Dealing with uncertainty in a project

The increasing complexity of projects and the uncertainties associated with an ever-changing world has been a development in project management for many years. As a result, project managers must be able to deal with highly complex contexts and multi-faceted projects. Energy conservation, green technologies and increased demands for project efficiency make a competent project manager irreplaceable, especially since increased complexity and uncertainty naturally come with more responsibility and tasks.
A road with trees at the side of the road.


Challenges for the project manager

While experts, architects and clients only have to look at the part of a project they are entrusted with, it is the project manager's job to keep an overview and keep an eye on all aspects. This is no easy task. The more complex a project, the greater the uncertainties and insecurities. The larger and more complex the project, the longer the list of risks and things that can go wrong. Moreover, all these risks have multiple influences and impacts on other project areas. The social, technical, organisational and financial contexts need to be identified and analysed, then assessed and monitored to identify and minimise the risks to the project. Finding the right solution among thousands of possible ones is not always easy, especially when you consider that the environment can change at any time.

Uncertainty demands complex thinking

Constant uncertainty and changing requirements are something that project managers need to deal with as confidently as possible. The strategies for doing so vary widely. A sharp mind alone is not enough to keep track of uncertainties and react appropriately. Software also has its limits when it comes to calculating and making unambiguous decisions. Imagine a computer that can perform thousands of calculations in a matter of seconds - it's impressive. But it can only do the job correctly if it knows all the parameters and can follow the mathematical laws. As soon as there are too many unknowns, even project management software reaches its limits. When the human component comes into play, the software can no longer predict what will happen. How will the client react? What material will the construction manager choose, and when will the building permit finally arrive with the last change? Humans must be able to deal with these uncertainties, even with machine support.

Expect the unexpected

As a project manager, you have to be prepared for almost anything. Flexibility, quick thinking and above all creativity in dealing with new circumstances are required. In today's world of agile approaches, rigid adherence to strategies and methods is outdated in many areas. Project managers are expected to deviate from standard methods and break new ground when necessary. They should also learn unusual methods so that they can use them when in doubt. There are many approaches to complex projects with many uncertainties - and the project manager has to choose one of the many approaches to keep the project on track.

Opportunity or risk?

Uncertainty is always both an opportunity and a risk. Many project managers, especially those who like to work with fixed structures and try to bring as much certainty as possible into their projects, tend to perceive uncertainty as a threat. Of course, as a project manager you should always be vigilant and identify risks at an early stage. But the balancing act between eliminating risks and identifying opportunities is one of the special skills that project managers need to develop over the course of their careers. Agile project management is the way forward. Approaching projects step by step, considering the possibility of changing course, new strategies and innovative methods after each step, is difficult for many.

Turning uncertainty to your advantage

One strategy for dealing with uncertainty is to see it as an opportunity. Think about all the possibilities offered by the unknown. Define and take all measures to avoid possible risks and take advantage of potential opportunities. Consider and analyse every unexpected and important twist for the project in order to use it for the project. Improvisation is one of the soft skills in demand. Be an improviser who reacts to the audience, showing a different trick depending on the audience and the mood. The ability to improvise and the sense of the right strategy are common to many successful project managers. It takes a certain amount of talent, of course, but there are many techniques and methods for responding appropriately to a wide range of situations.

Uncertainties in projects - The IAPM logo.
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project Management, Tips, Uncertainties, Risks

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