Leaders Manage Uncertainty

One of the problems I see in projects and organizations is when people wish for certainty.

Too many agile project managers and Scrum Masters want a known velocity. They don't realize that velocity is a relative capacity measurement, not a guarantee.

Product managers, the people who manage the project portfolio, all seem to want certainty the teams will deliver finished product by a certain date.

The problem is that life (professional and personal) is filled with risks and uncertainty. We can't guarantee a deliverable. We can manage the risks to do the best job we can, but we can't guarantee it.

I see leaders who manage uncertainty in a variety of ways:

  • The tester who says, “I see these potential problems when people use this feature. Here are my automated tests to catch these cases.”
  • The developer who says, “This looks more complex than I expected, and I wrote this a couple of months ago. I've learned since then. Let me grab a buddy so I know I'm doing this right. We can pair on the refactoring with unit test support.”
  • The project manager who says, “If we can make the stories smaller, we'll know more about our cycle time and velocity. The entire project will be more predictable. Hey, PO, want a hand?”
  • The product owner who says, “I want to see it all, but I really want to see this small thing first. If I make it small enough, maybe the team can finish it in one day.”
  • The project managers, POs, and other leaders who use a cadence or a timebox for effective rolling wave planning.
  • And, especially the senior managers who understand that everything is full of risk and want to know you've thought about the risk. And, that they are willing to consider options that help everyone manage risk.

Work— and life– is full of uncertainty. When we look for risks and actively manage them, we have a better chance of managing our uncertainty.

Leaders manage uncertainty.

Uncertainty is too important to be relegated to just the people with manager titles. We all have a responsibility to manage uncertainty.

When managers stop looking for guarantees and help manage uncertainty, they exhibit their leadership. When everyone else looks for risks and helps to manage the risks and uncertainty, they are leaders, too.

Discover your leadership when you manage your uncertainty.

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