Contingencies (Issue 609)

In which we are reminded that not everything (anything?) goes as planned – good to have a back up in advance.

“Oh, look!,” my friend exclaimed.  “Sarah Moule is singing tonight at 8:30 at the 606 Club,” one of the best jazz venues in London, and we were interested in some good music on a Sunday night.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon. We called for reservations, and planned to leave at 7:15, estimating about an hour’s journey to the Club based on experience and London Transport maps designed for that purpose:  two west-bound Tube rides and a brisk walk.

The first Tube ride went smoothly but slowly – 45 minutes. We would be a few minutes late, no problem.  We popped off the train and, as we transferred to the second train, a very pleasant voice on the PA system informed us that all west-bound trains on that line were out of service for the day due to maintenance, sorry for the inconvenience, please make other arrangements.

“We’ll take a cab,” I shouted over the noise of the departing train.  We sprinted up the escalators to the street, following the sign “Taxis.”  Nothing in sight. In fact, very few cars in sight.  We spread out.  We hailed anything that moved, finally securing the attention of a taxi.  It was already 8:40.We’d missed the start of Sarah’s  performance.   One unplanned, expensive 20 minute taxi ride later, we were slipping into our seats to watch the last half-hour of her first set which was, quite delightfully, wonderful.

To make the return trip story short, which it wasn’t, as we were transferring from the first return train to the second, a very pleasant voice on the PA system informed us that service for the second train had concluded for the evening, sorry for the inconvenience, please make other arrangements. Which… we did, with plenty of time to examine how we’d gone wrong.

Well, the travel times map was too optimistic. We should have allowed more time.  We’d forgotten to check which lines were down for maintenance. And who knew they would shut the return train line 30 minutes early that night? And more.

In sum: A planning failure – reliance on “best case” assumptions regarding our trip TO the Club compounded by additional  planning failure based on new information for our trip home..

Not that anything like this could ever happen in a selling or contracting process, of course. We promise a closed contract by a date but then the process inexplicably slows down. The client goes on vacation. Her associate gets sick.  Their senior management demands a fire dill. Their attorneys are slow. And we miss our performance targets.

Sometimes there’s naught to be done.  More often, there are heroic assumptions that “the client wants this done so everything will go smoothly” combined with a failure to plan the contracting process like the project it is, exploring alternative scenarios with the client IN ADVANCE so that we can adjust without running off the tracks when conditions change.

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