The six Ws framework for the roots of uncertainty

In the authors' experience the initial motivation for applying formal risk management usually arises because of concerns about design and logistics issues in major projects that involve the large-scale use of new and untried technology. However, the most important issues that risk management helps to resolve are usually related to objectives and relationships between project parties. For example, a common issue in most projects is: 'do we know what we are trying to achieve in clearly defined terms, which link objectives to planned activities?' It is important to understand why this situation arises and to respond effectively in any project context.

A convenient starting point is consideration of the project definition process portrayed in Figure 1.1. There are six basic questions that need to be addressed:

1. who who are the parties ultimately involved? (parties);

2. why what do the parties want to achieve? (motives);

3. what what is it the parties are interested in? (design);

4. whichway how is it to be done? (activities);

5. wherewithal what resources are required? (resources);

6. when when does it have to be done? (timetable).

For convenience we refer to these question areas as 'the six Ws', using the designations in parentheses as well as the W labels for clarity when appropriate. While somewhat contrived, this terminology helps to remind us of the need to consider all six aspects of a project, reinforced by the Rudyard Kipling quote used to open this chapter.

The flow lines in Figure 1.1 show the influences on project definition that are the roots of uncertainty. In the context of roots of uncertainty, these arrows can be interpreted as indicating the knock-on effects of uncertainty in each entity. As Figure 1.1 shows, the roots of uncertainty may extend back to the basic purpose of the project and even the identity of the relevant parties. Any uncertainty associated with entities earlier in the cycles portrayed by the diagram are of fundamental importance later. In the earliest stage of a project, during conception, uncertainty is at its greatest. The purpose for which the project is required and the parties who will be involved may not be clear.

As indicated in Figure 1.1, 'project initiators' are a subset of the who, the 'project parties ultimately involved'. Project initiators kick the whole process off. One or more project initiators first identify the basic purpose of the project, or intended benefit from it, the why or motives for the project. These motives will usually include profit, involving revenue and cost, along with 'other motives'. Initially, the nature of these motives will be defined, but they will not be quantified as objectives. That is, in terms of the mission-goals-objectives hierarchy often used to move from an overall mission statement to quantified who project parties ultimately involved who project parties ultimately involved

project Initiators

later players

other Interested parties






other motives



what design whichway activity-based plans wherewithal

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