VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

This section of the portal is for supporting the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant Workshop (DAVSC), currently under development. Discussions on the pages here will take place on the Disciplined Agile LinkedIn group.


Volatility. As the pace of our world increases, what we need to do to be effective in it is constantly changing.

Uncertainty. It’d be nice to have clarity on what we should do. But there is great uncertainty in both what our customers want and what our competitors are doing.

Complexity. Your company, your clients and even your competitors are comprise a system that interacts with each other, but for which many of the relationships can’t be seen or well understood.

Ambiguity. All of the above creates a very ambiguous picture of both what is going on and what we need to do to improve it.

VUCA was first used in 1987, drawing on the leadership theories Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. We have found it an effective way of introducing uncertainty and complexity to executives that other common methods because it is stated in terms they can relate to.

A Note On the Value of Understanding Organizations Are Complex

Many consultants use Sensemaking as a way to describe how things cannot be managed via command and control. Things are not that simple, or even complicated.  Complexity means that we can’t predict what will happen in many situations and we have to let changes emerge. But it’s fairly easy to demonstrate this with examples people have had in their own experience. People have experienced the simple relationship of gravity – there is direct cause and effect. Sending a rocket ship to space is complicated because while all of the relationships are known, there are many of them. The characteristic of a complex system is that not all of the relationships can be seen, let alone understood and predicted. Raising a child is an example.

This chapter was an excerpt from FLEX for the Disciplined Agilist: FLow for Enterprise Transformation (online book). It has been edited to fit into the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant workshop. The Table of Contents for the book is here.