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Knowns and Unknowns - A creative approach to problem solving

Unknown Known

Donald Rumsfield - Knows and UnknowsBack when the US was having a war with Iraq, Donald Rumsfield would come on TV and give a status of the war. In one of those updates, he mentioned the status in terms of "known" elements and "unknown" elements. He introduced a concept that it very useful in the business world. Here is my interpretation of the same concept applied to life in general. This holds true for business exploration, assessing project risk, research and development, or engineering design - whereever you are attempting to find a solution to a new problem.

The Known-Unknown Matrix

Assuming you are attempting to find the solution to a complex problem, you will encounter may items which will fall in any of these four categories.

Known Unknown Matrix

The goal of every project is to move all items towards the KNOWN KNOWNS category (Quadrant 4). However as you start off and move along - analysing every element in the project one-by-one, many things start off in the other quadrants (1, 2 or 3) and then slowly move to the adjacent quadrants till it reaches the Known-knowns quadrant. Let us analyze the items in each of these four quadrants one by one.

KNOWN KNOWNS (Quadrant 4)

At the project inception, these are the elements you generally work with. Breaking down a project into several sub-projects, the goal of each sub-project is clearly defined, as is the path to reach it. So your work will involve accomplishing the task with all known elements in sight, using a methodology that is also known to you. However there are always risks in any project that are beyond control. In this case, those risks are also known to you, and the steps to counter those risks, when they do arrive, are also known to you. In other words you are well prepared to complete the project given the probability of the defined risks that are already known to you. Thus this quadrant is about the Probabilistic Risks of a project.

 A world where everything is known is awesome - including the project goals, the approach to achieve those goals as well as the risk elements of the project, and the means to counteract them. But alas, the world is not so simple. And honestly if it was that simple, there would be no challenge in undertaking a new project, because you are treading on a beaten path all the time with predictable results. This brings us to the other known quadrant.

KNOWN UNKNOWS (Quadrant 2)

Since you are not the only person who has


1. Sources of Project Risk

Read 5480 times Last modified on Sunday, 02 December 2018 03:39
Anupam Bagchi

Anupam Bagchi has been in the Information Technology industry since the early nineties in the Silicon Valley. He has a Ph.D in Robotics and is deeply interested in recent advances in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Professionally, he is a Data Scientist. His primary hobby is photography.

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