What is VUCA? A volatile business environment requires flexibility and digitization (and ditto planning)

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VUCA = volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous. A term describing the 'uncontrollable' world we live in. Tomorrow even more than today. Your business environment is undoubtedly VUCA to a greater or lesser degree. Four factors that call for a different approach, also when it comes to planning.  

How do these components differ from each other? What response do they require and how do you approach this in practice?


The more volatile the environment, the more frequently it changes. In a business environment, this is often accompanied by fluctuations in demand, turbulence and a short time-to-market. Unexpected, unstable challenges, therefore. Moreover, their duration is usually unknown. Nevertheless, there is data and knowledge available on these kinds of dynamics. This makes them understandable to a certain extent.  

Fluctuations in demand and short time-to-market result in irregularities in the need for employees and thus in the planning. When demand is high, operations eventually need more employees to meet it. A solution to this volatility that affects the planning is flexwork. Flex workers such as temporary staff, students, temporary workers and volunteers can be deployed quickly and flexibly in addition to the permanent staff. This way, you cope with the extra work pressure without your permanent staff having to work inhumane hours.


Extremely uncertain environments do not allow predictions. Past experiences cannot be used to forecast what the future will bring. Fortunately, completely uncertain environments are rare. Usually, there is some degree of certainty and therefore of predictability.  

No predictions without information! Therefore, collect, analyse and interpret the necessary data. Thanks to cloud software, you can make full use of the predictability that exists. A cloud planning software centralises the planning and builds up a history at the same time. When rare events occur, you can look back in the history to see what influence a similar event had on the planning before. Based on these insights, you can anticipate. Always stay ahead!


A complex situation has many different, interrelated components and variables. Information is available and predictions can be made. But the volume and nature of that info is overwhelming. Crunching it is!

An example of complexity is an organisation that consists of different entities and production units. These operate in different ways, for example, with different organisational structures and work systems. The production units work in continuous mode, the head office has a day system. Even though they have different ways of working, they are related and interdependent.

By digitising planning as much as possible, the necessary HR data can be collected and stored. It is then crucial to understand the relationships between different variables. To avoid getting lost in the complexity of it all, dashboards can be a lifesaver. For example, a dashboard can show you how many hours were worked by flex staff per entity or production unit and how much time it takes to fill in the shifts at different locations.


Ambiguity refers to the lack of clarity to interpret a situation. As a result, the relationships - causal or otherwise - are totally unclear. There are no precedents. So, you are dealing with an unknown unknown.

If you have the necessary tools, you can switch quickly when such situations arise. Communication is key in ambiguous circumstances. When it comes to planning, it is best to ensure that there is a direct line between supervisor, planner and employee. That way, communication can be fast and clear and information flows in real time.

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