4 Ways to Solve 6 Uncertainties in Project Management

Seemingly negative surprises have often been perceived as insurmountable, but that’s not always the situation in project management.

By innovatively spotting opportunities in uncertainties, the results often exceed initial expectations in budgeting, quality and scheduling.

That’s the lesson according to an academic report published in 2013.

“Challenging Classic Project Management: Turning Project Uncertainties into Business Opportunities” was authored by Thomas G. Lechler, Stevens Institute of Technology; Barbara H. Edington, St. Francis College; and Ting Gao, Stevens Institute of Technology.

The publisher is the Project Management Journal, vol. 43, no. 6. It was summarized by Booz & Company at strategy-business.com.

The researchers delved into 20 major projects that encountered at least three negative surprises.

They ranged in duration from eight months to three years with budgets between $500,000 and $69 million.

More than 50 percent focused on IT or product development.

Others included:

— Business realignment projects

— Clinical trials

— Construction

— Feasibility studies

–Market prediction models

— R&D

Researchers concluded there are six types of surprises to confront:

1. Contextual turbulence: external changes set off by shifts in the markets, for example, or new legal or regulatory rules

2. Stakeholder fluctuations: shifts in the fortunes of customers, vendors, investors, and others

3. Technological uncertainty: factors that can affect the functionality of products in different markets, among other challenges

4. Project uncertainty: unrecognized complexities that crop up after a project has started

5. Organizational uncertainty: ripple effects from unexpected corporate mergers or spin-offs, for example

6. Malpractice: significant deviations from accepted project management standards

According to the authors, project managers evaluated the surprises in these ways: Were they used as positive developments or not? What were the unexploited opportunities?

Sixty percent of the project managers dealt effectively with 75 percent of the surprises for strong results. They “led to a redefinition of a project’s initial baseline,” wrote the researchers. Fifty-eight percent identified positive financial returns.

The benefits included: Spotting new initiatives, developing new process and applying new technologies.

Four types of opportunities

For a “broader range of potential opportunities,” the researches recommend focusing on four groups:

1. Technical innovation. When negative surprises rear their ugly heads, don’t give up. Look for new testing solutions to save money that will also serve as an inexpensive model for future initiatives.

2. Implementation processes. In the event of a surprise, don’t panic. Develop a less-complex method to save money and time. Research showed post-implementation problems decreased by 75 percent.

3. New business. In one case study, a sponsor retired which led to lack of interest in the project. So, the project managers rolled up their sleeves and networked their way to a new sponsor. The new backer facilitated an opening to a larger audience, which meant new business opportunities.

4. Future projects. Once you solve a problem in a department, look for ways to apply the solution in different departments. One of the businesses solved a challenge in implementing software, and used the process for other successes.

Again, the project managers weren’t successful in all cases. For example, one situation lacked a tracking system. A second case led to an unfortunate conclusion because of a surprise merger that resulted in staff duplication of effort.

Senior management’s role

For success, the authors said “exceptional and innovative decisions” necessitate involvement of all stakeholders, especially senior executives.

“In these situations,” wrote the authors, “project managers should take the role of champions and use their communication skills to bring these opportunities to the decision-making level.”

Agreed. It’s important for project managers to manage the boss for better performance.

The researchers also discouraged traditional risk-management thinking by senior managers.

“In situations of uncertainty,” concluded the authors, “the adherence to a baseline that was defined without the knowledge of uncertainty could lead to neglected opportunities, forsaken value opportunities, and consequently the potential for project failure.”

True, there are eight best practices in setting goals to alleviate uncertainty.

Things aren’t always as they seem, so look for ways to benefit from adversity – even the apparent obstacles to success in project management.

From the Coach’s Corner, recommended reading:

Leadership and Planning Tips for Successful Project Management –In truth, projects fail because they’re not managed. Yes, there are varying degrees, but in reality they’re either managed or they’re not. The project manager must possess 11 leadership attributes to manage the team, stay on track and keep within budget.

18 Valuable Tips to Win in Office Politics — Most people troubled by office politics are too focused on the behavior of their adversaries. Stop giving away your personal power. Don’t think or act like a victim. Here are 18 valuable tips to win in office politics.

How to Eliminate Destructive Conflict for Better Teamwork — There are two types of conflict. For better teamwork and higher performance, it’s true that constructive conflict works. Usually, the best ideas evolve when ideas are discussed and debated. But when employees fail to exercise self control and their egos get in the way, emotions flare and cliques are formed in the workplace. That’s destructive conflict.

“We will either find a way, or make one.”



Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Profits: Size Doesn’t Matter but Image, Professionalism Count

Appearances and professionalism can make your small business seem huge. If you look as though you’re substantial and that you can handle anything thrown your way – your odds for success improve dramatically.

Clients and customers will often prefer dealing with you as a small firm – if the job doesn’t appear too big for you to handle. So it’s best to look the part.

First impressions are critical. In today’s business milieu, you have about three seconds to create a favorable first impression – whether it’s your advertising, Internet presence, in-person contact, or on the telephone.

