September 26, 2022

What-if scenarios: planning for uncertain project future

Project Management Resource Management Risk Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What will happen if I do it differently?” And then pushed your managerial instincts to leap into the future to determine possible outcomes? If you did, in that very moment, you created what-if scenarios in your head to analyze project risks and chances of your project.

Better yet if you can visualize those possibilities to get a bigger picture of what would be the best course for your project to take. This article will discuss what-if scenarios in project management and show you how you can create them with the BigPicture app for Jira.

What are what-if scenarios in project management?

The what-if scenarios are not elaborate scripts where you meticulously describe the chain of events or build a plot for your project. But just like movie scripts, they also stand for an alternative reality that could take place if certain conditions are met.

As such, in project management, what-if scenarios are hypothetical situations that could happen to your project. Their goal is to help you understand how certain changes in project variables would affect your entire initiative. For example, you could use the what-if scenarios to test the outcomes for situations when your project requires more (or less) budget, resources, or time. In either case, the scenario’s outcome could be positive or negative.

Therefore, when thinking about what-if scenarios for your project, you are actually thinking about how a change in factor A would affect factor B. This way, you can analyze and understand how A and B relate to each other and what would be the consequences of a change in a certain factor.

How do you build what-if scenarios in Jira?

To create a what-if scenario for your Jira project, you must enter the Scenario mode available in BigPicture. This feature lets you safely fiddle with different data and compare the outcome to your original plan. Think of it as a sandbox where you can run tests without worrying about “breaking something” in your live project.

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The Scenario mode is currently available in two modules: the Gantt module and the Resources module. When you enable this mode, you will be able to introduce a series of changes to your Gantt chart and resources to test how they would affect your project. In particular, you can test for the following variables concerning your project tasks:

  • Original Estimate, Remaining Estimate, and Story Points
  • Contouring mode, Workload contour
  • Start and end dates
  • Period mode
  • Summary
  • Assignee

All of these variables can impact your schedule and/or resources. Further down in this article, we will give you a real example of using the Scenario mode. But let’s first go through the process of creating a scenario.

Create a what-if scenario in Jira

To begin a simulation, navigate to the module of your choice (Gantt or Resources). Next, click on the Live button located on the top menu and select the Create new scenario option. The app will ask you to name your what-if scenario and select whether you would like to have it for private or public use. Click Create when you are done.

Name your new what-if scenario, select its color code, and choose visibility (private or public).

 

Once your what-if scenario is created, you can still freely move back and forth between both Gantt and Resources modules. The same goes for other modules—the app will not restrict you from visiting them. However, please keep in mind that if you change something on other modules, these changes will affect your original (live) project, not the what-if scenario.

So as long as you stay in the Scenario mode, all the changes you make will remain isolated from your live (original) project. When you find the best variant for your project plan and decide to replace it with the original one, you will need to merge it with the live version. Please note that when you merge your scenario, you cannot undo this action.

What-if scenario example

Let’s consider a case where a project has a problem with resource allocation. Here, the problem pertains to Sofia Olsen’s capacity—In week 33, her capacity is exceeded by 15 hours.

Sofia’s workload is too high in Week 33 and too low in Week 31.

 

Therefore, we will need to find a way to reduce her workload without compromising other project tasks. So to stay on the safe side and try different variants, we will create a private what-if scenario and name it “Sofia Olsen’s workload” before we start making any changes.

Creating a what-if scenario in the Resources module to solve the workload issue.

 

Moving on. We have a scenario created. Time for a quick analysis. We can see that Sofia’s capacity for week 31 is green. It means she is underallocated as she still got 40 hours of Remaining capacity. In week 32, her capacity is orange as she can still take 1 more hour of work. Looking at the tasks she has for week 33, we can see that task QA-24 (the blue one) requires the most effort.

You can check workload details for every resource in BigPicture.

 

Using what-if scenarios to test different solutions

We can try to fiddle with Sofia’s tasks to fix the overallocation problem. For example, we could stretch QA-24 to extend its period to week 31; or change its start/end dates by moving the task to another date. We could proceed in a similar way with her other tasks (QA-61, QA-34, QA-93).

However we decide to approach it, BigPicture will keep a record of all the changes you make in Sofia’s scenario. In this particular case, we decided to adjust the task’s period and dates to give Sofia something to do in week 31. Consequently, her capacity in week 33 is no longer red (overallocation).

BigPicture will track all of the changes you make in your scenario.

 

Moreover, you might have noticed a number icon next to the what-if scenario name. It indicates the number of changes we have introduced to our Jira scenario. When we click on it, we will get a chronological list of all our actions since starting this scenario. If we expand the view for each change, we will get a side-by-side comparison of changes with the live (original) version of the project task.

The final step would be to click the icon next to the scenario name to merge it with the live project. Additionally, we could run a second simulation to try different solutions. For example, we could consider testing for boundary values to find the best- and worst-case scenarios.

Hint: We adjusted Sofia’s workload while working in the Resources module. You can do the same in the Gantt module. Actions like task moving and stretching work the same on a Gantt chart. And you can also look up your team member’s workload in the Resources Panel.

Are what-if scenarios helpful in project management?

What-if scenarios can help you see viable options, define and meet deadlines and goals, and navigate through each project change as it happens. This way, you can make more informed decisions and predict their consequences more accurately. And although project management will always carry some degree of uncertainty, you can make the future of your project more predictable with the help of BigPicture’s Scenario mode.