Client Question: “I have been asked to put together a business case for a new project we are doing. We have a clear business outcome that we want, but since we haven’t done something like this before, it is a little ambiguous as to how to show a return on investment. Dealing with ambiguity has been a struggle for me in the past. How can I do better with ambiguity so I can put this business case together?”
Any time that you are working on something that is brand new, there will always be ambiguity surrounding it. Don’t let that paralyze you from moving forward though. You are trying to take a vision and bring it to reality. Building structure where one doesn’t exist yet is part of the process. The important thing is to tell yourself that although you don’t have all the answers right now, you will figure it out. Here are some key areas to focus on as you get started:
- What facts do you know right now that you can capture?
- What is your current state and the outcome that you want?
- Do you get to define the delivery date or has that been dictated to you? In many cases, you may only have certain business or system timeframes that you can implement changes, so that may be a factor that you cannot change.
- Have you been given certain guidelines that you need to work within or do you get to define everything? These could be resources, technologies, other constraints that you need to be mindful of as you define things.
- What other things do you need to move forward now that you have your list of facts?
- Are there things that you can feel fairly certain about and make assumptions?
- Being okay with making assumptions is a big part of dealing with ambiguity
- Assumptions allow you to draw a line in the sand so that you can move forward.
- Define the parameters that you used to make assumptions and if those parameters change, then adjust the assumptions.
- Share progress with people in your organization to validate what you have so far
- Be open to new ideas and capture concerns that are raised
- Get their help to identify and fill in the gaps
- Identify potential risks and mitigation plans that you may need to include when you plan out your project
- Leverage expertise from outside your organization (vendors, forums, other people who have done what you are trying to do)
Managing ambiguity becomes a competency that your management will be looking for you to have and to help develop in your team. This can be exciting to have the freedom from constraints, but challenging if you haven’t done it before. There will always be uncertainty along the way. Showing how well you can deal with ambiguity demonstrates that you can manage risks and adapt to changes as they occur. Follow the steps above and ask for help from others. Leveraging the facts, assumptions and other information that you gather will help you chip away at that ambiguity. You will start to see the vision becoming a reality as you define more facts and information that you can use to move forward.