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How a VUCA Framework Can Build Stability in Your Project
The world is - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous – Our Projects (and lives) should account for this.
Project's are constantly being challenged for a number of reasons; Rapid change (rise of generative AI); Pressure for companies to innovate (what are my competitors doing); Unanticipated issues (Unknown Unknowns). The world is - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. Therefore we must build a mindset that lets us live, operate and eventually thrive within a VUCA world. Companies and people must understand things aren’t returning to the previous normal as there is no normal, just constant evolution at a pace never before seen.
We must understand and embrace living in a VUCA world if we want to use this to our advantage:
Volatility looks at how things are liable to change rapidly and unpredictably. Complex systems flip from one state to another swiftly (work in office one day, virus appears, over a year working from home the next).
In systematically volatile environments change is constant. Our strategy therefore needs to evolve from resisting volatility to working with it. We can do this through agility and enabling adaptive capacity.
Uncertainty looks at our inability to know everything fully. Outcomes to an emerging process cannot be known beforehand (Why is bread becoming more costly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?). Our strategy therefore needs to shift.
To battle uncertainty we need to continuously inspect our assumptions and adapt, we need to be transparent with each other about what we can’t know or plan for. Uncertainty breeds fear, so we must also have courage to follow through with our ideas.
Complexity looks at our world as an intricately woven together system, struggling under the weight of its own complexity. Complexity entails the interconnectedness and interdependence of numerous components (Politicians now must make decisions within environments that have traditionally been isolated from one another, leading to unexpected worldwide results as domestic policy changes get made).
Traditionally we try to exclude complexity to be able to centralise control. Managing complexity means giving up this central control. Instead our focus should be on creating the context required to enable our desired outcomes.
Ambiguity looks at the quality of being open to more than one interpretation. It looks at the haziness of reality and the potential for misjudging what we think is true (Social media and the new prevalence of opinion as fact, fake news!, confusion).
Resolving ambiguity means understanding the context within which the event takes place. We need to understand the interconnections and gain different perspectives. This allows us to build up the full context within which an event can be properly understood.
We all must build a mindset to live in a VUCA world, stop thinking things won’t get any weirder than this and prepare for the next level. Understand things aren’t returning to the previous normal as there is no normal, just constant evolution at a pace never before seen, that will be more and more exacerbated by the rise of Generative AI and globalization.
Some leadership and strategy around VUCA which we can all factor in both professionally and personally:
1: Build resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties is essential in a VUCA environment. On a personal level and an organizational level. And it is an ability you can train and develop.
2: Have ‘spare’ resources ready for rapid action. In a stable environment, productivity and maximum utilization of resources (factories, people, cash) are key. In a VUCA environment having optionality is more important. Always factor in ‘spare’ resources to deal with challenges or opportunities when they arise.
3: Define your outcome? Clarify what you are trying to accomplish. Explore and discover the underlying goal, then adapt when conditions change so it can still be met. (Often people think in terms of output and ignore outcome, outcome is the desired goal that will bring value). Important here is commitment: Whatever we are committed to achieve and accomplish must be done. It should be based on a spirit of optimism, not negativity. So try to stay optimistic and follow through to achieve the initial goal.
4: Build innovation and improvisation mindset: A VUCA environment requires creativity and agility. Once again, something you can train and develop. Whatever you give attention to grows. Innovation is a habit.
5: Build up cross functional knowledge. Help make your teams and yourself cross functional, understand a variety of roles and functions in your team, your department, and the organization. Generalised knowledge across a wide range of areas is more important in a VUCA world than specialized knowledge in a specific area.
6: Pivot by embracing change: If something unexpected happens, accept it and move on, factor it in as a new constant and continue with what you were doing. Don’t let it paralyze you or your team. To do this, be Transparent to those around you on what has occurred, inspect and adapt to the new state of things (empiricism). And most important you need to have Courage to accept the new reality, and have courage to navigate through this new set of circumstances in a VUCA world.
If we shy away from change, we will quickly be left behind in a VUCA world.