How to be flexible when faced with project uncertainty

by Mustafa Hafızoglu
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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 to 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.

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.


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 be flexible

To improve 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.


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