Today we’re going to be sharing a collection of short stories that have one thing in common. They should never have happened.

We’re starting with the mundane custom furniture company that took an order for a custom made sofa. The lead time for the sofa is a full ten weeks and let me tell you, those ten weeks are going to pose a commercial problem for the business that is waiting for the furniture to arrive. The process of fabric selection took a week of back and forth negotiation between the sales team and the placement of the order. Now that we’re away from the country for two weeks, we get a message a week after placing the order that the fabric is not available, and what would we like to do with the order?

Number 2. This is the story of the government department of health that is really two departments in one. Submitting an application to said department of health, as it turns out does not mean that the building application will get routed to both places within the department. Of course, there is no publicly available documentation saying that you must submit the application twice to the same department in order to get it routed through both subsections of the department. After getting the approval from said department of health, the city’s building examiner noted that the food safety division of the department of health had not signed off on the application. This was despite the fact that the department had the application for nearly 6 weeks. The food safety division promised to give speedy review of the application. But his ultimately meant a month of delay. When that was complete, it went to the city’s food safety review who then required the addition of a 500 gallon grease trap for each 3 gallon kitchen sink. Clearly that made no logical sense.

Number 3. Then there’s the story of the internet service provider who would not provision fiber to a property because the property address wasn’t listed in the 911 database for the city’s public safety records. It turns out that the city is willing to collect taxes for that address. The road to the address is paved, and the mailman is delivering mail to that address. But the internet service provider could not recognize that the address existed. The location shows up in Google maps. The solution in this case was to bring the internet service to a friendly neighbor whose address did actually appear in the 911 database, and then we introduced a private extension of the internet service to go the last few yards to the subject property. The problem with this approach of course is that we experienced months of delay in the provisioning of the service, and we will won’t get the emergency services coming to the proper location if someone were to call 911 from a fixed device on that network.

Number 4. There is the story of the client who chose the paint color for an office. The painter ordered the paint and proceeded to get to work. Total elapsed time for the job was forecast to be three days, one primer coat and two finishing coats of paint. At first, the client was happy with the paint color. They chose it after all. By the time the time the second coat of paint was expertly rolled and dried on the walls, the client admitted that perhaps it wasn’t the best choice. They would go back and order new paint. But now the painters would not be available for another week. It took three days to choose another paint color and then another week to repaint the entire office.

So what do all these stories mean? They’re real life stories from our own business. Does it mean that we’re bad managers?

The fact is, it means none of these things. These are real life risks that happen in any business. You can’t plan for the unknown, apart from allocating a time buffer at the end of each project. That buffer isn’t for anything specific. It’s there to deal with the unknowns that will arise with alarming regularity in real life.