Cone of Uncertainty Archive

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Empirical or Definitive

Ever heard of the cone of uncertainty?  The cone shows the historical error at certain time periods in a tropical cyclone forecast.  What happens today and what has happened in the past is pretty much all we know.  We can certainly use all kinds of scientifically proven processes or models to try to predict the future.  But, in the end, we won’t know what tomorrow will bring until tomorrow.  If you are dealing with machines, you should be able to predict upcoming events with relative certainty.  If you are dealing with people or something like mother nature, the odds of predicting events with certainty are slim to none.

We need to assume that baselines may change significantly during a project or in life.  In unpredictable environments, empirical methods should be used to monitor progress and direct change, rather than using definitive methods to try and predict progress and stop change.

Definitive

You work and work and work, trying to lock in your scope, your schedule, and your budget before the project even begins.  You do everything you can to lay it all out, attempting to account for every possible variable.  Unfortunately, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  So, the further out the schedule goes, the greater the risk something is going to change.  What’s it going to be?  Is scope going to change or maybe the schedule will slip?  With the cone of uncertainty, whatever foreseen changes are ahead, there are going to be exponentially more unforeseen the further out the schedule goes.

Empirical

In reality, you begin with the greatest unknown.  Even some of the unknowns aren’t even known.  Just accept it!  You’re not the Amazing Kreskin.  You can’t predict the future.  The only thing that is guaranteed is something is going to change.  So, plan for that change.  Know the goal you’re trying to reach.  Keep your eye on that goal.  Now, do what you do.  Develop, lead, manage… it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is you see where you are right now, know where you want to go, and then at a measured time, see where you are again.  Make some adjustments and repeat.  You will find if you just accept the change, you can use it to your advantage to get closer and closer to your goal.

Summary

You can not predict the future, only plan for it.  You can not steer a hurricane, only plan for it.  You can not prevent change…  Can you guess what comes next?  That’s right, you plan for it.

1

Judgement Day

DeadlineLast night (April 19, 2011) at precisely 8.11pm, Skynet, the giant computer network that controls most of the U.S. weapons, became self aware. Tomorrow it begins its assault on humanity. Tomorrow is to be Judgement Day. Hmmmm.  I’m a big Terminator fan but I’ve heard this story before.  If memory serves me right, I shouldn’t be preparing for the day the machines are set to rise and take over the Earth.  I should be preparing for disappointment.

Space 1999

Remember way back when nuclear waste from Earth was stored on the Moon’s far side and it was to explode in a catastrophic accident on September 13, 1999?  It was to knock the Moon out of orbit and send it and the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha hurtling uncontrollably into space.  It didn’t happen!

Millennium Bug

Remember all of those crazy people who were stockpiling gold, food, and water leading up to December 31, 1999?  Sure, I still have a container of TVP somewhere in the basement.  It’s now there in the event of a zombie apocalypse.  Butt CNN Money reported that we spent over $500 Billion on Y2K.  Again, nothing really happened!

2001: A Space Odyssey

Some technologies portrayed as common which have not materialized include commonplace civilian space travel, space stations with hotels, moon colonization, suspended animation of humans, and strong artificial intelligence like HAL.  We’re getting there, but it hasn’t happened.  Arther C. Clarke went on to write three sequel novels: 2010: Odyssey Two2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Two out of four have come to pass and we missed the mark.

So, what is my science fiction rambling all about?

Why do we keep making predictions?  Aren’t we setting ourselves up for a fall over and over again?  Sure, I’m all about setting goals.  We did get a man on the moon by 1970, as President Kennedy pledged.  But fact or fiction, I just don’t see 99% of these predictions as coming true.  Just as I have less and less faith in predicting the completion date and scope of a project before it begins, I’m not going to buy into Judgement Day either.  I’m just trying to manage this cone of uncertainty. Let’s just review what happened yesterday, let’s see what we’re doing today, and then we’ll see what we can get done tomorrow.

 

HT: Wikipedia

Drawing from Pictofigo