Uncertainty – Is it time to rethink?


Project management in the time of Covid


By Dr. Lynda Bourne

Melbourne, Australia

In December 2019 reports of a new deadly virus originating in China was only a minor news item here in Australia. We were battling severe bushfires in the eastern States; our focus was on the consequences of that disaster. In the meantime, COVID was spreading throughout the globe by way of Italy and then everywhere! The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020 and Australia closed its borders. The whole nation went into lockdown – the first. With remarkably high spirits we shared our successes with sourdough bread and family groups singing uplifting songs, in the knowledge that ‘we were all in this together, globally’. Those of us with white collar jobs were able to work from home, our children learnt from home, we bought puppies and embraced lockdown as a new adventure.  Others, people working in health or service jobs still had to provide services to the rest of us, putting themselves at risk. We ‘beat’ the virus temporarily, but it continued to spread, and further lockdowns followed. Different Australian States had different approaches but most included state border closures, mandatory mask wearing, online shopping until our federal Government belatedly acquired sufficient supplies of vaccines.

At the time of writing (March 2022) we are now ‘living with the virus’ having achieved around 90% take up of two doses of vaccine nationally with a lower percentage (60%) of those who had received three doses. People are still being infected; some recover and some do not, but at a lower level than either previous COVID years.

For two years (and counting) COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of our social and working lives in Australia, as it has in all other parts of the globe, and we all have experienced a heightened level of anxiety as we came to terms with the effects of the pandemic.

What has happened in Australia appears to reflect the experiences of the global population. Every part of a country’s social and work environment has been disrupted; the general effects of this disruption has been to cause organizations everywhere to re-think how to continue to trade or provide services in the ensuing hostile and uncertain environment. As our population worked through the abrupt realisation that we don’t not know how to protect ourselves from the virus, that vaccines and other remedies were not available at that time and our ‘life as usual’ disintegrated, we were experiencing uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it.

Two years later most of the developed world is now ‘living with COVID’; the general desire in these countries is to establish a ‘new normal’. There is impetus and opportunity to reform, to rethink approaches, to review process, and improve practices. This desire is as relevant in the world of project management as it is in the wider world of ordinary lives and livelihoods.

In the world of COVID-normal project work, organizations must prepare for ‘afterwards’ and review and reform risk identification and management processes and practices through:

  • Acceptance and management of uncertainty and the anxiety that it produces
  • Addressing the complexities of relationships – teams, other stakeholders
  • Ensure resilience and adaptability to enable effective delivery of outcomes in the changing contexts of uncertainty.

In this paper I will discuss what uncertainty might mean post-pandemic through a discussion of the concept of a Zone of Uncertainty; how the current heightened awareness of uncertainty and ‘unknown unknowns’ can contribute to more effective risk management practice and how introduction of the concepts of resilience, persistence and adaptability may assist individuals, groups and organizations to recover, review and reform their practices.


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Editor’s note: This series is by Dr. Lynda Bourne, author of the books Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation (2009), Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders (2011) and several others.  She is a globally-recognized expert on project stakeholder engagement, risk management and other PM-related topics. 

How to cite this paper: Bourne, L. (2021). Uncertainty – Is it time to rethink? Project Management in the time of Covid, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue IV, April. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/pmwj116-Apr2022-Bourne-rethinking-uncertainty-PM-in-time-of-covid-series-article1.pdf

About the Author

Dr. Lynda Bourne

Melbourne, Australia


Lynda Bourne DPM, FACS is a senior management consultant, professional speaker, teacher and an award-winning project manager with 50 years professional industry experience. She has been focussed on the delivery of stakeholder management and other project related consultancy, mentoring and training for clients world-wide.

She has presented at conferences and seminars in South America, Europe, Russia, Asia, New Zealand and Australia to audiences of industry leaders and project managers in the IT, construction, defence and mining industries and has been keynote speaker at meetings and workshops within organisations in the finance and utilities sector.

In 2010 she was engaged as visiting professor at EAN University, Bogota, Colombia, teaching leadership in the Masters of PM Program for five years. Most recently she was a member of the Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, lecturing in IT management subjects, in particular, stakeholder management, communication and leadership.

Lynda Bourne has authored the following books:

  • Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation, (Gower Publishing Ltd, Aldershot – 2009)
  • Project Relationship Management and the Stakeholder Circle: A guide for developing stakeholder management maturity in organisations (2010)
  • Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, (Gower Publishing Ltd, Aldershot – 2011)
  • Making projects and programs work: What really matters for achieving successful project and program outcomes (2015)

She can be contacted at lynda.bourne@gmail.com