Winning the Uncertainty Game


Turning Strategic Intent into Results with Wargaming


Advances in Project Management Series


By Daniel F. Oriesek and Jan Oliver Schwarz

Switzerland and Germany

  1. Introduction

“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

This quote by science fiction author Isaac Asimov (Hartung 2004) precisely captures the challenge decision makers are increasingly facing, namely having to take decisions in ever more complex and unstable environments, while the magnitude of the consequences triggered by their decisions are for the most part, ever increasing. Some of the decisions made today are literally “bet your company” types of decisions; the decision to opt for a particular technology, which may generate significant revenue or may be obsolete before you have even completed its implementation.

Today, we still firmly believe that in situations too complex for conventional (i.e. mostly linear) forms of analysis, wargaming – a methodology originally developed in the military context – offers top decision makers a way, if not to eliminate then at least to significantly reduce the uncertainty they face when taking decisions.

Augieg et al. (2018) argued in the Journal Long Range Planning that wargaming is among the oldest tools aiding strategy formulation and planning, has been in use for almost 200 years and has enjoyed an increase of interest also in academia over the last decade. From our own experience, working on wargames during the last 10 years, we find that the willingness to engage leadership teams by employing more dynamic and innovative formats such as wargaming has increased, in part based on the common perception that the world has become more uncertain, complex and that the environment changes more quickly.

  1. The challenge of uncertainty

For quite some time, the Dynamic Capability Theory (Schwarz, Rohrbeck, and Wach 2019) has argued that sensing, sizing and transforming are central for organizations to stay on top of their game in changing environments. In recent years, the acronym VUCA (= Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) has been used to frame the myriad of challenges organizations are facing. Ramirez and Wilkinson (2016) have framed the term TUNA (=Turbulence, Uncertainty, Novelty and Ambiguity), suggesting that we have already moved beyond VUCA in terms of increasing uncertainty and dynamics in the business environment.

While being confronted with the frictions of war and the “fog of war”, Military leader Carl von Clausewitz (1780 – 1831) is credited with rejecting the postulate of general calculability (von Hilgers 2012). Although von Clausewitz’s insight is some 200 years old, it appears that only in the past decade a majority of business leaders have finally accepted that they are surrounded by constant uncertainty, which cannot simply be “managed” (i.e. by elaborate calculations) and that the trend of uncertainty is to increase without any reversal of this trend in sight. Therefore, dealing with uncertainty in its various forms is a key challenge and core competency for any leader going forward.

Although uncertainty is not only about risks, but also about opportunities (Schoemaker 2012), we advocate that organizations, unless they already have, need to better understand and begin to play the uncertainty game and look for ways how to win it. This will require a change of mindset (e.g. embracing rather than fearing uncertainty), a change of how an organization thinks about strategy, strategy planning and most importantly strategy execution. The latter requires adaptive ways on how to work in parallel to existing hierarchical structures to address the organizations most pressing challenges. While we do not claim that wargaming per se is the “magic bullet” that will solve all these challenges, we see it as the essential tool, which in combination with other approaches, will enable organizations to deal with and triumph in a VUCA, TUNA or simply a more uncertain world.


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge worldwide. Their contributions to the PMWJ are coordinated by Prof Darren Dalcher, Lancaster University Management School, UK.

How to cite this paper: Oriesek, D.F., Schwarz, J.O. (2021). Winning the Uncertainty Game: Turning Strategic Intent into Results with Wargaming, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue VIII, August. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/pmwj108-Aug2021-Oriesek-Schwarz-winning-the-uncertainty-game.pdf

About the Authors

Daniel F. Oriesek



Daniel F. Oriesek is a Swiss general staff officer, civil servant and entrepreneur. After many years in banking and strategy consulting, while pursuing his career as a reserve officer, he served two tours in the Balkans and in 2014 became a full-time employee of the Swiss Department of Defense. He serves on the board of a real estate company co-founded by him and has participated, designed and conducted numerous business and military wargames. He may be contacted at daniel@oriesek.com.


Jan Oliver Schwarz

Munich, Germany


Jan Oliver Schwarz is a professor of strategic management and leadership at the ESB Business School, Reutlingen University, Germany and a senior advisor at the Institute for Innovation and Change Methodologies (IICM), Munich, Germany. His academic and consulting work specializes in future-oriented strategy development which includes implementing corporate foresight processes and applying approaches such as scenario planning and business wargaming. He may be contacted at schwarz.janoliver@me.com