Thank VUCA for project management!

uncertainty in project management CSC Blogs

With the end of the Cold War in the 1990s and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the post-World War II order had crumbled and we found ourselves in a new multi-polar world.

To characterize this new state of affairs, the U.S. military developed the term VUCA, standing for the four conditions of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  (There is a good description of each of these terms here from the Harvard Business Review).

And how do we combat this strange new world?

Well, with the same project management tools we use every day.

As a Program Manager or a Project Manager,  the fundamental tenants of the PM skillset allow us to overcome the challenges of VUCA.

For example:

1. How do we tackle Volatility?

By revisiting Assumptions. Is it still valid to run the project for example (have we checked the business case)? Have the organization’s objectives and strategic aims now changed?

2. How do we tackle Uncertainty?

By reviewing Risks and Issues. Can we find new ways to gather data and avoid over-reliance on “the usual suspects” to provide information.

3. How do we tackle Complexity?

By reviewing and controlling Scope. Can we ensure we have only the most critical components? How can we reduce the scope to the simplest form?

4. How do we tackle Ambiguity?

By reviewing the Stakeholder Communications Plan. Can we understand, empathize and encourage our stakeholders? Can we speed the flow of information whilst maintaining its accuracy and its relevance?

Whilst the response to VUCA is the discipline of project management, we can also discipline our working practice in daily life.

For example:

  1. Separate urgent tasks from important tasks?  (And really, should we do tasks that are not-urgent and not-important?)
  2. Make time for progress tasks. (Maintenance tasks are obvious and give us a feeling of safety, but progress tasks are the only ones that will move us forward).
  3. Remember the Pareto principle (80/20). We spend 20% of our time on valuable things and the other 80% gets used up. How about cranking it up to 21%?
  4. Leave FREE time in your schedule and SCHEDULE your free time. Be flexible with your schedule and be adapt to sudden events. Schedule some thinking time. Make yourself unavailable.
  5. Control interruptions. Handle emails once or twice a day. (If it is urgent, your phone can be available).

Of course VUCA is just an acronym.

We can also address it using Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.

For those super-optimists, how about making our response Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy and Astounding!

What is your response to the challenges of VUCA?



Embracing the Black Swan in life and in business

Flexing your agile muscle as a program manager

Innovation in project management: Can it be done?


  1. Never came across the term VUCA, it is quite interesting to see how project management is helpful in addressing issues which are affecting organizations and they may not be related to project related issues.


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