Uncertainty in Big Construction Projects? Here is How to Deal With It

Written by LetsBuild

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Can you operate in a context of uncertainty? Neither can I. But I see it over and over again when it comes to construction or architecture related projects. That is why I’ve decided to dedicate this blog post on uncertainty and how we can deal with it, sharing with you four ways that can be implemented even today. But before that, let’s look why uncertainty rings on our door bell – when it comes to big or long projects.
I did a little research and here is why uncertainty actually exists:

Incomplete Understanding of Scope

We may not have accounted for all the requirements of the defined scope.

Incomplete Understanding of Work Per Scope

Unfortunately, we didn’t account for the work required to do a certain task, so even though the scope was right, the effort estimate will be too low.

Imperfect Understanding of Known Work

Even if we did remember all of the work that needs to be done for the task, and estimate accordingly, our estimates may be off because some of the work has changed.

Inability to Forecast the Unexpected

This is the big one. It is about the external events that are unpredictable, and disrupt our schedule.

Now, let’s dive in into the 4 remedy action points in order to fix uncertainty:

Do a phase-by-phase planning

If it is possible, break the project into smaller projects i.e. phases. This means that maybe it is not clear what will happen next year, but you can be certain about what needs to be done in the next 5 months. In this way, you will learn a lot and be able to rethink and estimate the next phase. Also, the management of smaller projects is always easier and cleaner.

Do a mix planning

The truth is that many companies will not allow their projects to be devided on smaller projects. That is why you can do what other experienced project managers are doing and that is to do a mix planning approach.
This means that the first few months of the project will be planned in details and after that the plans are on higher level i.e. there is only the major milestones that are described. As time passes you and your team will deliver more depth for the future period.

It is okay to use many estimation techniques

You know the traditional one right? You do the breakdown structure, you estimate the work associated with the activities and you make the estimation. But, if there is a high level of uncertainty, then this will not work. In order to get your estimated effort, duration and cost right, here is what you can do further:

  • Find someone that has already worked on a similar project and arrange a workshop with him/her so he/she can look into your plans
  • See if there were similar project from the past that you can look into and compare the estimations
  • Create a parametric estimate based on some type of reasonable model.

Do a good risk management

Maybe it is something that your are not so happy doing it but the risk management plan is something that should be updated regularly. There will be many risks that you haven’t thought of and it is ok as long as you discover and put an action point on them before they happen. Don’t avoid this. If you don’t want to do it, assign it to someone else.

Project managers deal with uncertainty associated with large projects all the time, and in order to beat it, you’ll have to embrace it. Looking into grasping the value from the above-mentioned tactics faster, better and cheaper, i.e. to embrace uncertainty with greater efficiency. As a project manager that wants to deal with uncertainty, you have to rely on good communication processes, risk management and schedule management to understand and manage the nature of every project environment.