Why use a Contingency Diagram?

If you are facing the same old problems with a team tired of trying to solve them, cut the team loose on ways to make the problem worse. It will be fun, energizing, and most of all...effective in;

  • Identifying causes of potential problems
  • Developing solutions to problems
  • Planning for implementing a change or new process
  • Planning implementation of a project phase, especially the solution

What is a Contingency Diagram?

A Contingency Diagram is a method of identifying and illustrating potential problems with a process or plan, along with ways to avoid these problems. It can be used anytime you want to brainstorm ideas. A Contingency Diagram takes advantage of human nature by utilising the critic that resides in all of us.

With this tool, you change the brainstorming topic to be the opposite of what you really want.

For example, if your team is supposed to brainstorm ideas for reducing cost, the team brainstorms ways to increase cost. If you want to improve attendance, brainstorm ideas to reduce attendance.

You then take each idea and work on how to eliminate it from your environment.

This tool takes advantage of negative energy and is especially useful if you have a team that is in a negative mood.

How do we do it?

IDENTIFY THE TOPIC - write it down so that others can easily see it — try using a whiteboard or flip chart paper.

BRAINSTORM ways to ensure the issue fails or the problem occurs and/or is made worse.

Each participant should think of ideas and the facilitator should write them down on the flip chart.

Example: if the issue is arriving to work on time, the team might suggest the following ways to ensure they fail:

  • Don't set the alarm
  • Don't have clean clothes ready
  • Have the car be out of gas
  • Don't plan enough time for the commute.

IDENTFY SOLUTIONS — When you feel you are no longer generating ideas, ask the team to analyse the list and develop ideas for solving the problem. .Many solutions can be found simply by REVERSING SOME OF THE IDEAS on the list. Others can be discovered through patterns and interesting combinations of negative ideas. In either case, the list of "bad" ideas is a tremendous stimulus for generating "good" ideas.

Write these adjacent to problem actions from step two using a different colour.


  • Check the alarm clock to be sure it is set correctly.
  • Wash clothes the night before.
  • Fill car with gas on the way home the night before.
  • Calculate commute time and add 10% for emergencies.

When evaluating a solution, ask:

  • What events could cause the plan to fail?
  • Is there anything that we are assuming that may be incorrect?

Remember to THINK MORE BROADLY: for example, consider ideas that could be modified or combined.

Have the team then prioritize the solutions either by most significant to least significant or easiest to most difficult.

Example — Contingency Diagrams

From http://flight307.blogspot.com.au

Problem Statement: You are on your way home from work and your car stops in the middle of the road.

  1. Why did your car stop?
    - Because it ran out of petrol.
  2. Why did it run out of petrol?
    - Because I didn't buy any petrol on my way to work.
  3. Why didn't you buy any petrol this morning?
    - Because I didn't have any money.
  4. Why didn't you have any money?
    - Because I don?t know how to budget my money.
  5. Why don't you know how to budget?
    - Because I have never set aside time to learn how.