Stakeholders in complexity

May 26, 2014

The new CPM is ‘Complex Project Management’ and whilst most of the current project management tools and practices including risk management, scheduling and EVM remain important, they are not sufficient to successfully manage a complex project according to Stephen Hayes, from the Canberra based International Centre for Complex Project Management ICCPM.

ICCPM Ltd was established by Australian, UK and US government bodies and major defence industry corporations, and is now a substantial network of global corporate, government, academic and professional organisations committed to the better management of complex projects across all industry and government sectors focused on improving the success of complex projects.

ICCPM

Whilst all projects have a degree of complexity (see: Project Size and Categorisation) CPM is focused on the major projects undertaken in response to ill-defined and often mutually-incompatible stakeholder requirements and are subject to uncontrollable external influences and almost continuous change.

Successfully managing this type of project needs outcome focused leadership that is capable of developing context specific innovative approaches to issues backed by the tenacity to deliver ‘no matter what’!

The latest report facilitated by ICCPM in conjunction with Global Access Partners and a range of leading public and private sector organisations is entitled “Complex Project Management: Global Perspectives and the Strategic Agenda to 2025” (available from https://iccpm.com/).

This report has developed a framework for on-going research into CPM under six broad themes:

  • Delivery leadership – the ability to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Collaboration – working as one team to a mutually agreed goal and equitable reward (including operating the entire supply chain as a single entity).
  • Benefits realisation – understanding and delivering through-life product value.
  • Risk, opportunity and resilience – taking good risk, seizing emergent opportunity, and successfully responding to the unexpected.
  • Culture communication and relationships – maximising the effectiveness of the human asset by understanding and responding to human behavioural need.
  • Sustainability and education – continuous learning, maintaining currency in leadership capability and knowledge transfer across generational boundaries in order to sustain through-life capability.

Against each of these a basic set of policies and actions have been developed to define the future work and research agenda of ICCPM, its partners and academia.  To this end ICCPM is working to develop a permanent, co-ordinated global specialist research agenda for CPM.

With support from the UK Cabinet Office, the Australian Government, universities including QUT and DAU, professional associations including IPMA and APM, and companies such as BAE Systems and Thales (to name but a few) this initiative may prove successful.  Two glaring omissions from the list of supporters though are the AIPM and PMI – maybe this blog will trigger some action.

Certainly the emergence of stakeholders at the centre of complexity means stakeholder management and engagement will be a topic of increasing importance which is only to be encouraged.

Note: The contents of this post are based on the executive summary of the ICCPM – GAP CPM Task Force report: www.iccpm.com

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Poor Governance creates complexity

March 23, 2014

All projects and programs have four dimensions that in aggregate determine how difficult they will be to manage. The four basic dimensions are:

  • Its inherent size usually measured in terms of value;
  • The degree of technical difficulty in creating the output (complication);
  • The degree of uncertainty involved in the project; and
  • The complexity of the relationships (‘small p’ politics) both within the project team and surrounding the project.

These aspects are discussed in our White Paper: Project Size and Categorisation 

Of the four, size and technical difficulty are innate characteristics of the project and are not affected by governance, they simply need to be properly understood and managed.

Uncertainty always exists to a degree and can affect what techniques and which processes should be used for the best effect (what to do) and how to achieve the objective (how to do it). The biggest challenge with uncertainty is making sure all of the key stakeholders are ‘on the same page’ and understand what the currently level of uncertain is, and how the project team are planning to resolve the uncertainties. In combination, these uncertainties create four basic project typologies requiring different management approaches (also discussed in WP 1072). Most residual uncertainties can be managed through risk management processes.

AmbiguityUncertainty is not the same as ambiguity – at the start of the construction process for the London Olympics there was a very high level of uncertainty concerning the extent and types of contamination affecting the ground and waterways, the best techniques for removing the contaminates, and the total cost and time that would be required to complete the work. However, there was absolutely no ambiguity about the requirement to fully decontaminate and remediate the site and the waterways. As the work progressed, the uncertainties reduced, the extent of the problem was defined, the site was fully remediated and the requirement was achieved.

Complexity is similar to uncertainty; there is always a degree of complexity associated with the many and various stakeholder relationships in and around the project. Internal ‘politics’ can be managed, controlled and used in a positive way provided the organisations governance and internal management disciplines are effective. External stakeholder relationships are more difficult to control and tie into the organisation’s overall corporate social responsibilities (CSR) and public relations (PR) activities.

