Planning Around Uncertainty

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

The more uncertain the world becomes, the more we seem to value guarantees and absolutes. Nowhere does this appear to be truer than on our projects. While projects have become larger and more complex, the expectations being placed on them are progressively more demanding, particularly with respect to the cost and schedule associated with getting them done.
 
Project sponsors and steering committees want precise and accurate commitments of completion and cost, even while they acknowledge that there may be limiting or constraining factors on the project. Although project managers recognize the improbability of plans, we find ourselves accepting the mindset being imposed and presenting conclusions even where we know or fear they are unrealistic and unlikely.
 
Why do we allow ourselves to accept a version of reality at odds with what we know to be true? What can we do to more confidently present our projects and our estimates when we know--or at least strongly suspect--that there is a high level of risk that our estimates aren’t completely accurate given the variables?
 
Let’s deal with the question of why we allow ourselves to get bought into an approach that we know we can’t support. As project managers, we have all at some time in our careers done this, and often have lived to regret it. We go into a steering committee or a meeting …

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