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Where is Your Project’s Uncertainty?

project management

mark woeppel - December 14, 2016

Two Sources of Project Uncertainty

Projects, by their nature, are uncertain, but not all uncertainty can be treated the same way. Knowing the where your project’s uncertainty lies will help you pick the right approach to managing your project and delivering the best outcome for your team, your customer and the project owner.

Many projects are time bound, with specific dates that must be met. There are known parameters to the project outcome, but how you’re going to execute are uncertain. If you your project is software or product development, which is iterative, most uncertainty lies in the deliverables; you’re not sure exactly what the deliverable will look like. In essence, you don’t’ know what you don’t know until you develop a prototype; you’re learning as you go. In these types of projects, there is little uncertainty in the process, but a lot of uncertainty in the outcome. This is different than say, construction, where the deliverable is quite well defined. What is most uncertain is the events (like weather or errors) that lead to the deliverable. The process has the most uncertainty, the outcome has little.

Two Approaches to Managing

Scrum and Agile methods that focus on iterations to reduce the learning cycles and reduce the uncertainty. The problem with these projects is when there is a date attached, it’s difficult to effectively manage schedule risk without significant time buffers.

If the uncertainty is in the process, what most project managers do to reduce it is create more detailed plans or (attempting to) closely managing the details in the plan. These projects have many moving parts and lots of detail to manage – along with the normal uncertainty they cannot manage, like the weather and mistakes. So – with all this comes complexity.  That complexity is difficult to manage. Project managers lose control of their schedules. Project owners lose visibility into schedule risk. Project run late, firefighting ensues. It’s difficult and messy. Deadlines are missed. Costs go up. Customers are unhappy. Business is lost. Profits suffer.

Detailed Planning is Not the Cure-All

So, the solution is not in the direction of more detailed planning, but in the direction of improving management effectiveness. This is what ViewPoint and VISUM does. Stripping the project plan to its essence. Doing simple things that leverage what we know about process behavior (little’s law, priority control, etc.). Making the process visual to communicate the critical items quickly. Providing feedback on the project AND the delivery process to allow the team to act early on risk and improve their delivery effectiveness.

Taming complexity.

With ViewPoint, the team always knows the most critical items to work on. They are focused on those items. There is less chaos in the project, so less stopping and starting. People can focus on the work, not on the next meeting. Tasks get done quicker. Project durations are reduced. Costs go down. On time delivery goes up. More projects are delivered. Revenue goes up. Profits go up. Project owners have visibility into the schedule risk so they can intervene when they must. Customers are happy. Project Managers are happy. The CEO is happy.

 

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