- Set the tone. Recognize that there can be value in ambiguity and adopt a flexible approach to handling new or better-defined information. Your attitude is contagious to the team, to the customer, vendors, everyone. If you exude confidence and acceptance, then you are allowing others to feel positive about it too. Set expectations early that ambiguity is a challenge and an opportunity for the team.
- Identify ambiguity. Identify areas of ambiguity, from the earliest point in the project. Often simply understanding and documenting what is vague currently, or expected to be unclear, provides some clarity.
- Reduce uncertainty. Not everything must be clear in order to move forward, but clarity in certain cases is extremely valuable. Distinguish between what needs to be defined, and what can remain vague. For example, defining roles and responsibilities early will allow the team to save valuable time and resources. Where ambiguity can be avoided, it should be eliminated.
- Accept appropriate ambiguity. There will always be facets of a project environment that are out of our control and subject to change or doubt. For instance, government and industry regulations demand compliance yet may be subject to interpretation. Accept the fact that there will be some ambiguity that will remain through a point in time, or even throughout the project, and will need to be addressed as part of the management process.
- Encourage creativity. Encourage creativity in yourself and the team. Consciously consider the possibilities — allow yourself to “look away” from each challenge, to tap into connections and options that may not be obvious otherwise. Give this permission to the team as well. Keeping an open mind to new approaches will allow for greater flexibility and options in handling a changing environment.
- Be inclusive. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Include the customer (internal or external) and other stakeholders in the quest to apply creativity to ambiguity. IBM’s Insights from the Global CEO Study notes that the most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers and integrate customers into core processes.
- Improve communications. When a project lacks clarity, more open and regular communications are needed. Communication is essential so that everyone is aligned in their acceptance — and rejection — of where the ambiguity lies in the project environment, and so all are aware of decisions and clarifying information. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: Navigating Complexity concludes that organizations ranked “effective communications to all stakeholders” as the factor having the greatest impact on the success of projects that are highly complex.
The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.
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