Working In Uncertainty

References and influences

The ideas in Working In Uncertainty have been influenced by many people over the years. Among them have been countless people met in the course of my consulting and training work who have shared their personal views and experiences, often revealing that the reality of their working lives was very different from the theory they were supposed to be living. There have also been many hundreds who have participated in my online surveys and experiments, helping to push forward knowledge in this area. In addition to these influences that I cannot name there have been some major influences on the development of WIU theory that I can name, and here they are, including some specific published references.

1. ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management. Although this influential publication has some serious problems it also underlines the broad idea of 'risk' and the importance of 'integration'. Both are important ideas, but difficult to make work in practice without language changes such as those in WIU.

2. Members of the RM/1 committee at the British Standards Institution have had a strong influence on the development of WIU through their participation in committee discussions that led to BS 31100:2008 and the revision in 2011. In particular, Mike Bartlett and Richard Anderson have helped make it clear that the word 'risk' cannot effectively be given a whole new meaning that encompasses nice surprises as well as nasty ones. Fiona Davidge and Paul Hopkin helped advance the idea of integration.

3. Professor Chris Chapman and Professor Stephen Ward have published a series of books and articles on project risk management that have helped to broaden the thinking in that area. They have also argued for a focus on 'uncertainty' rather than the relatively narrow idea of 'risk'.

4. Geoff Smart, formerly a partner at Coopers & Lybrand, who first introduced me to the idea of project uncertainty as distinct from 'risk'.

5. Tom Gilb has been inventing management methods for a long time and his work on EVO in particular demonstrates how limited knowledge can be handled well even without writing lists of 'risks'.

6. Robin Fraser and Jeremy Hope wrote Beyond Budgeting and with others have developed the idea of control without budgetary controls. Their many case studies are an excellent source of ideas for better working in uncertainty.

7. Henry Mintzberg, revealed many years ago that the reality of being a business leader was very different from the theoretical view of a thinking machine within a formal management system, responding to reports containing data.

8. Herbert A Simon has made astonishing contributions to economics and psychology. In The Sciences of the Artificial he explained how intelligent behaviour can be understood as the behaviour of a relatively simple process operating within a complex environment, including a long term memory store. He also offered insights into design, showing how it amounted to a search within a massive problem space. Bounded rationality is another of his big ideas.

9. Christopher Alexander developed the idea of a pattern language made up of design patterns. This parallels Herbert Simon's idea of a large long term memory store, giving a specific format to those memories.

10. Bryan Lawson has conduct research on how designers think and what they know. This too has been helpful in understanding where ideas for improvements to ways of working really come from.

11. Design Methods by J Christopher Jones is a survey of many design methods, but I particularly like some ideas in his introduction, contrasting the descriptions of systematic behaviour in typical design methods with the messy reality, and suggesting that the ideas and documentation might be where order is created even though the process that creates them is not orderly.

12. The mathematicians who, over centuries, developed mathematics as it is today, including probability theory. In particular, Blaise Pascal and Thomas Bayes, but also the countless others who have refined and extended their ideas.

13. Monte Carlo simulation is a simple idea that makes it easy to compute the implications of one's uncertainty about input variables in a model.

14. Howard Raiffa has written useful books on decision making and negotiation under uncertainty. Another very useful source.

15. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky revealed some of the flaws in our reasoning under uncertainty. They, and others following their lead, identified a number of our weaker areas, including a tendency towards narrow, overconfident forecasts.

16. Eliyahu M. Goldratt has identified some important effects of unpredictable variation in complex systems such as factories and projects.

17. The National Audit Office in the UK has produced many fascinating reports detailing cases of mis-management that provide useful input for interested researchers like me.

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Words © 2011 Matthew Leitch