Dealing with Uncertainty

Project management used to be about driving out uncertainty.  You nailed down all the deliverables at the outset and fine-tuned your specs so implementation could be as routine as possible.  Sure, there were always a few surprises, but overall you had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  In many of today’s complex projects, however – whether they involve new-product development, IT installation, or internal process improvement – uncertainty simply can’t be eliminated….

Studies of exceptional project managers in fast time-to-market industries show that the initial phase of a complex project, often referred to as the ‘fuzzy front end’, has a disproportionally large impact on end results.  So it’s important to tread carefully.  Resist the urge to dive right into implementation.  “Defining the problem first gives you greater degrees of freedom in solving it,” says Bob Gill, president of the Product Development and Management Association, a New Jersey-based nonprofit.  “Instead of assuming that your riveting equipment is operating too slowly, if you step back and say, “The real issue is that my cost of manufacturing the product is too high,” you enable other possible alternatives to solving the problem – for example, redesigning the process so that product requires fewer rivets.”

HBR Guide to Project Management



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