A Contingency Plan – also sometimes called a Disaster Recovery Plan – identifies what key personnel do on a project, program, or other engagement in the unlikely event that something stops the project or work on the engagement or otherwise causes a complete disruption in activity.  It may cover an organization’s reaction to a natural disaster, a terrorist act, or even how personnel will respond to a financial crisis that causes a shutdown of the corporation.  At any rate, it serves as a reference tool for how to respond to such situations or incidents and provides guidelines to follow for creating a business continuity or the continuance of processing key activities and data should the worst-case scenario become a reality.

The contingency plan outlines and lists the business continuity plans for the organization.  Along with the scenarios already mentioned it can also pertain to a network failure, application failure, or a system failure. The contingency plan is basically developed from the outcome of a risk analysis. All the project risks are identified, assessed, and categorized accordingly by priorities.

The project manager develops the contingency plan for the project, including a mitigation strategy for each risk that is identified. The most severe or highest priority risks are those items likely cause a major disruption to the business within a predetermined period of time (e.g., 3 hours). Nevertheless, because of the potential disruption to the business, it is vital to put a contingency plan in place, both during the project and also once the system has been commissioned and put in operation. The plan should list the critical items likely to fail and list the available resources needed to support these items. The contingency plan should list the procedures that would be necessary to permit the timely restoration of services back to normal. The project support staff and testing teams need to be involved in the contingency planning and need to prepare items such as

  • A disaster notification process and strategy
  • Disaster recovery and backup procedures for applications and files
  • A list of who the role players are in the event of an emergency
  • A list of essential equipment needed to support the solution
  • The project manager needs to be certain that a design to accommodate possible minor disruptions and an alternative backup for any major disruption that could occur are in place.

Going a step further

On some projects – often when a government contract is involved – a contingency plan or disaster recovery plan may go as far as to require a yearly proof of capabilities.  I’ve lead government programs where we actually had to back data up once a year, take all key personnel offsite to a reserved processing facility, and prove that we could be back up and processing data successfully within a 24 hour time frame in the event of a disaster.  This is the extreme – and definitely price it in as a very expensive deliverable of it is required of you – but it is sometimes required and it is not that easy to mobilize that many people and that much data while still remaining in production mode back home.