The Flexibility Paradox
Around 540 BC a man named Heraclitus was born in Ephesus who became a great philosopher Heraclitus. He based his ideas on the fundamental law of nature, so that, according to him, “Everything flows” and “Nothing is permanent, except change”. From that, he believed that everything that exists is in permanent change or transformation.
Well, more than 2,500 years have passed and there are still project managers who think they will develop their plans and that everything will happen in the idealized way. Pure naivety.
More recently, Polish sociologist Zygmund Bauman created the theory of liquid modernity, in which he explains that things today are much more like liquids that change rapidly compared to solids. The theory is long, but it is worth the reading
In the current project scenario where everything can change at any time, it is necessary to create flexible plans to adapt to new scenarios. Project flexibility can be defined as a strategy to prepare for the effects of uncertainty and create alternatives.
What is most fascinating, and at the same time challenging, in this world of flexibility is the fact that the more flexible your planning is, the more robust it becomes. This is what I call the “Flexibility Paradox”. The biggest question to be answered is: How to create flexibly?
There are several approaches about it and, one of the most accepted is the Real Options Theory, which comes from the financial world, but which has a series of assumptions to be applied and which are not always true in the world of projects. But like any model, it tries to be a representation of reality. Agile methods are another “modern” way of dealing with this uncertain scenario, but it also has its limitations, despite the fact that they increasingly occupy its space.
After a lot of studying the subject and testing some flexibility models, I ended up reaching a somewhat simplistic conclusion, but extremely practical to “solve” the problem. Follow the reasoning.
- When we start planning, we don’t have, most of the time, all the information we want.
- A series of assumptions are assumed, due to this lack of knowledge.
- Our planning is based on these assumptions, which by definition are uncertain events that we take for granted.
- If the assumptions are not confirmed, our planning will suffer some impact and will not be of much use.
- An uncertain event that has an impact is called risk.
So, my tip is: before start planning, pay close attention to the assumptions that some stakeholder has transmitted to you and all the others that you have imposed yourself. Make a good list and review it carefully. Consider assumptions as risks, because that is what they really are. Plan something that can give you some flexibility (alternative) in case the assumption does not materialize. This will make your planning flexible and robust, at the same time.