Luck Favors the Prepared

Two key areas prevent project failures and lead to your project’s success—preparation and execution.

Adobe Stock 333746251
©Christine Bird 2020 -

Remodeling can be a challenge. Humorist Margo Kaufman put it this way: “Remodeling is like pulling a loose thread on a cheap sweater—the job keeps unraveling.”

When it was time to remodel my home, I hired a general contractor I had used several times in the past. He had always done excellent work for a fair price and finished everything on time. As in the past, the general contractor did excellent work on this project—but it all came to a halt when the subcontractor for finish carpentry failed to show up. I learned my contractor had unfortunately paid the finish carpenter upfront, without having a contingency plan.

After a long wait and some hard conversations, the general contractor hired a second finish carpenter out of his pocket to get the work done. His profits took a big hit because of all the extra time and money he didn’t plan for in his original bid.

The six-week project ended up taking six months.

Years ago, someone shared a Chinese proverb that translates roughly “luck favors the prepared.” This proverb succinctly captures what I use to get large projects done right and on schedule.

Challenge of Complex Delivery

When it comes to delivering large or complex projects, relying on pure luck is simply planning to miss the mark. One estimate indicates 70 percent of all projects fail—some put the failure rate even higher. Many plans don’t have a contingency for a specific phase of a project that typically runs long or for a vendor prone to overcommit and underdeliver. One problem, though it may seem small, can cascade to the rest of the project, causing multiple, significant delays.

The project may ultimately be completed and even make money. However, costs will be higher, and profits will be lower, guaranteed. Even if no additional direct costs are incurred, a price will still be paid in increased time and reduced efficiency that comes with juggling work, keeping teams engaged and switching from project to project.

And when your project is bigger, that effect can be magnified. Too many small failures will mean your project will eventually fail. If a single project is big enough, it can bring a company down.

The costs of not planning for contingencies can range from moderate to catastrophic. I’ve found that two key areas prevent project failures and lead to your project’s success—preparation and execution.

Adobe Stock 308328593©Jasmin Merdan - stock.adobe.comPreparation

Preparation is where people can get complacent, thinking they have done small tasks a thousand times. Don’t make assumptions based on previous projects. Identify risks. Look at this project with a fresh perspective. Prepare for your project with these steps in mind:

  • Break down the work— identify every action into consumable, reasonably measurable tasks 
  • Schedule — create a timeline for the completion of each task
  • Chart — use a Gantt chart or bar chart to illustrate your project and the relationships among activities and schedules, and know the critical path — the series of tasks which make up the longest sequence in the project
  • Identify triggers — detail the events that could trigger risks and problems
  • List alternate solutions – develop contingency plans for high-probability risks
  • Backlog — have other tasks ready that can be completed when delays occur for another part of the project


Once you complete the planning stage, it’s time for execution. Strive to prevent risks from occurring, so you’ll want to watch for the potential trigger events you’ve identified that will cause delays or create problems. Make sure you report every delay, especially at the beginning. If you’re a manager or project manager, make sure you’re reporting any problems to your stakeholders, and remember, your job is to solve those issues as quickly as possible.

  • Front-load the work — concentrate maximum effort at the beginning (putting—or delaying—most work until the end creates a balloon payment of tasks and jeopardizes the delivery date)
  • Communicate — check-in daily or more, looking for risks to emerge, managers check-in with workers, executives, check-in with managers
  • Update — identify completed tasks, changes, and risks to execution
  • Resolve — work closely with your team to overcome issues as quickly as possible

Lucky or unlucky

Taking the time to both prepare and execute will lead to success in business and life. Putting these words into action will guarantee you will have luck every time.