The scope for uncertainty in any project is considerable, and most project management activities are concerned with managing uncertainty from the earliest stages of the Project Life Cycle (PLC), clarifying what can be done, deciding what is to be done, and ensuring that it gets done. Uncertainty is in part about 'variability' in relation to performance measures like cost, duration, or 'quality'. It is also about 'ambiguity' associated with lack of clarity because of the behaviour of relevant project players, lack of data, lack of detail, lack of structure to consider issues, working and framing assumptions being used to consider the issues, known and unknown sources of bias, and ignorance about how much effort it is worth expending to clarify the situation.
In a project context these aspects of uncertainty can be present throughout the PLC, but they are particularly evident in the pre-execution stages, when they contribute to uncertainty in five areas:
1. variability associated with estimates;
2. uncertainty about the basis of estimates;
3. uncertainty about design and logistics;
4. uncertainty about objectives and priorities;
5. uncertainty about fundamental relationships between project parties.
All these areas of uncertainty are important, but generally they become more fundamentally important to project performance as we go down the list. Potential for variability is the dominant issue at the top of the list, but ambiguity becomes the dominant underlying issue toward the bottom of the list. Uncertainty about variability associated with estimates involves the other four areas: each of them involving dependencies on later areas in this list.
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