Things Will Go Wrong, So Have a Contingency Plan

If you're doing mission-critical work, it's essential to make sure everything's working and to have a backup in case the original plan falls apart. That's something I learned the hard way when I got married a couple weeks back.

While the Obama administration was dealing with the fallout from a botched launch of its healthcare website, another botched launch that affected a number of people led to a completely different round of last-minute shuffling.

That’s right, my new wife and I had to change our wedding venue on the fly earlier this month because we were rained out at our original spot.

Unlike the president, we had to deal with Mother Nature, which is a lot harder to control than a complex series of APIs that don’t easily talk to one another.

Like President Obama, we were taken aback by the unexpected problems we had that seemed out of our control. (Though, unlike the president, we had to deal with Mother Nature, which is a lot harder than a complex series of APIs that don’t easily talk to one another.) Also like President Obama, we wish we would have been able to test things out beforehand. (Though we had a rehearsal dinner, the ground was way too wet to even have a hope of actually pulling the wedding off.)

Granted, the online health insurance exchanges are incredibly complex, and getting them running will be an ongoing problem for the administration. But our wedding is over, and while I won’t be able to solve Healthcare.Gov all by myself, I can tell you how we managed to keep things moving, even considering all the things that happened that week. It’s a case study in the value of a good backup plan.

Know what you might need: Months before the wedding, we rented out a local hall just in case we needed it, and my new mother-in-law acquired a banquet license for the event, which allowed us to serve alcohol to our guests. If we hadn’t had those, we would have been stuck trying to hold an outdoor reception in a yard where the recently placed sod was, well, sodden. The fact that we had this contingency plan in place helped ensure the headaches we had were less with last-minute planning and more with ensuring things were in place.

Make the decision, then follow through: Before we even made the call, I started working on an email to our attendees—in MailChimp no less, because I like to use email marketing apps to plan weddings—letting them know what was happening. (I even led off with an Alanis Morissette joke, hiding the level of stress we were suddenly under.) We reached out to close friends and family, making sure they could assist us as we moved forward. As a result, nobody got lost on the way to the wedding (we think).

Scale down where needed: Depending on your schedule, you may not get your full experience when having to deal with a backup plan. In our case, some things had to be set aside—the yard games we created for the event, for example, didn’t make the trip—but with a lot of collaboration and quick thinking, you can save the day. Ultimately, you won’t have everything that you planned, but if you can maintain the spirit of the original endeavor, all will not be lost. (And, as TechPresident notes in the case of Healthcare.Gov, it might have helped if the scale had been just a wee bit smaller out of the gate.)

Get the players working together: Before and after we made the decision to change sites, we worked with all the players involved—from our officiant (an extended family member), to our catering staff (who did amazing work with the last-minute venue change, even assisting with our sudden need for a bartender), to our friends and family (who, bless their hearts, were able to help us set up a backup venue in three hours the night before)—to make sure that, even with all the changes, it would be a great day. And you know what? It still was.

Other things may fall through: On the day of the wedding my soon-to-be-wife and I weren’t able to talk to one another before the ceremony, but I heard indirectly—through my best man—that the photographer my soulmate had scheduled and paid would be unable to attend due to a sudden run on rental cars out of Washington, DC. This was a problem, obviously, and I tried to work my journalism world connections to help find a backup. Ultimately, we took advantage of the numerous cameras of family and friends to capture the day, even using hashtags to document things on Instagram and RebelMouse. It wasn’t ideal, but in a pinch, it worked.

Was it exactly what we wanted? No. Did we waste a lot of money on things we never got to use, such as a tent, a newly landscaped yard, and a really awesome port-a-potty that had a built-in stereo system? Yes, yes we did.

But in the end, we still had a great wedding, and we even had some totally unbelievable stroke-of-luck results with the amateur photos, like this one:

Why am I telling you about my wedding? Because, if you’re in charge of IT or planning an event, things will happen. Technology will grow outdated or break down, email systems will melt down, or your website will get hacked.

If we didn’t have a system in place to save us, a lot of bad things would have happened on our wedding day. Instead, we can consider what happened floodwater under the bridge.

You can’t fix every problem, but in an emergency, quick thinking and a contingency plan can save the day.

Now to make sure I never lose my ring…

The yard we didn't get to use, at one of its soggiest points. (photo by Ernie Smith)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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