But this is not the way many practitioners are experiencing complexity. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has recently published its latest Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Navigating Complexity

The worrying finding is that among the organisations surveyed whose portfolios were filled with what they defined as ‘highly complex projects’, 64 percent cited ambiguity as a defining characteristic of complexity in their projects while 57 percent cited the issue of managing multiple stakeholders. I would suggest neither of these characteristics is a true measure of complexity; but that allowing either to exist to the detriment of a project is a clear indication of weak or non-existent governance.

Ambiguity generally means the people working on the project do not know what they are supposed to achieve or there are different interpretations of what is to be achieved. Given unresolved ambiguity is a guaranteed way to ensure project failure, the open governance question is why are so many organisation allowing their managers to waste money working on a ‘project’ when there is no clearly defined objective? Good governance would require the waste to be stopped until the objective of the project is defined and the associated uncertainties understood. This does not require masses of detail, but does require clarity of vision.

When JFK stated in 1961 that “the United States should set as a goal the landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the decade”; no one knew how to achieve this in any detail but there was absolutely no ambiguity associated with what had to be accomplished and when it had to be achieved. What Kennedy did was not ‘rocket science’ (that came later); what he did was to create an unambiguous objective against which all future management decisions could be judged and empower everyone to keep asking “is this decision supporting the achievement of the objective (or not)?” Being a ‘good governor’ Kennedy had sought and received assurances that the goal was achievable before issuing the challenge, but he did not try to tell his engineers and scientists how to do their work. And as the saying goes, ‘the rest is history’.

The second area of complexity, identified in the PMI report, involving diverse politics and views will in part be resolved by creating a clear vision. However, the frequently occurring ‘turf wars’ between executives are very much a symptom of poor governance and control. A well governed and disciplined management team should vigorously debate concepts at the initiation stage, but once an investment decision has been made, recognise that working against the success of the initiative is counterproductive and damages the organisation. A key aspect of governance is creating a management culture that supports the organisation in the achievement of its objectives, turf wars and destructive politics are a symptom of weak executive management and poor governance.

Within the PMI findings, the one area where genuine complexity exists is where a project (or program) has multiple external stakeholders with divergent views and expectations that are frequently ‘unreasonable’ from the project’s perspective. A typical example is the motorists who will appreciate the reduced congestion and travel times after a freeway is widened but complain about the delays caused by the road works and the environmentalists who are opposed to the whole project ‘on principle’, knowing the money would be better spent on ‘clean’ public transport upgrades. Thousands of stakeholders, hundreds of different positions, wants and needs and everyone ringing their local papers and politicians…… this is real complexity.

In these situations there are no easy options, the only way to minimise the damage is carefully planned and implemented stakeholder engagement strategies that combine traditional communication options with more sophisticated corporate social responsibility (CR) and public relations (PR) initiatives. This is hard work and never 100% successful but essential to minimising the effect of complexity and to contribute to achieving a successful project outcome. The Stakeholder Circle® has been designed to provide the data management and analysis needed for this type of heavy duty stakeholder engagement.


The limitations of root cause analysis

October 15, 2012

Learning lessons from projects is not as simple as you may think! Projects are complex adaptive systems linking people, processes and technology – in this environment, useful answers are rarely simple.

Certainly when things go wrong stakeholders, almost by default, want a simple explanation of the problem which tends to lead to a search for the ‘root cause’. There are numerous techniques to assist in the process including Ishikawa (fishbone) diagrams that look at cause and effect; and Toyota’s ‘Five Whys’ technique which asserts that by asking ‘Why?’ five times, successively, can you delve into a problem deeply enough to understand the ultimate root cause. The chart below outlines a ‘Five Whys’ analysis of the most common paint defect (‘orange peel’ is an uneven finish that looks like the surface of an orange):

Source: http://www.moresteam.com

These are valuable techniques for understanding the root cause of a problem in simple systems (for more on the processes see WP1085, Root Cause Analysis); however, in complex systems a different paradigm exists.

Failures in complex socio-technical systems such as a project teams do not have a single root cause. And the assumption that for each specific failure (or success), there is a single unifying event that triggers a chain of other events that leads to the outcome is a myth that deserves to be busted! For more on complexity and complex systems see: A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management).

