Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 1

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Categories: Strategy


By Lynda Bourne

Traditionally, strategy and strategic alignment are viewed as a deliberate process. An organization’s governing body determines the vision and mission. Then, along with executive management, the governing body crafts a strategy to move the organization toward achieving that vision.

The result is a strategic plan that forms the basis for effective portfolio management. This plan sets the objectives for projects and programs and measures their success in terms of contributing to implementing the strategy and creating value.

In the last few years, however, management thinking has embraced the concept of VUCA and developed approaches to dealing with the challenges that the modern world presents. 

VUCA, which originally emerged from military leaders, stands for:

  • Volatility: The unpredictability, speed and dynamics of change. The correct response to volatility, according to the concept of VUCA-Prime developed by Robert Johansen, is vision. When things are changing unpredictably, it is vital to keep a clear focus on the organization’s overall vision. Knowing where the organization is heading will ensure that short-term planning can be adjusted to stay on course when external circumstances are turbulent.
  • Uncertainty: The lack of knowledge or an inability to determine the course of future events. Working to understand the environment around the project or program helps reduce uncertainty but can never remove it entirely—this is the domain of risk management.
  • Complexity: The degree of unpredictability regarding the outcome of an action or decision. There will always be a degree of complexity involved in every project, but clarity of vision and seeking to simplify processes wherever possible will minimize its effect. However, there will always be some unexpected consequences (good or bad) that emerge from managing a project or program.
  • Ambiguity: The requirements, instructions or situations that can be interpreted in different ways or are not fully defined. Ambiguity can be reduced by effective communication and the application of many of the processes defined in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); but agility is required to resolve the remaining ambiguity as it emerges. You need the freedom and flexibility to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

Have you encountered VUCA on your projects? What form did it take?

Be sure to come back for second post on VUCA in a couple of days.  

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 17, 2017 03:59 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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My larger projects almost always have their share of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, at least at the beginning of the project This is to be expected, to some extent, for uncertainty and ambiguity, but, I think the ambiguity is made more pronounced by the push for commitment to hard dates before requirements & design are finished.

Completely agree Aaron, VUCA is one end of a spectrum, not a separate entity. The VUCA-Prime responses linked above are designed to reduce the effect of VUCA and move towards a more stable environment.

PArt 2 is now posted at: https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/29705/Strategy-In-a-VUCA-World-Part-2

I think as project managers we all have to learn to be comfortable with VUCA. When your stakeholders experience VUCA, we have to be there to support, encourage and lead them.

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