Handling programme ambiguity with MSPs decisions theme

Published: Fri Oct 29 2021

Blog posted by: Michelle Rowland, Lead Examiner, AXELOS ProPath & Director A&J Project Management, October 27, 2021.

The rate and scale of change experienced by organizations is increasing every day. No organization can stand still as it needs to respond to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that surrounds them.

The Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) method provides two mechanisms to help you handle this: the deal with ambiguity principle and the decisions theme.

In this context, a principle is a guiding obligation that is continually required to achieve value from programme management and the deal with ambiguity principle states that an MSP programme deals with ambiguity: understanding the risks associated with decisions.

The principle - which has strong links to the decisions theme - requires programmes to respond to a changing world which offers an array of threats, and opportunities. Governance boards need to make eyes open choices about these risks, setting an appropriate risk appetite and understanding the uncertainty of estimates relating to the time, cost and benefits of a programme.

The decisions theme ensures that the programme defines its approach to making decisions: what decisions to make, when they need to be made and using what criteria - this links to the eyes open decisions referred to in the principle.

Data-driven decisions

Most organizations are great at gathering data which looks back at a programme's performance against planned time, cost, scope and quality. But few are very good at capturing, analyzing and measuring the realization of benefits.

The decisions theme requires accurate data for all of these factors, including benefits, to make informed decisions. In addition, programmes need to look forward, scanning the horizon for emerging risks, disruptive trends and even situations where little data is available. This is critical to ensure that the governance boards make informed choices; based not only on what has happened, but what might happen in this VUCA world.

This is where many organizations fall down and miss that part of the decision-making puzzle. Consequently, organizations are unable to be flexible and responsive to changing drivers and therefore lack enterprise agility.

Options and actions

When presenting information to governance boards for a decision, it needs to be decision-ready: covering current problems plus accurate facts on what has happened, what might happen and what is unknown. This information needs to be current and include alternative options that are realistic and viable. Stakeholders also need the desire to take action following a decision. This shows the clear link back to the deal with ambiguity principle and the need to understand the VUCA world.

I have seen governance boards make decisions based on false assumptions, a gung-ho attitude or preconceived ideas. This always ends badly, which is why the decisions theme can help you to prepare your governance boards for a robust decision-making process.

When presenting options, you should always include the do nothing differently baseline. Remember, this is rarely a static situation, e.g. if the market is growing, the organization should continue to grow with the market. The guidance suggests offering both the recommended option and another viable alternative. Presenting only one good option does not give decision-makers a choice.

The quality of a decision should not be judged by the outcome - you may have got a good result, purely by dumb luck. The quality of a decision should be judged by whether you've used a robust decision-making process based on all the looking back and looking forward data and recognizing any gaps in that data.

Company: AXELOS

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