The Illusion of Certainty - Paper
• White Paper
Software Engineering Institute
This paper was given in May 2010 by Grady Campbell at the 7th Annual Acquisition Research Symposium, Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).
Acquisition policy and, even more so, acquisition practice today presumes that certainty is key to success, and that uncertainty or delays in achieving certainty regarding user needs or solution approach will necessarily impede progress. This means that when uncertainty arises during an acquisition effort, the natural response is to make decisions that resolve this uncertainty. Uncertainties arise for various reasons, such as poorly understood, conflicting, or changing needs. If under pressure to maintain progress an acquisition effort makes decisions to resolve these uncertainties without sufficient information, expertise, or deliberation, they are really only creating an illusion of certainty; in a practical sense, the uncertainty still exists. This artificial certainty then leads to flaws such as insufficient detail concerning specific needs or premature limiting of solution options. A new approach to acquisition is needed that recognizes that hiding uncertainty is detrimental to success. Systematically exposing uncertainties will be beneficial toward making acquisitions more flexible, cost-effective, and responsive to changing needs.