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Acer America
Acer America Corp. is a computer manufacturer of business and consumer PCs, notebooks, ultrabooks, projectors, servers, and storage products.


333 West San Carlos Street
San Jose, California 95110
United States


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March 25, 2024 | Anton Skornyakov

4 Main Culprits of Unpredictability at Work

There may be some clear ways to deal with unknowns or other such challenges. Here are some things to look out for.

Not every unknown is unpredictable. Sometimes, a problem is merely complicated.

For example, let’s say your car has broken down and you don’t know how to fix it. You would have to make time to take the car apart, understand the issue, and learn how to fix it. You can also just go to an expert — such as a car mechanic — who can fix the problem for you.

Of course, not all problems are as predictable as fixing a car. Sometimes, no matter how much time or ability you invest in understanding a problem, you can’t predict what will fix it.

Fortunately, unpredictability often arises in predictable ways — and there is a clear way to deal with it.

The Human Element

Anton Skornyakov of Agile.Coach

Anton Skornyakov

If your goal is to change how people behave, you won’t be able to just analyze and plan. For example, you may face challenges if you are innovating on a product that you hope customers will like or improving some part of your internal organization in the hopes that our colleagues will change how they do a particular task.

How we behave is governed by the relationships and agreements we have with one other, which might not be clearly expressed. And people are very intelligent and adaptive, so if we try to influence their behaviors, they may ignore our input, fight it, or leverage it for their advantage — which may not align with our intentions.

Competition Creates Unpredictability

The human factor gets multiplied when competition is present. Watching sports is popular because competition is filled with unpredictability. A team’s key player could get knocked out in the first quarter of a game, ruining their chance to contribute. Or there might be an upset because the underdog adapted so well to the other team’s strategy.

Competition in business works the same way, and globalization has made the playing field even more intense. Unless you’re targeting a niche, hyperlocal market, you’re no longer competing against a few similar businesses; you’re now going head-to-head with the entire world.

The Accelerating Speed of Technology

Changes in technological advancements lead to unpredictability in work in two ways:

  • We need to constantly upgrade our offerings to reflect the current state of technology.
  • Technology changes the way products and services are produced and delivered, so employees constantly need to acquire new skills.

In terms of vertical industries, biology and medicine are witnessing significant technological changes. For example, the cost of sequencing human DNA has exponentially decreased in the last 20 years, which has allowed for individualized treatments for cancer, among other diseases.

AI is another example. What’s next is anyone’s guess because technology doesn’t evolve in a linear way.

Outside Factors

Another source of unpredictability is outside factors, like a third-party company that’s linked to your business. Perhaps they provide you with the critical elements needed to make your product, or they will deliver your final product. The more vital your partner’s role is, the more havoc it can create if a sudden change occurs that affects them.

How to Deal with Unpredictability

The more the factors above are at play in your work, the harder it gets to know what is the right thing to do. A problem like fixing a broken car can be analyzed, and no matter how long it takes, in the end, you’ll know exactly how to fix it.

When dealing with something unpredictable, like changing processes in your organization or innovating a product, no matter how well you analyze, you won’t know what action will end up having a positive impact, improve the quality, or make people love your product.

When you deal with such problems, the key is to break the work down so that you can regularly check whether you are on the right track. This way, you are able to quickly see what works and change your direction. This is particularly hard with large projects or problems; the bigger the problem, the more we invest in analysis upfront, and the harder it gets to change plans later.

So how can you identify those small pieces of work that would allow you to see whether you are having the impact you hoped for? The simplest way to get there is to think of all the risks or unknowns in your project and try to come up with intermediary results that once checked may reduce the main risks you identified or demystify those unknowns. Then, you just start with the riskiest part.

Anton Skornyakov is a certified scrum trainer with Scrum Alliance and managing director of Agile.Coach based in Berlin, Germany. His new book “The Art of Slicing Work” is a real-world, low-jargon guide that teaches the main skill of a successful manager in the 21st century – the ability to master unpredictability.

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