Project Management in Time of Uncertainty

A lack of clarity about what the future holds makes almost any endeavor more difficult. Risks can pop up that were unexpected or opportunities could pass you by because you didn’t have enough information to prepare for them. Any time a project team can’t confidently predict the major factors that will influence an initiative’s execution, project uncertainty is the result.

Project Uncertainty

A situation doesn’t need to impact a broad segment of the marketplace to create project uncertainty for your project team. Reports of poor fiscal performance at the company level can make things just as unpredictable as economic woes on a global scale. Workforce issues, competitive pressures, leadership changes—they all have the potential to create uncertainty for project stakeholders.

In spite of the questions that may be swirling around and the frustration that often comes during unsettled times, there are strategies PMs can use to help their teams move forward when things are uncertain.

Strong contingency planning skills will help position your team to be ready for the complications they’re most likely to encounter, to overcome the obstacles that do arise, and to succeed no matter what the future holds. If you don’t have anyone with deep contingency planning experience in your group, or if the scope of uncertainties you face are outside what you’re accustomed to tackling, a partnership with a project management consultancy skilled in developing contingency plans could put your team on much better footing going forward.

Ensuring the right people are involved becomes of paramount importance when uncertainty arises. Don’t compound the challenges in front of you by overlooking some of the best insight available. Instead, evaluate your stakeholder list and look for gaps where you can expand your participant list to increase the team’s knowledge or expertise.

  • Is there someone within the organization who could help you understand how similar situations played out in the past?
  • Are industry experts available to help you in key areas? For example, would it be beneficial to solicit the advice of someone with good awareness into where market volatility or supply chain disruptions are most likely to impact your project?
  • Have you gathered the latest task data from the people who will be performing the activities? You don’t want to head into uncertain times with only outdated, generic, or potentially incomplete information behind you. Be sure your project stakeholder base includes a good mix of front-line workers so you have real-world data on hand.

Robust communication is one of the most important tools PMs can leverage during moments of project uncertainty. Though your team may not have all the data it wants—by definition, uncertainty stems from a lack of information—it’s still vital that you make the best use of the facts and figures available to you. Don’t let silos increase the difficulties you face. Instead, emphasize the need for good data sharing across any functional or departmental boundaries that may exist within the team. Encourage stakeholders to communicate over a variety of platforms, such as web conferencing tools that bring dispersed teams together and regular in-person meetings for groups that are located near each other. E-mails are always a good tool and allow people to forward the discussion to additional participants when appropriate. If you don’t use a central system already, consider adding a core place to house records of group conversations, meeting agendas and notes, historical and current project data, as well as any documents the team may need to access. As the situation evolves and you gain more clarity, you’ll be better equipped to keep everyone up to date on the latest information and status.


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