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Certainty and Uncertainty in Change Projects

Stephen Billing, July 21, 2012

Certainty Uncertainty

Project management is founded on the premise that by planning, maintaining project schedules, establishing change request processes, having clear governance, and reporting on progress towards objectives, the desired future can be brought into being. It assumes fundamental certainty in the universe.

On the other hand, complexity science assumes fundamental uncertainty. 

Let’s consider for a moment the global financial crisis and large numbers of failed projects that are constantly cited in literature on project management. In a world based on certainty, these would be seen as failures to execute proper planning.

In a world based on uncertainty, it is no surprise that all the planning and project management in the world produces such uncertain results. 

What actually transpires in large projects is the result of the interplay of the intentions of the multiple players in those projects. These interactions are enabled and constrained in relationships of power amongst those in different positions in the organisation.

Instead of being certain about the results of your planning and governance, consider that what happens is the result of the interplay of interactions amongst many individuals – you cannot be certain of the response anyone will make to any action you take. 

We live in a world of uncertainty. This means that in change projects you must pay attention to the responses you are getting and work with them, they are just as important as your plans for the future. 

If you want your change plans to be more certain of success, pay more attention to the uncertainties of your everyday interactions with others.



  1. It really confuses my eyesight especially by watching the picture. But overall, the post was really terrific!

    Comment by eBilling — September 25, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

  2. Oh Wow! I love it. Those eyes made my eyes hurt within just a few seconds of looking at them.

    Comment by Jarvis — September 19, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

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