The value of uncertainty

The availability of the new CIA Factbook reminds me of a thought I had with the recent reports from the commissions in Britain the USA on intelligence failures with respect to the US-led attack on Iraq.

We've heard that many of the sources were suspect and that what was thought to be dubious information was disregarded completely (and later turned out to be more accurate).

I'm not so interested in "who was right," but more in the value of adding more context and qualitative value to what you are communicating. The lesson in my mind is that we need to provide better context when we provide information. Let's try some of these on.

How long will that project take? 50 days. 50 days if everything turns out perfectly well and that key vendor gets our parts to us on time. It requires 40 days of effort, but there are several key contingencies outside of our control, and we can't commit to anything less than 60 days.

Will our competitor release their product before us? No. We just hired someone who worked for them three years ago and has a good understanding of how their product releases work. Based on this, and some other intelligence, we think they will release in 3Q06.

How hot does that reaction run? 185 Celsius. We want it to run at 185, but ramp ups to 195 are common, and the process can handle up to 200. The reaction drops off significantly below 160 Celsius.

Gary Blau, on the chemical engineering faculty at Purdue, likes to talk about uncertainty and the impact of paying attention to it during design, rather than waiting for it to find you when you go to production.

[factbook reference from Jim McGee.]

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