Dealing with uncertainty


Leaders appreciate that when it comes to future-directed activities there rests a degree of uncertainty. Uncertainty implies risk.

As PPM practitioners we face dealing with uncertainty on a daily basis. I would like to think that we have become adept at identifying and managing risk, certainly that which surrounds our projects, programmes and portfolios. Typically a risk-mature culture is fostered within such organisations. A culture where we recognise that risk exists in all levels of the organisation, where risk will be managed proactively in order to deliver benefits and positive outcomes.

Regrettably many of our management peers across the organisation seem to be oblivious to the fact that they too should face up to uncertainty. They often appear quite blasé when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. Unlike the mature project management profession they have not needed to adopt risk management.

Risk management has received increasing attention in recent years. Though it appears that it is not as widespread as one thinks. Odd to think that leaders of organisations are willing not to urge wide-spread pro-active risk management across their organisations. I’m sure there are pragmatic reasons for this. But nevertheless, they are the ones that face possible disaster when risk management is lacking!

Certainly, I see that everyone in the organisation has a duty to deal with uncertainty and risk. It might be as simple as raising awareness of a risk to someone who can do something about it. We need to avoid the widespread attitude that it is not my responsibility and get people to be pro-active.

But in times of uncertainty, it is often the problem that one does not know what the best course of action is! People look towards their leaders for guidance. Leaders need to ensure that all their people deal with uncertainty; that they are able to deal with it in a timely manner and have processes in place to act (and support them).

In this way the ground is prepared for a risk-aware culture within the organisation. Uncertainty will still exist. But there will be better management of risk across all levels of the organisation.

As an aside, I have often found it useful to explain that there is uncertainty in what we know today, let alone in the future. A useful quote which makes people think a little deeper is from Donald Rumsfeld, former United States Secretary of Defense:

“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

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