Dealing with Uncertainty in Product Development

ExPD handles uncertainty in product development

One of the defining characteristics of product development is making decisions and judgments, in the face of uncertainty. Exploratory Product Development (ExPD) is based on the premise of reducing risks and uncertainty. We’re defining uncertainty as having imperfect or limited knowledge about something, resulting in the potential for surprise or unpredictability in the future.

You’ll notice that uncertainty can be caused by:

  • Lack of information
  • Lack of experience (or being new to something)
  • Decisions that have not yet been made
  • Outcomes that cannot be known or controlled by the project team
  • Outcomes that can be described by a probability distribution
  • Unknown unknowns or unks-unks[i] (surprises/things we don’t know we don’t know)

At some time in the future, most of the uncertainties will be resolved: Information is gathered, decisions are made, outcomes occur and surprises are dealt with. Until an uncertainty is resolved, however, we still have to make progress on developing the product. We have to plan and make decisions on reducing uncertainty despite lacking key information.

In essence, with ExPD we want to gain more understanding on the unknowns in product development, so moving those Unknown Knowns to either Known Knowns or Known Unknowns (see blue arrows).

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[i] Reference Preston Smith, Flexible Product Development: Building Agility for Changing Markets.  (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA) page 193.