Donald Rumsfeld and Project Management
By John Herman PMP, CQE, MPM
Donald Rumsfeld graduated from Princeton University and was an active participant at high levels in both corporate and government organizations. He was both the 13th (1975-77) and 21st (2001-06) Secretary of Defense of The United States. Today’s focus is on a statement he made at a Department of Defense news briefing on February 12, 2002.
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”
This jumble of words actually has considerable worth during project planning. The “known knowns” are our scope and constraints. We plan for these aspects because they are known. The “known unknowns” are assumptions and risks. We know about these aspects, but we don’t know about their degree of truth (assumptions), or how likely they are to occur or their severity (risks). The “known unknowns” ties well to a previous entry in this blog titled “Alexander’s Question”.
But what about the “unknown unknowns”? Can we simply ignore what we don’t know? The answer is, of course, no. But how can we plan for what we don’t know? These “unknown unknowns” factor into the contingency buffers for scope, budget, and schedule. The experienced project manager incorporates budget and schedule contingency buffers (also known as management reserve) within the project to accommodate the unforeseen.
Rumsfeld’s quote, along with some other gems that he’s given us, show that planning and risk management have application even at the highest levels of corporations and governments. In closing, here’s another Rumsfeld quote that correlates well to measuring success, but we’ll have to save the discussion of this quote for another day.
“Congress, the press, and the bureaucracy too often focus on how much money or effort is spent, rather than whether the money or effort actually achieves the announced goal. “ - From "Rumsfeld's Rules", January 12, 1974