Complex system failures typically emerge from a confluence of conditions and occurrences (elements) that are usually associated with the pursuit of success, but in a particular combination, are able to trigger failure instead. Each element is necessary but they are only jointly sufficient to cause the failure when combined in a specific sequence. Therefore in order to learn from the failure (or success), an approach is needed that considers that:

  • …complex systems involve not only technology but organisational (social, cultural) influences, and those deserve equal (if not more) attention in investigation.
  • …fundamentally surprising results come from behaviours that are emergent. This means they can and do come from components interacting in ways that cannot be predicted.
  • …nonlinear behaviours should be expected. A small change in starting conditions can result in catastrophically large and cascading failures.
  • …human performance and variability are not intrinsically coupled with causes. Terms like ‘situational awareness’ or ‘lack of training’ are blunt concepts that can mask the reasons why it made sense for someone to act in a way that they did with regards to a contributing cause of a failure.
  • …diversity of components and complexity in a system can augment the resilience of a system, not simply bring about vulnerabilities.

This is a far more difficult undertaking that recognises complex systems have emergent behaviours, not resultant ones. There are several systemic accident models available including Hollnagel’s FRAM, Leveson’s STAMP that can help build a practical approach for learning lessons effectively (you can Google these if you are interested…..)

In the meantime, the next time you read or hear a report with a singular root cause, alarms should go off, particularly if the root cause is ‘human error’. If there is only a single root cause, someone has not dug deep enough! But beware; the desire for a simple wrong answer is deeply rooted. The tendency to look for singular root causes comes from the tenets of reductionism that are the basis of Newton physics, scientific management and project management (for more on this see: The Origins of Modern Project Management).

Certainly starting with the outcome and working backwards towards an originally triggering event along a linear chain feels intuitive and the process derives a simple answer that validates our innate hindsight and outcome bias. However the requirement for a single answer tends to ignore surrounding circumstances in favour of a cherry-picked list of events and it tends to focus too much on individual components and not enough on the interconnectedness of components Emergent behaviours are driven by the interconnections and most complex system failures are emergent

This assumption that each presenting symptom has only one cause that can be defined as an answer to the ‘why?’ is the fundamental weakness within a reductionist approach used in the ‘Five Whys’ chart above. The simple answer to each ‘why’ question may not reveal the several jointly sufficient causes that in combination explain the symptom. More sophisticated approached are needed such as the example below dealing with a business problem:

Source: http://www.bulsuk.com/2009/07/5-why-analysis-using-table.html

The complexity of the fifth ‘why’ in the table above can be crafted into a lesson that can be learned and implemented to minimise problems in the future but it is not simple!

The process of gathering ‘lessons learned’ has just got a lot more complex.


Defining Complex Projects

October 8, 2011

There has been a lot written about ‘complex project management’ over the last few years much of which as confused projects with programs, complexity with big and complexity with complicated technology. For an overview of complexity theory see: A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management.

A sentence in the paper ‘Translation and Convergence in Projects: An Organisational Perspective on Project Success’ (Project Management Journal, Sept.2011) triggered this post and sums up project complexity nicely: “The key difficulty with complex projects is that those managing them will often be ‘feeling their way’ towards a solution rather then following a reliable blueprint or project plan”.

Our view has consistently been that complexity is a function of complexity theory and it is a dimension of every project and program. This means every project has a degree of complexity in the same way that it has a defined size, a degree of technical difficulty and a degree of uncertainty, and all 4 dimensions interact and affect each other.  These four dimensions are discussed in the White Paper at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1072_Project_Size.pdf.

What the thought from the paper above highlighted is the very close linkage between complexity which we see as being primarily a function of the project’s stakeholder community and the degree of uncertainty associated with the project outcome. The blog post, Projects aren’t projects – Typology outlines one way of measuring uncertainty based on a model by Eddie Obeng.

I’m not sure how to measure this empirically yet, but I do have a feeling there is a need to define a measurement system that incorporates the type of uncertainty within the overall matrix of stakeholder engagement and supportiveness already embedded in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology  – any thoughts will be appreciated.


Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects

November 26, 2010

Wiley and the Chartered Institute of Building have just published a new book, the Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects. The primary purpose of this Guide is to set down the standards necessary to facilitate the effective and competent management of time in complex projects. It defines the standards by which project schedules will be prepared, quality controlled, updated, reviewed and revised in practice and describes the standards of performance which should reasonably be required of a project scheduler.

Delayed completion affects IT, process plant, oil and gas, civil engineering, shipbuilding and marine work contracts. In fact it affects all industries in all countries and the bigger the project, the more damage delayed completion causes to costs, to reputation and sometimes, even to the survival of the contracting parties themselves.

In simple projects, time can be managed intuitively by any reasonably competent person, but complex projects cannot and a more analytical approach is necessary if the project is to succeed. Although much has been written about how to apportion liability for delay after a project has gone wrong there was, until recently, no guidance on how to manage time pro-actively and effectively on complex projects.

