Planning for the unknown

Donald Rumsfeld, when US Defense Secretary, famously said:

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me because, as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.

The Plain English Campaign commented: "We think we know what he means, but we don't know if we really know." Despite the complex way in which he expressed himself, what Rumsfeld said is relevant to project management:

e "There are known knowns." Rumsfeld was referring to things that have ceased to be risks because they have happened and thus it is not possible to prevent them. In projects, these are called "issues". e "There are known unknowns." These are the risks that have been identified and which it may be possible to mitigate, that is, preventing a problem arising or reducing its effect if it does arise. e "There are unknown unknowns." These are the risks that have not been identified or anticipated. They are the threats to a project's successful outcome that are not yet even known about.

e a risk is something that may place the success of the project in jeopardy;

e an issue is a risk (known or unknown) that has happened;

e an assumption is a guess that, by virtue of being unknown, is a risk.

Risk management rather than issue management is essential to effective project management. Successful project managers seek to identify and mitigate risks, minimise the likelihood of issues occuring and reduce the number of assumptions made during the life of the project.

Any plan is a forecast. Risk management helps reduce uncertainty by using the steps in Figure 5.2.

Risks have different levels of detail. A high-level risk may be expressed as: "The use of new technology may create some unforeseen challenges during the project." This is non-specific, but early in the project's life cycle

Steps in effective risk management


Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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