Project Risk Management: Fallback vs Workaround for PMP Exam

Project Risk Management: Fallback vs Workaround for PMP Exam

In project management, once the original plan does not proceed as expected or there are any changes in the external environments, the Project Management will need to investigate whether changes to the original plan is needed. This is where Fallback and Workaround would need to be implemented. However, Aspirants should need to note that Fallback and Workaround are quite different and they are to be implemented in different situations.

Fallback and Workaround

  • Fallback: a fallback plan is a plan developed to deal with risks that have been identified during project planning
    • for identified risks
    • known unknowns
  • Workaround: a workaround is the unplanned response the Project Manager need to take to deal with emerging risks and risks that are passively accepted as the risk response during project execution (i.e. there are no pre-determined risk response plan in place)
    • for unidentified risks or risks that are passively accepted (note: risks that are accepted actively will be dealt with a Fallback)
    • unknown unknowns

Note: Risks can be either accepted actively or passively:

  • active acceptance means the identified risk is accepted without any response to reduce or eliminate the chance of occurrence but measures are planned (i.e. fallback) to deal with it once it occurs
  • passive acceptance means the identified risk is accepted without any response altogether (maybe the chance of occurrence is too low or the effect too minimal), just wait and see if workaround is needed once it occurs.

Illustrated Example

Let’s take the project of exam study and preparation as an example to illustrate the concept of Fallback and Workaround.

Timothy, another promising project manager, has determined to get certified in two months’ time. Tim has formulated a study plan for his exam:

  • Week 1-4: finish the online course by watching the course videos on the computer at home and get the 35 Contact Hours for the exam
  • Week 5-6: complete the exam application and take free mock exams to bridge any knowledge gap
  • Week 7: take a week off for relaxation
  • Week 8: last minute revisions and take the exam at the end of Week 8

Tim has also identified two most common risks and their fallback plans:

  • not able to finish online course on time: download the PMP® courses onto his mobile phone and watch the exam prep courses during transit and running
  • not able to get the recommended results (70%-80%) for the free mock exams: purchase a paid exam simulator for more practices (at extra costs)

Now when it is at the end of Week 5, Tim is caught in an accident that keeps him hospitalized for 1 week. Tim has to immediately develop a workaround plan this time by moving the relaxation week (Week 7) up to Week 5 and work on the mock exams in Week 6 – 7 to make up the loss time.


Though both Fallback and Workaround are used to deal with risks when they occur, Aspirants would need to remember that:

  • Fallback is pre-developed risk response strategies for identified risks in order to protect the original project plan (the costs deal with identified risks are included in the contingency reserve)
  • Workaround is immediate risk response strategies for unidentified risks (or identified risks that have been accepted passively) in order to contain the damages to the project plan (the costs deal with unidentified risks can be obtained from the management reserve upon management approval)
recommended PMP resourcesAdditional FREE PMP® resources: 47+ Commonly Confused Term Pairs with detailed explanations. If you found this article useful, you may wish to reference other Commonly Confused Term articles.

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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12 Responses

  1. Sujata M says:

    hi Edward,

    For an emergent risk, what should be the approach –‘ Qualitative risk analysis’ or ‘Workaround’ ?
    For any new risk coming up during execution , ideally we should analyze the risk & its impact to proceed further . However, if this is correct way, then when do we use ‘workaround’.

    It will be of great help, if you could throw some more light on this. I have this confusion in my mind.

    P.S.: I am a PMP aspirant and going to appear the exam very soon. Your website has helped me a lot and I am glad I found it at the rt time. Thanks a tonne for your effort and guidance to many like me

    • Hi Sujata,

      Thanks for your question. Both ways are correct indeed. If we have the time, we can perform ‘Qualitative risk analysis’ and plan the responses for any new upcoming risks. But for limited time/risks that are accepted, we will make use of ‘workaround’.

      Wish you PMP success!

  2. Abhishek says:

    This is outdated for PMBOK6. Workaround is no longer mentioned. And it considers the fallback plan to be same as contingency plan.

  3. Marwa says:

    Appreciate all your efforts in this blog Edward, you made it so clear to me

    Thank you

  4. Anna says:

    Hi Edward,

    Thanks for managing such a great website!!

    Quick question regarding the following:
    Workaround is immediate risk response strategies for unidentified risks (or identified risks that have been accepted passively) in order to contain the damages to the project plan (the costs deal with identified risks can be obtained from the management reserve upon management approval)

    I think the last sentence should be: the costs deal with UNIDENTIFIED risks can be obtained from the management reserve upon management approval..

    Am I correct? I saw this fix also here:

    Thanks in advance!


  5. Ahmed Sherif says:

    Good article, but I’m still confused because in PMBOK 5th Ed. Page No. 343: “A fallback plan can be developed for implementation
    if the selected strategy turns out not to be fully effective or if an accepted risk occurs.”
    which means that fallback is also for accepted risks.

    • Thanks Ahmed for your comment.

      Yes, that’s quite confusing though as “Acceptance of a risks” may be either passive or active.

      Passive acceptance means accepting the risk without any planning for contingency — in that case, a workaround would be implemented.

      Active acceptance means accepting the risk with further planning (e.g. setting aside contingency or devising a fallback plan) — if the actively accepted risk occurs, the fallback plan would be implemented.

      Hope this can clarify. Wish you PMP success!