Preparing for Black Swan events in Project Management

Posted on April 30, 2019
Preparing for Black Swan events in Project Management

Do project managers adequately prepare for unforeseen events and their consequences?

Project managers know that many factors can impede the successful delivery of a project. But do they make adequate preparations for dramatic, unforeseen events outside the normal conceptions of risk management? Doug Boebinger, an experienced project manager, consultant and Schulich ExecEd instructor, says that project managers need to go further and consider preparations for drastic deviations from plans due to extraordinary, improbable events.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularized the concept of such events in his 2007 book, The Black Swan. He refers to events of extreme impact that are not anticipated or prepared for, and for which people try to create explanations afterwards. In the business world this could mean a freak accident on a routine construction job, a vendor suddenly declaring bankruptcy, electronic files becoming corrupt or an un-forecasted storm that results in a cancelled flight to an important client meeting.

Project risk management typically does not prepare for events outside of the usual realm of high probability, meaning that it uses past experience to predict future problems. Boebinger recommends brainstorming for worst case scenarios and having contingency plans for each.

No workplace should let complacency and inefficiency become a part of the culture. Some managers get accustomed to spending all their time in crisis mode, putting out bush fires. Likewise, they can fail to prepare their team to handle problems when things are running smoothly. The best preparation for the possibility of the Black Swan phenomenon is to create the strongest team possible of well-trained and engaged managers and employees.


Douglas Boebinger photoDoug Boebinger is an instructor for Schulich ExecEd’s Masters Certificate in Project Management (starting Sept. 12, 2019). The program is designed to provide structured techniques to add the maximum amount of value during project execution. Understand how all the phases of a project life cycle fit together.