By Lynda Bourne
In part one of this post, I introduced the management concept VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
Managing VUCA effectively at the project level should not be underestimated: The agility and decision-making needed to respond to VUCA will inevitably have effects on the outcomes of projects and programs and, consequently, the direction of the organization.
Naturally, there will be a difference between planned and implemented strategy. One approach is to see this gap as “strategic non-alignment” and assume it’s bad. The alternative is to see the gap as strategy that emerges from the work of the organization and changes in the environment, then actively manage its effect to capture as much value as possible.
This idea is not new. It’s been nearly 40 years since the concept of emergent strategy was developed by academic and management author Henry Mintzberg. This concept seeks to create a framework that can identify and act on emerging strategies, resulting in a more incremental approach to strategy formulation. Developing strategy from the bottom up may be a novel concept for many organizations but academic studies suggest this is an important value-adding process.
Projects and programs are a rich source of VUCA, and almost everyone says successful project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio managers should have a strategic focus. Given that, I suggest it’s time to start conversations with your executive management about identifying and managing the emergent strategies that are appearing in your organization as a consequence of projects and programs responding to VUCA. This will maximize the value created and influence the next iteration of formal strategic planning.
In their 1985 paper Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent, Mintzberg and fellow academic and author, James A. Walters, concluded by suggesting “strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate the other emergent.”
The challenge for PMOs and portfolio management professionals is to engage with the gap between implementing strategy and adapting strategy. They also have to engage with the challenges that arise from allowing sufficient agility and flexibility to maximize value in a VUCA environment without sinking into undirected chaos.
By adapting these elements to the strategic levels of the organization, you may be able to reduce the potential chaos of VUCA within a project or program:
- Use a staged, adaptive approach to planning. We really don't know that much about the far future.
- Be agile. Act quickly to manage emerging issues and problems—things will not get better on their own.
- Be adaptive and flexible. When you need a new plan to achieve the project’s objectives, be prepared to make the changes.
- Expect the unexpected. Things happen—watch for approaching Black Swans.
- Use emergence to your advantage. Seize the opportunities you did not expect.
How do you reduce the potential chaos of VUCA?