Project managers need to cope with uncertainty. What are your ideas?

I watched a presentation given by the President of APM, Martin Barnes where he talked about a range of project management issues. The one that struck me was that those involved in projects need to deal more effectively with uncertainty – he summed up the situation by saying “work is uncertain and won’t go away”

He talks about every war being a project. “There is an experienced and well resourced team (the enemy) who are engaged to stop the project.” He quotes a German General from the 1st world war who said, “I have never known a battle plan to survive the first contact with the enemy.” Barnes asks the question: “How many project plans were still intact within a few weeks of working on them?”

I was working with a group of project managers who were clearly dealing with much uncertainty, not only in their projects but the company they worked in, and this got me thinking.

So, can you deal more effectively with the inevitable uncertainty you face in your projects?

Here are some initial thoughts:

Do a risk assessment but it should be an in depth risk assessment
I raised with a group recently the ‘depth’ of assessment they carried out. In fairness to them, they did say that the risk assessment skimmed the surface and needed to be done in more detail. While this alone would not totally solve the issue it would help raise awareness of the uncertainty ahead

Use the company cynic
You know exactly who I am talking about. It is the person who says something like we have tried that before and XX happened or ….it will never work here because ….They show you possible gaps in the plan and you can adjust ….

Use scenario planning
What if analysis…ask yourself what if this happens…what will we need to do or what will we need to do to stop it from happening?

Test the plan on a pilot of the project
Thoroughly examine the results of the plan and amend it to ensure that the plan will work. Interestingly, in a recent course, someone suggested that they really should have run a pilot as they discovered a legal issue that could have completely derailed the project. I remember her words: “We were so lucky; there was some goodwill on the other parties side. Next time we will not be so lucky and it will cost us; in time, in cost and personal angst.”

Keep a cool head
Now this may seem strange however let me give you an example. Many of you will know I am a Leeds Rhinos fan. In October of this year they became Super League champions beating Warrington Wolves 22-16. At the end of the match, the Leeds Captain, Kevin Sinfield was interviewed and said they did not panic. He said that when they went 6 points down one of the players, Jamie Jones – Buchanan said; “Don’t worry lads, we never score first!” He helped to keep a cool hand (and head) on the tiller, and of course Leeds won! When your project goes off plan how cool a head do you keep?

Seek advice
Some of you reading this will be doing projects that have been done before in some way shape or form. Some of you reading this will be doing unique projects. How about asking those who have been involved before about what they learned from doing the project? Even unique projects will have similarities in their categorisation e.g. a building project or a change project – seek advice

Lessons learned
I spoke at an internal conference on this issue to a client this year. One of the things that came across was the lack of sharing – general project management knowledge and genuine lessons learned. If the lessons learned process could become more realistic this would support many project managers to develop more robust plans

Abandon
OK, not the total solution, but surely better than trying to deliver a plan that is failing or is it?

Agree the quality of delivery
One client suggested that the project plan meant over-engineering a solution which meant the plan was too long in its delivery. They suggested that more work needed to be done to agree the specification of the deliverable. A more realistic plan will surely be developed once the quality has been agreed

Those are my ideas for dealing with uncertainty. What’s yours?

You can watch the Martin Barnes recording here

Image Courtesy of Free Digital images / Stuart Miles
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2 Responses to Project managers need to cope with uncertainty. What are your ideas?

  1. Pingback: Project managers need to cope with uncertainty. What are your ideas? | #PMChat

  2. Pingback: The project manager is leaving. What will we do? | Project Management Training with Ron Rosenhead

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