Starting point

Marketing starts with branding:

1. A simple, distinctive logo that tells your story about delivering desired results

2. A three-to-five word slogan also reflecting value

3. Five value propositions or benefit statements

Does your business card look professional? A meaningful logo with contact information on high-grade card stock will suffice.

Your e-mail address should indicate your Web site’s domain name, not for example, joe smith xxx @sprinter.com.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, clients are very accepting of a home business, if you look professional.

If you have a physical location where people visit you, cleanliness and orderliness are paramount. Smart businesspeople have clean windows, sidewalks, parking lots, work stations and aisles every day.

Even if you have a home office and don’t receive visitors, cleanliness and orderliness will help keep your optimism and efficiency at a high level.

Is your telephone answered before the third ring? Do you have a person answering your telephone? You can certainly get by with an automated system and voice mail more easily if you have professional branding on and offline. (But a live person works best, even if it’s just a just a virtual or executive-office answering service.)

Return all phone calls from clients ASAP. Never let clients or important vendor feel as though they’re hanging by a thread while waiting to hear from you.

Ironically, if you’re a proactive businessperson, you’ll find clients won’t have to call you. I tend to best with some anchor clients complemented by other temporary clients/projects. In fact, I’ve had two full-time, anchor clients for 15+ years, and neither has called me more than once a year. Unless I’m in a meeting, I never let the person wait more than two hours for a return call.

Always remember that convenience is one of the five value perceptions on why clients will be motivated to do business with you.

“The primary focus of your brand message must be on how special you are, not how cheap you are. The goal must be to sell the distinctive quality of the brand.”

– Kerry Light

In the case of an e-mail, it’s best to confirm receiving the message right away, even if you don’t have an answer to a question. (Naturally, make certain your smartphone is turned off when you’re in a meeting.)

Distinctive style

If it’s not customary in your industry to wear a suit and tie, do what’s best for your style, and be in distinctive, good taste. Remember Socrates’ statement: “Know thyself.”

However, as a business-performance consultant since 1992, I’m a dark suit person with a relatively small clientele on a regular basis. I’ve had both – an outside office and a home office. But now I like working from home – my commute is less than a minute in duration.

I want clients to know it’s a special event for me to work with them. That’s been the company uniform for employees, too. No matter what anyone says – it’s still the professional appearance that will command respect, and separate the winners from the wannabes – especially when a lot of money exchanges hands.

But I have occasionally encountered a client with a blue-collar or tech-casual mindset, who appeared uncomfortable when I’d typically wear my dark wool suit and silk tie with a white shirt. In such cases, the prospect and situation dictated my response.

Sometimes, I’d tell the person, “Yes, I understand how you feel, but you’ll find I deliver strong results by wearing my uniform, and this is my uniform.” Or I’d say, “I think much better while wearing my uniform.”

“In dressing casually, I’ve found I think too casually, and I want to be at the top of my game. I’ve promised you proven solutions for maximum profits,” I’ve added. “Even while working alone in my office, I work best with a tie.”

Humorous case study

Once, when a blue-collar marketing client seemed worried that I usually wore a business suit, I started to remove my coat and reassured him, “You’ll find I know how to roll up my sleeves to get strong results.” He was immediately convinced.

If such folks still seemed uncomfortable, they’ve always chuckled when I’ve said, “By nine o’clock, I always seem to spill coffee on my tie.” They appreciated my humanness and quickly relaxed. (It’s true about the spilled coffee.)

All such clients have accepted my preferred style. Moreover, they have come to expect it.

I’ll never forget when I’d been in business just a few years on a Friday afternoon at the start of a three-day holiday weekend, I was dressed casually when I dropped off a marketing document at a valued client’s office. Normally, I visited such clients two to three days per week in business attire. (This was a client who spent a hefty five figures a month with my firm.)

He seemed shocked. He took me aside and quietly asked me, “What’s wrong?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Where’s your suit? I’ve never seen you in jeans and boots. Is everything OK?”

I laughed and said: “Everything’s fine. This is how I sometimes dress when I leave town to visit my parents’ in rural Oregon, but today I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to wait for this paperwork before I jump on the freeway. I’m really just a cowboy at heart.”

We both chuckled and he was relieved. At that point, I learned how much he grew to value my uniform, which leads me to another point. Clients like consistency in all dealings.

For me, that also means consistently showing gratitude and preventing buyer’s remorse.

My client-meeting agendas always start by bringing up her/his concerns. This immediately alleviates any tension the client might have. I do my best selling when the client does most of the talking. I ask a lot of pertinent questions, list the results of my work, and never end a meeting without saying “thank you” with a handshake. The attitude and gratitude goes for all memos and e-mails, too.

If the client doesn’t thank me, I subtlety ask for strokes, too, such as: “So you like the results?” Over time, this grooms the client to show appreciation for my results. I’ve learned it’s vital to have appreciative clients.

If you don’t receive appreciation for results, you won’t be doing business with the client for very long.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are three relevant resource links:

“The primary focus of your brand message must be on how special you are, not how cheap you are. The goal must be to sell the distinctive quality of the brand.”

– Kerry Light


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry. 

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.