The notion that we can make decisions about the future without somehow knowing the possible behaviours we will encounter in this future is naive at best and is doomed to fail at worse. Here's some advice from others on this topic.
- The only certainty is uncertainty - Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus) - if we some how think the future will emerge and we'll be able to react to it, then the simple finance concept of a nonrecoverable sunk cost will be forced on our projects.
- The Public ... demands certainties ... But there are not certainties - Henry Louis Mencken - when we encounter the "Dilbert Boss" and accept that as the norm, then it's time to look for new work, not accept that as our lot in life.
- If chance is the antithesis of law, then we need to discover the laws of chance - C. R. Rao (mentor to Ramanujan) - all numbers in project work are random variables. Without knowing the underlying statistical process and the probabilistic outcomes, no credible forecast for future performance is possible. Deciding anything in the absence of probabilistic confidence is simply not possible.
- There is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain - W. Sommerset Maugham - uncertainty comes in two types reducible and irreducible. We can only have confidence in the future when we deal with both of those on the project. We can also only have confidence in success for work in the short term - withing our planning horizon. Beyond that uncertainty increases and lowers the probability of success for any decision making.
- Obviously, a man's judgement cannot be better than the information on which he bases it - Arthur Hays Sulzberger - to refuse to look into the future, to refuse to make an estimate of the possible outcomes, is to refuse to acknowledge your obligation as a project manager to be the steward of your customers money.
- Lest men suspect your tale untrue. Keep probability in view - John Gay, 1688-1732, English Poet - all numbers in the project domain are random numbers and these random numbers are drawn from a probability distribution. Anyone seeking certainty is fooling themselves. So when Dilert bosses are quoted, it may be common, but that person is simply uninformed about the processes driving a project. On the other side anyone claiming the future cannot be forecast is equally uninformed. Both sides are wrong and both sides fail to understand the solution is to use the probability and statistics skills they should have learned in high school to make decisions.
- A reasonable probability is the only certainty - Edger Watson Howe, Country Town Savings (1911) - like the quote above all project work is probabilistic. Learn to think, act, and make decisions based on probabilistic thinking.
- Our wisdon and deliberation for the most part follow the lead of chance - Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essays (1580) - chance drives all decision making. Change is not an unknown random outcome. Chance can be a forecast, drawn from an underlying probability generated by a statistical process. Just learn to do this through probabilty and statistical decision making.
- All uncertainty is fruitfull ... so long as it is accompanied by the wish to understand - Antinio Machado, Juan De Mairena (1943) - if you really want to understand the behaviours of dynamic systems, study probability and statistics.
- Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises - Samuel Butler, Lord, What is Man? Note Books, (1912) - those who naively assert we cannot know something about the future need to study further how to make decisions in the presence of uncertainty.
What Does All This Tell Us?
When we hear words about our inability to predict the future, make a forecast of something in the future, or make a decision in the presence of uncertainty, we must first assume that person has failed to understand the foundtaions of probability and statistics and how to apply these principles to making decisions. Next we might assume that person doesn't actually want to know how to do this.
If the former is true, start reading Books for Cost and Schedule Forecasting