Should You Hide or Publish Contingency Items?

Contingency elements – typically in the form of extra dollars or time – are a fundamental part of the way leaders manage risk in their projects. Reasonable approach, right? Unexpected things happen and items that were considered in risk management plans sometimes do come to fruition and must be handled. Having contingencies in your budget and/or schedule can be applied to minimize the impact of the risks. But does the publicly known presence of contingency items cause improper behavior?

In his book What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures author Malcolm Gladwell discusses the results of an experiment in Germany conducted with taxicab drivers. A set of taxis were equipped with antilock breaking systems and another set of taxis were left unmodified. One would think the ABS breaking system would result in better driving results…in fact the opposite happened! The additional safety and capability the ABS breaks provided caused the taxi drivers to be more aggressive and reckless. The “contingency” of knowing they have the additional safety element available negatively changed their driving habits.

This surfaces the question…does publishing contingency elements in our project schedules and other deliverables cause bad behavior? Do our excessively multi-taking project team members see contingency as a relief valve that gives them a chance to miss deadlines? Should project managers HIDE the contingency available to them?

We have run across project leaders who do just that; they hide the contingency or they publish two schedules…one for team members without contingency and another for management that shows the contingency available. Although potentially useful, we do not believe this is an example of intelligent disobedience. The risk of losing trust from your team members outweighs the risk of having to manage “contingency consuming behaviors”. Better to publish one set of documentation, with contingency elements evident and use open and honest communication to avert potential behaviors that are undesirable.

Note: If you or your organisation want assistance with improving your performance through the use of Intelligent Disobedience, you can check out our Intelligent Disobedience workshop at or drop us a line at and we can arrange a presentation for you and your team to discuss this performance enhancing approach.