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Topics: Consulting, IT Project Management, Risk Management
What is the difference between risk and uncertainty



I am working in the consulting industry and as I see Risk is which can be anticipated and Uncertainty cannot be anticipated in advance. So is it the case that Uncertainty is same as unknown risks? Please help me understand the difference.
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As I see it the difference between risk and uncertainty is much in the wording.

You may for instance have a completion date of June 1st +- 15 days. This means an uncertainty of the calendar time needed to complete the project. If you in this situation promise to deliver on June 6th, there is a risk that you will not be able to deliver as promised.

All risks are due to uncertainties. Once it is clear that it will happen it is a fact, and no longer a risk. (I.e. a risk that has materialised.)

A risk is something (usually negative) that has a probability of more than 0% but less than 100% and that will influence the project if it happens/materialises.

Some schools of project management talk about positive risks, while other use the word opportunity for the positive risks

There can be known and unknown risks. (This is why it is important to try to identify new risk throughout the project.)

For risks you usually estimate both the probability that it will happen and the effect it will have if it happens.



Risk has two main components: probability of occurence and an outcome (in project management could be negative or positive). Uncertainty is when you has not possibility to know both. So risk and uncertainty are not the same. Uncertainty conditions are source of lot of risks.Unknown risks (usually named unknown-unknown) are those risk you have no possibility to identify and you do not have information to calculate probability of occurence and outcome.



So can we say that uncertainty are the risks whose impact and probability of occurrence cannot be calculated ? To minimize the impact of uncertainty we do risk management but after that also there is some uncertainty left which cannot be managed proactively.So can we say that uncertainty are the risks whose impact and probability of occurrence cannot be calculated ?



No, uncertainty is not risk. Uncertainty is a situation. Today world is plenty of uncertainty. As you mentioned to deal with uncertainty you perform project management in general and mainly project risk management. My recommendation about what type of risks you can consider (known-known, known-unknown, unknown-unknown) is to read the Project Risk chapter inside the PMBOK.



Wonderful comments so far.In my view, Risks are uncertainties that matter to you;of course,It matters also to the project. The vocabulary of probability of occurrence and outcomes has confused a lot of students and young project managers . I think I need to expatiate a little further: Uncertainties are not risks, Uncertainties that matters to you are risks. For instance, if a team member during a risk or planning meeting says "it might rain " obviously the member in the meeting is uncertain ; is this therefore a risk? ....Hmn....Not on my list ! . The second question you need to throw-open to the team is ...If it rains,does it matter to us ,resource, or project ? if it does matter to the team or the project , It is a risk.

Using the same rain scenario, a quick example:

Mark says "it might rain"
Tim responded, I don't have my clothing, or property that might be affected by the rain ;in other words, It does not matter to me (It is uncertain yet it doesn't matter to me, hence it is not a risk to me).

Mark :-) :-) wao! it is a risk because it matters to me (even though I am not certain/sure).

As Tom rightly said , once you are sure that it will happen it is no longer a risk.

Manocha,kindly note what Sergio said about unknown risk: read up in PMBOK5, Act of God like earth quakes, flooding are examples of unknown unknown ,you may not be able to ascertain them as at then.

Risk Managers manage uncertainties that matters (Risks) They can be called Proactive Manager.
Incidence Managers they manage the issues from a corrective / Repair Perspective . I call these managers Issues managers.

Well, these two are fair, with a good change management framework in place to compensate for the incidence, the worst I usually coach my team and students to always avoid is the problem managers .

Manocha , try to know the Risk tolerance/appetite and threshold of your stakeholders



Risk are uncertainties that matter to the project.

Risk that are not known will not be consider, except within Unknown-Unknown.

In the case of and uncertainty that we know about but can evaluate (that matter to the project). It might become a project non starter! Risk consider too high.

Business condition in a country could be consider a uncertainty, I would consider that a Known-Unknow. I know there is a risk I that can't evaluate it, uncertainty.

don't confuse with issues.

Hope it help you in your understanding.



Thanks all for your contributions for my understanding.
Sergio - I will go through Risk Management topic in PMBoK.



As I agree with all participants here, I want to just add a very interesting and informative video on this topic by David Hillson (PMI member and Risk doctor)..

https://youtu.be/fVIqy51oyS4

Hope this helps.



Meenakshi - Risk and uncertainty are different terms. Managing risk is easier because you can identify risks and develop a response plan in advance based on your past experience. However, managing uncertainty is very difficult as previous information is not available, too many parameters are involved, and you cannot predict the outcome.



Dear Meenakshi

Please find the link below that illustrates the difference between risks & uncertainties

https://pmstudycircle.com/2012/02/risk-vs-uncertainty/

I hope that this might clarify the case
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