Data and flexibility: Keys to managing uncertainty

Uncertainty is inevitable. There are two main ways to tackle uncertainty: You can either decrease the level of uncertainty or increase flexibility. My way of dealing with uncertainty is to apply both and find the optimum level.

The efforts to decrease uncertainty levels used to be very costly. With the emergence of big data and data science, data and information can be gathered more easily than ever before, which helps decision-makers take fast and precise action. On the other hand, however, even if you get an expert on data science there will always be unknown unknowns as well as known unknowns. The level of uncertainty can only be decreased if you know the unknown. Think of the pandemic we’ve faced from the beginning of 2020. No program or project manager included this kind of pandemic in their risk register. Even if being included, it had not been a high priority risk. Hence our programs and projects should also be flexible, although we should use our data science skills to decrease uncertainty.

How can we decrease uncertainty and increase flexibility? Here are some practical tips:

  • Train your employees on data science: Show them how to deal with big data. Today huge amounts of data are generated and if we know how to analyze them and turn them into valuable information, we may decrease the uncertainty and make better decisions. This is the part of digital transformation we should focus on.
  • Develop an opportunity mindset: Uncertainty does not always bring negative consequences, it is beneficial to develop an opportunity-seeking mindset. The most crucial thing to gain this mindset is to believe in continuous improvement and invest in new skills as well as be aware of the environment and understand the big picture.
  • Make all processes as simple as possible: Being simple is the key to being flexible. Gill Eapen defines flexibility in his book as “the ability to adapt to new information quickly.” Hence we need to design a project organization and system that enables project managers to quickly introduce new information into the decision making process. More can be found on how to be flexible in my article How to be flexible when faced with project uncertainty.
  • Focus on people: Change can only be successfully achieved by people. If people can see the need for change and the benefits of the change from the perspective of both the company and themselves, then the change is possible. Transforming your company culture to be ready for uncertainty is the biggest challenge, and the change is needed. 
  • Encourage creativity: Complex problem-solving skills will be needed more in the future since uncertainty will bring not only difficult problems but also interactions of problems. That is to say, linear thinking or cause-effect thinking will not be enough to solve complex problems. We will have to be more creative and learn how to be creative.

Uncertainty is inescapable but it can be managed. Emerging technologies and lessons learned experiences from various projects and programs may help us deal with uncertainty. After all, the world would be very boring if everything would be certain.

 

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