When uncertainty is a certainty, how do we plan work?

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Westgate-on-Sea, UK looking north into the North Sea.

When uncertainty is a certainty, how do we plan work?

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When you consider the certainty of uncertainty - that no matter how diligently you prepare, you cannot predict what is around the corner - how does that affect how you think about planning your work?

We’re now rolling towards prediction season, which I realize doesn’t start in the US until after thanksgiving, but I’m in the UK, so I can make a head start. However, I’m not going to try. One thing that can bust your predictions from the get-go is something seismic shifting under your feet, and let’s say we pretty much all know what that feels like.

Instead, I’m going to take that feeling and explain how that is beginning to play out in the conversations we have with enterprises and the software industry itself (from little to large) and how it’s starting to influence every decision. In short, when you consider the certainty of uncertainty – that no matter how diligently you prepare, you cannot predict what is around the corner – how does that affect how you think about planning your work?

Sure, it’s possible to some extent to plan for changing macroeconomic headwinds that might approach, as there are often visible precursors that afford an opportunity to adjust course. If we take a step back, it’s fair to say that these conditions have always been true. That’s perhaps a bit too easy to explain away as cyclical because we’ve tended toward a pandemic event roughly every century. I suspect we’ll all be carrying some form of scar tissue – emotional or otherwise – from the most recent edition for a good while.

The first thing such an experience reminds us is that monoliths are heavy and difficult to move in an emergency. It’s fair to say that implementing the single-vendor technological behemoths in their entirety wasn’t a burning hot fashion trend before early 2020. And the experience that many found trying to bend them to suit a sudden change in working conditions will inform their replacement cycles, if not hasten them. It’s not that change is impossible with a monolith. It just has to be well-planned and generally expensively resourced. Like all spontaneous events, it is best experienced with advanced notice.

Our workplace fashions have become a visual indicator of our preferences for technical platforms. While we may have been collectively cut out of our sweatpants sometime in late 2021, the feeling of loose fit, flexible workwear is one we’re not keen to lose entirely. In technological terms, this is a trend toward deploying platforms that provide a loose fit as part of the underlying rationale, strategic tools that recognize the need for tactical flexibility. The flexibility should be executable by business users and, where possible, can be tested and results reliably simulated. 

That last point about simulation – and we’re in the early days of this playing out across the business landscape, even if such things might already be common in trading systems – directs us toward further potential, situational awareness, and the opportunities that we might otherwise miss. This is not – with the pandemic still fresh – one of profiteering amid supply shocks. Instead, such analysis can indicate adjustments where a process and the experience of those engaged within it can be improved. Be the removal of a repetitive task or simplifying a series of steps usually associated with a task’s completion. Auto-populating a drop-down or filling in a customer number automatically. Better work, not cheaper work.

Perhaps one of the most interesting end games here is understanding the actual contribution of those clicks within tasks, nested within a set of processes, actually contributing to an organization’s overall health. This isn’t about the individual’s contribution – this isn’t some aggrandized time and motion assessment – but instead, do the things we do make us a healthy organization? Sure, financial health is one facet. If we all want to continue to get paid, it’s one of the more important ones, but it’s unlikely to be the only one that keeps an organization happily living and breathing. Where we are seeing shifting availability in labor forces, understanding what parts of a working day is worthwhile is a critical part of building workplaces where people return of their own volition and encourage others to join. Paying people living incomes is high on this list, something that organizations could find easier to countenance once they understand the true contribution to the daily execution of work.

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