Understand the uncertainty throughout the project

06. January 2019John Ryding Olsson

Uncertainties in the project life cycle

We tend to think that during the project we will experience decreasing uncertainty and growing knowledge. We do, however, have to make important decisions early in the process. These decisions reduce uncertainties regarding goals, contents and resources. This is only true if the project ends with the deliverables.

If the project isn’t over until the effect has been obtained, the uncertainty also includes the effect in the organization as well as in the market. In that case we have the process on the right where there are uncertainties all through the project life cycle. The uncertainty consists of two components. The operational uncertainty in the project and the contextual uncertainty in the organization and the environment.

We can minimize the uncertainty in problem solving but not the uncertainties in the environment caused by technological progress, competitor initiatives, state of the market, political trends and the like. Even though we gain knowledge new situations demanding more knowledge will emerge. Already made decisions are no longer valid or need to be reconsidered.

Decisions are not made on an informed basis. Decisions become political – they are necessary to create legitimacy. We meet needs instead of optimising. We solve the problems that are considered relevant by the trendsetters. Goals are negotiable and can be moved according to the interests at stake. The important point is that enough people can agree on the result.

We can end up with the ”garbage can model” where four factors need to be present in order to make a decision. There has to be a problem, a reason for making a decision, some solution suggestions and participants with energy and motivation for making the decision. These four factors float around in the organization and if they meet a decision is made – otherwise it’s not.

How do you ensure that your decisions have legitimacy with the right group of people who can secure the project effects?


"Management by objective works - if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don't."

- Peter Drucker

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As a project manager I have always lacked a platform where I could click in and get inspiration, relevant knowledge and concrete tools, regardless of time and place. A wireless toolbox where knowledge came to me through the air. A help that could give me a much needed boost in my current challenge.

You have never been more important as a project manager. Projects are the engine in developing a better business, new products, improvements in society and the global transformation to sustainable energy and production. Your leadership is therefore crucial. As a leader and project manager, you are the tool that creates the results.

I hope airborn leadership can be your gateway to knowledge within project management, no matter what journey you are on.

John Ryding Olsson Founder & author
John Ryding Olsson Founder & author John Ryding Olsson

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