In our risk management classes we teach a relatively simple six-step process for evaluating identifying, evaluating, and mitigating risks in projects. The result of the process is a set of activities on the project that will mitigate the probability or impact of the risk.
But, sometimes, students ask, “What if something you didn’t plan for happens?” This is the classic “unknown-unknown” that Donald Rumsfeld was laughed at for trying to explain in a press conference one time (it’s on YouTube if you want to look it up). Known-unknowns are the things that we know might happen – we know what they are but we don’t know if they will happen. Unknown-unknowns are the things that, well, we haven’t thought of that happen nonetheless.
In answer to this question I usually back pedal a bit – “Hopefully you have a fall back position.” But if that isn’t true, sometimes you have to come up with something called a “workaround” which is an unplanned response to a problem when it occurs and the planned response isn’t possible.
The advice of this short note is: “keep workarounds simple.” Complexity, in and of itself, adds to risk. So in a crisis or when a problem occurs, keep your instructions simple. That’s it.