contingency plan vs fallback plan

This is one of those concepts that makes professionals scratch their heads. I was a victim of it myself. During my initial days of PMP exam preparation, I had difficulty understanding the difference between the contingency plan and the fallback plan.

I used to think that the contingency plan was used to manage identified risks and the fallback plan was for unidentified risks. This was wrong. Contingency and fallback plans help manage identified risks.

However, since both plans are used to manage risks, you may wonder which you should follow if any identified risk occurs as both deals with identified risks?

Since I have passed the PMP and PMI-RMP exams and understand these concepts well, I am writing this blog post and hope after reading it you will be able to differentiate the contingency and fallback plan.

Contingency Plan

Merriam-Webster defines the term “contingency” as “an event that may but is not certain to occur.”

A contingency is an event that may or may not occur. Therefore, we can say that the contingency plan deals with events that may or may not occur.

A contingency plan is a part of the project management plan; it describes every action that you will take if any identified risk occurs.

Let us look at a real-world example of a contingency plan.

A Real-World Example

You are working on a construction project, and there is a risk that rain may fall during execution, which will damage any consumables lying out in the open.

Therefore, you make a plan that says, “If there is an indication of rainfall, all consumables will be covered with a plastic sheet.” You further add that after the rain stops, you will bring a fan/vacuum pump to clean and dry the wet consumables.

This is a contingency plan for this risk event.

You can find many definitions of a contingency plan on the internet that may appear different to you, but they may be individually correct.

Below are two different explanations of the contingency plan.

  • Contingency plans are the plans that describe the specific actions that will be taken if an opportunity or a threat occurs.
  • A contingency response strategy will be executed if there is a sufficient warning sign (risk trigger).

If you examine these definitions, you will find that they are not different, just phrased differently.

Fallback Plan

The fallback plan is a part of the project management plan and defines under which circumstances action has to be taken.

A fallback plan is implemented when the contingency plan fails or is not fully effective. It is a backup for the contingency plan. You can say that the fallback plan is generally made for residual risks.

A Real-World Example

Let’s reconsider the example given above.

Suppose the rain continued to fall for a very long time, longer than expected, which causes damage to the consumables.

In this case, you will implement your fallback plan. It says that if the rain continues to fall for a very long time, causing consumables to be damaged and the contingency plan fails, you will reorder consumables from a pre-identified supplier.

This is an example of a fallback plan.

Before I go any further, let me share another example from my own experience.

I am using a third-party backup service to save data for my blog. I can use this backup in case my site crashes and my hosting provider does not have any backup.

This is my contingency plan.

Now, what would happen if my site got hacked, and at the same time my third-party backup service also went out of business? How would I restore my blog?

This is where my fallback plan comes into play. To save myself from such a disaster, I always keep an updated copy of my blog on my computer and Google Drive.

Now, if my blog is hacked and even the third party service fails, I can restore my blog from my backup stored on my computer or online storage.

The Difference Between the Contingency Plan and Fallback Plan

There is no difference between the contingency plan and the fallback plan; they complement each other. The fallback plan only comes into use when the contingency plan fails.

Similarities Between the Contingency Plan and Fallback Plan

The similarities between these two plans are as follows:

  • Both plans are known as risk responses.
  • Both plans are used to manage the identified risks.
  • Both plans utilize the contingency reserve for implementation.


The contingency and fallback plans are the backbone of your risk management plan that helps you manage identified risks. You will implement the contingency plan if any identified risk occurs, and when the contingency plan fails or seem ineffective, you will implement the fallback plan.

You will use the contingency reserve to apply the contingency or fallback plan, not the management reserve because the contingency reserve is used for identified risks. The management reserve is used to manage unidentified risks.

I hope that now you understand these terms. However, if you still have some trouble, leave a comment below. I am ready to discuss.

The contingency plan and fallback plan are very important from a PMP and PMI-RMP exam point of view, so be sure to understand this topic well.