What do we all want? That the project works as planned, of course! The schedule should be respected for the day, we said at the kick-off meeting. We are a little worried that the workshops will not bring up any prickly subjects. And even if the document is not yet finalized, our clients ensure us that it will be ready in due time. For our part, we still have to verify one technical point. And even though the deadline has been set, the client still has to validate the availability of its teams when it has been planned.

Planning ahead is reassuring. However, in project management, there are always surprises. What to do then? At all costs, avoid the unexpected?

Let’s go back in time 300,000 years ago. My ancestor homo-sapiens is hunting. In fact, he has been hunting for quite some time and he is still empty-handed [1]. He finds himself in front of a large fruit tree. He realizes that he is hungry. He picks what looks like apples, checks to make sure they are safe, and then sits down to eat. What will his next meal be? When will it be? Won’t he himself be a meal for one of his many predators? He doesn’t know.

This may seem worrying. Because the unexpected has a bad reputation. And it is certainly worse in our time. The unexpected is frightening, but – fortunately, indeed? – we have more and more ways of controlling it that make us feel secure: geographical tracking, weather forecasts, traffic forecasts, etc. But doesn’t this feeling of predictability makes the unexpected even more surprising and therefore more difficult to accept? Worse, doesn’t the prediction that comes true seems even more surprising than the unexpected?

However, the unexpected is still valuable: how many discoveries have been made as a result of serendipity? Velcro, post-it notes, penicillin, and especially tarte Tatin! When traveling, how many happy memories, discoveries are linked to a random wandering in an unknown city (disconnected from maps and other GPS)?

In order to claim happiness, it seems that some of our needs must be satisfied [2]. And to be secure, we need insurance. But these have a cost. When it comes to anticipating, the more we want to see far ahead, the more this cost evolves exponentially. While, by definition, to make, to create, is to manufacture the unpredictable, rather than wanting to anticipate, does not wisdom dictate that we deal with the unforeseen?

I would never dream of not trying to anticipate. But I think that in project management, beyond top-down methods, which leave little room for the unexpected, and agile methods, which are not always easy to implement, we can organize ourselves and welcome the unexpected. It is not a question of opposing the planned and the unexpected, they are two sides of the same coin. At J2S, we have learned to adapt. We know that there are unavoidable events (unplanned, but almost certain): the availability of teams… There are also unforeseen events that we hope for: good ideas during workshops. And there are useful contingencies that turn into opportunities…

Since the unexpected is certain, let’s accept it.



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Jean-Yves Jourdain,
Cofounder of J2S

1- I got the same genes: even today, when I go shopping, I sometimes come back with half of the grocery list.