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Plan for Problems to Improve Odds of Success



David Hayden Photography


The Potential Problem Analysis

Prepares You for the Unexpected


Murphy's Law says, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." And it's true. No matter how well-planned your project is, there's always a chance that something unexpected will happen.

That's why it's so important to do a Potential Problem Analysis (PPA). A PPA is a tool that helps you identify potential problems and develop plans to mitigate them.

It’s pretty simple to do a PPA, you'll need to:

  1. Identify potential problems. This is done by brainstorming with your team, reviewing historical data, or talking to experts. It helps to bring the most adamant naysayers to get the ideas flowing.

  2. Rate, on a scale of 1-to 5, the severity of each problem. How bad would it be if this problem happened? Significant but minor problems would have a rating of 1. Problems that carry a heavy time or financial burden or might lead to the ruination of the company, serious injury, or loss of life would be rated as a 5.

  3. Rate, on a scale of 1-5, the probability of occurrence of each problem. How likely is it that a problem will happen? Low probability problems are rated as 1 while problems that are likely to pop up would be rated as 5.

  4. Multiply the severity and probability ratings to get a risk score. The higher the risk score, the more important it is to address the problem. Severe problems that are likely to occur will have the highest risk scores.

  5. Include in your analysis plans to mitigate each problem. This could involve things like changing your process, having a backup plan, or training your team. Pay particular attention to problems with the highest scores, you want very comprehensive plans for addressing those problems.

The time to plan for problems is BEFORE they happen.

It's important to do a PPA early in the planning process, so that you can take steps to prevent problems from happening. But even when you do a PPA, there's still a chance that something unexpected will happen. If you thoroughly complete steps 1-5, the odds are far better that unexpected problems will be less severe.

It’s important that create a response plan that includes the following:

  • The person or persons responsible for monitoring progress and catching the problems if/when they occur.

  • The person or persons who will be responsible for mitigating problems when they occur?

  • Detailed steps they need to take when a problem is identified. This might include a call list, or a list of immediate action to take, and reporting responsibilities.

  • How, if, and when various stakeholders need to be notified?

By doing a PPA and developing a response plan, you can be prepared for the unexpected and keep your project on track.


Here's a real-world example of how a PPA can be used.

Bob was a project manager for a new product launch. He knew that there were a lot of potential problems that could happen, so he did a PPA.


One of the potential problems that Bob identified was that the marketing department might lose their lead graphic designer. He rated the severity of this problem as a 5 and the probability as a 3, for a risk score of 15.


To mitigate this risk, Bob developed a plan to have regularly scheduled progress meetings with the marketing team and lead designer. The team participated in and was invested in the graphic design process. He also made sure that the team had a cohesive vision so that in the event of having to replace the graphic designer at the last minute, they could bring the new team member up to speed very quickly.


Fortunately, the Graphic Designer stayed on through the product launch. But having planned for a severe problem Bob had some peace of mind knowing that the success of the product launch was not dependent on a single individual.


So, if you want to be prepared for the unexpected, do a PPA. It's a simple but effective way to protect your project from problems.


Why would a photographer write about this stuff?

Commercial photography is a business that depends on the success of the people and companies served. And, commercial photography is a business that thrives on solving problems. My entire and varied career has been focused on problem solving and if anything I’ve learned along the way can help someone else, I want to share it.

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