to say the least this was not what was planned!

While a crazy ride, it all worked out ok in the end, Bryson was born the next day (an emergency c-section after all)  and mom and baby both were fine … a bit freaked out but fine!  This memory stays with me as a reminder of how I had missed planning for the “backup to the backup” plan!  I needed to take contingency planning to the next level!

 Think how rarely we take the time or have the discipline to work a contingency plan in business, none the less take it to the “next level.”  The next time that you are in planning/work session and you do some work on a “backup plan,” take a few minutes and ask yourself “what if the backup plan blows up, what then??”  While it might be a freakout, ask yourself, how would I get to Mt. Sinai hospital ( or your “backup to the backup”) if the chips are down?  These few minutes of work may seem like overkill, but I can assure you that in hindsight I wished I had asked some of those questions 20 years ago, and try to ask them now in business situations that I face today!