David Cleden stated that there are no magic bullets for dealing with uncertainty when he presented at this year’s Gower/NCPM Experts Forum. His presentation was about organisational strategies to deal with uncertainty. Cleden brought up the famous “known/unknowns” diagram and pointed out how the common version with four quadrants fails to capture the things we don’t know.
Cleden explained that risk management goes beyond knowledge and experience. It’s about managing the uncertainty of managing “bolts out of the blue”. Cleden shared the story of a project that his company was involved in. The project manager was asked Friday if the software would be ready for the client to demo on Monday. He said that he was 100% certain that it would. It wasn’t Monday. This was not due to the project manager making promises that he couldn’t keep. The entire office, including software demos and all, was destroyed on Monday. Buncefield was within close proximity to the building, which was destroyed in the explosion. The disaster meant that the software demo was impossible, although no one was there at the time. This was definitely not something that the project manager wanted to risk.
Cleden recommended that exploratory work be done where possible to move risk into a quadrant that can be managed actively. You can’t project the future state of a project by projecting ahead. Things will change in a week and then there are many possible outcomes. This makes it difficult for logic and mathematical principles to predict the future.
His suggestion was to start with project’s end and then forecast your risk position backwards. This sounds similar to forecasting forward, but you have more control because you can plan your risk response from now to now without having to account for multiple variables in the future.
He also offered some additional advice on managing uncertainty.
Explore future uncertainty using piloting, prototypes, and iterative methods.
You need to understand the purpose and what is normal for your body so that you can spot deviations as they occur.
Use the knowledge you have to forecast backwards and make patterns.
Be able to empower decision-making at times of crisis and be able to bypass hierarchy.
Cleden also stated that the key to managing uncertainty is to be motivated to improve. Accept it and do your best to manage it.