How To Be Flexible When Faced With Project Uncertainty

by Mustafa Hafızoglu

Every successful project manager knows that managing risks is indispensable for project success. Being proactive, especially at the beginning of the project, where uncertainty is at the highest level, helps project managers identify the risks as well as assess them in order to develop response plans. Hence, project managers may mitigate the possibility and/or the effect of the risks before they even happen. Developing a flexible and proactive mindset when facing uncertainty in project management. 

Are there any more ways to deal with uncertainty for project success other than managing risks? In order to answer this question let’s first visit the definition of certainty. If all the information to make the right decision is available, and the outcome is predictable, then we can call this environment certain. It is the absence of information that creates uncertainty that threatens the success of the project. The pace at which new information is introduced into our decision-making process will determine the pace at which we transition from uncertainty to certainty. So, how can we increase this pace? The answer is to be as flexible as possible.


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Facing uncertainty in project management. How Flexibility helps.

Gill Eapen defines flexibility in his book “Flexibility” 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. Being flexible when faced with uncertainty and implementing a project system that makes it possible to quickly introduce new information into the decision-making process can help project managers make the right decisions for their projects.

How to develop a more flexible and proactive mindset

Developing a more proactive and flexible mindset means  improving flexibility; here are three main areas that require more focus:

  • Project organization: Does your project organization fit your project’s needs and expectations? Whether you have a functional or matrix, or projectized type of organization, the best fit depends on the organizational culture, size, and complexity of the project, resource availability of the organization, and the people involved. Flexibility increases as you obtain the best fit for your organization.
  • Project communication network: Who disseminates what kind of information to whom and how? A clear communication plan is key to flexibility.
  • Trust: S.Covey defines trust as the one thing that changes everything. “Communicating in a high trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning.” Flexibility is drastically increased in a trusting environment.

As new challenges emerge in the markets, uncertainty is still a significant factor in projects. In the near future, it’s inevitable that more flexible organizations will gain a competitive advantage.


Why is it important to be more flexible and proactive when faced with project uncertainty?

Project uncertainty can arise from a variety of factors, such as changes in market conditions, unexpected events, or shifting priorities. Being flexible allows you to navigate these uncertainties and respond effectively, which can help you stay on track, achieve your goals, and maintain your team’s morale and productivity.

How can I cultivate a flexible mindset when faced with project uncertainty?

One way to cultivate a flexible mindset is to focus on what you can control, such as your own reactions and behaviors, rather than what you can’t control, such as external factors. You can also practice reframing challenges as opportunities and embracing experimentation and learning as part of the process.

What are some strategies for being flexible when faced uncertainty in project management?

Some strategies for being flexible include setting realistic expectations, building contingency plans, seeking feedback and input from others, prioritizing tasks and activities, and being open to pivoting or changing direction if necessary.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when trying to be flexible in the face of uncertainty in project management?

Some common pitfalls to avoid include overreacting to challenges, becoming too attached to a specific plan or outcome, failing to anticipate potential risks or obstacles, and neglecting to communicate effectively with your team or stakeholders.

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