Agile, General management, Risk and uncertainty

When certainty is absent

Among all the noise about Brexit, one line I keep hearing is that “businesses need certainty”. We can read this message from the British Chambers of Commerce, from the Confederation of British Industry, and it’s a message the Chancellor has repeated, too.

Undoubtedly certainty is helpful. But those who run businesses deal with uncertainty all the time. Those of us who run or work on projects are also used to dealing with large amounts of uncertainty. And when we don’t have certainty we make sure we have something else instead: options. If don’t have options we do need certainty; if we don’t have certainty we do need options. This is what allows us to plan effectively and make decisions that turn out to be reasonably good ones.

When I see product roadmaps that look 12 or more months into the future I take those distant milestones with a pinch of salt. The more important milestones are those closer to us. We want to build our product (or business) now with minimal negative repercussions if things change. We also want to keep looking ahead and adjusting those distant milestones as we gain a better understanding of the future.

When I look at young companies that are taking market share from incumbents I see companies that are more flexible, and which adapt more quickly to an uncertain marketplace. The incumbents sought certainty and relied on it being there. They baked the false certainty into their operations and culture, and failed to respond to the newcomers. Certainty is good. But building flexibility into our plans, culture and environment is also very important.

Photo by fruchtzwerg’s world

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