The Guide has been developed as a scheduling reference document capable of wide application. It is a practical treatise on the processes to be followed and standards to be achieved in effective management of time. It can be used in any jurisdiction, under any form of contract, with any type of project and should be identified as the required standard for the preparation and updating of contract programmes, progress reporting and time management.

I may be biased, my partner was part of the team that developed The Guide and it recognises the importance of involving stakeholders in the development of the schedule, but I feel it has a lot to offer project planners and schedulers on any type of project.

For more information;
in Australia see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Books.html#CIOB_Guide elsewhere, http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-144433493X.html


Developing Competency

February 13, 2010

Knowledge alone is not enough! To be effective in any sphere of life you need to be capable of applying knowledge effectively to achieve an outcome; this is competency. However, to be really effective you not only need to be capable of being competent, you need to be willing to act, to use your capability effectively. Effective (ie, competent) managers need to know what should be done, have the skills to do the work and be willing to actually do the work.

Putting this into context, project managers agree that having an effective schedule is important and also know they need knowledge of CPM theory (summarised in Chapter 3 of the PMI Practice Standard for Scheduling) and their scheduling software to produce a realistic and achievable schedule. But simply creating a schedule is not sufficient – the project manager needs to make effective use of the schedule if it is going to add value to the project delivery process.

This makes measuring and assessing management competence difficult. Observing an artefact is not sufficient, it is the way the competent manger behaves that make the real difference. Fortunately, the definition and assessment of competency is based on a defined structure:

First, there are three basic elements within the project management competency framework,
        –   technical competencies – what you do or produce,
        –   contextual competencies – how you work within the organisation / environment, and
        –   behavioural competencies – how you operate in the workspace and interact with people.

Then each element of competence is assessed in terms of:
        –   knowledge (what you know – tested by CAPM and PMP exams),
        –   skills (the capability to effectively apply the knowledge in the workplace and the artefacts produced) and
        –   attitude (how willing or effective you are in applying the skills).

This is normative competence and is the structure of PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework and virtually every other professional competency framework including those developed by the AIPM, IPMA and GAPPS. However, the framework dates back to the industrial age where task repetition was common and one could learn the best-in-class approaches and emulate these to deliver new tasks.

In the ‘age of knowledge’ this is probably not sufficient, competent project managers in the 21st Century need to grow beyond normative thinking and embrace transformative practice. Project management competence is shifting from a process view towards autonomy; self reference and group self organisation. These qualities empower professional project managers to perform well despite prevalence of complexity and rapid change. They develop customised solutions for each new, unique, occasion; implementing the new solution requires the use of existing knowledge but will also generate new knowledge.

This constructivism theory has a basic assumption that each time you perform a new activity you build on your existing knowledge to acquire new insight and competence, and consequently engage in continuous learning. To be really effective, the organic ‘on-the-job’ learning should also be reinforced with the acquisition new information from journals, innovative courses, discussions with colleagues and participating in communities of practice.

Consolidating the new learning into tangible and useful knowledge needs reflection (to understand what has been learned) and possibly the assistance of a mentor to help unlock the complex factors needed to grow within yourself, develop creative solutions, and find new ways to succeed.

Yesterday’s competence is the foundation on which you can build tomorrows, but relying solely on yesterday’s skills is insufficient! Competent project managers know they need to keep learning and developing.


Complex Decision Making Explained

November 28, 2009

Complex decision making is a vital project management skill; required not only by the project manager but also by the project’s sponsor and client / customer among others.

Some of the key areas involving complex decisions include risk management, many aspects of planning (particularly optimising choices) and dealing effectively with issues and problems in a range of areas from scope and quality to cost and performance.

There is an underlaying assumption in project management (derived from traditional scientific management) that decisions will be based on a rational assessment of the situation to optimise outcomes. Unfortunately this is not true! As complexity increases assuming a ‘rational decision making paradigm’ becomes increasingly unrealistic. Human decision makers become ‘predictably irrational’.

Understanding the built in biases and ‘predictable irrational’ decision making processes used by people confronted with complex decisions can help managers requiring optimised decisions to craft strategies to minimise suboptimal outcomes. But where can busy project managers access this information?

I have just finished reading the most amazing paper on the subject that canvases the whole spectrum from risk aversion to behavioural economics in a practical, easy to read format; and it is free!

Behavioural economics and complex decision making: implications for the Australian tax and transfer system has been written by Andrew Reeson and Simon Dunsttall of the Australian national science agency, CSIRO. The report was commissioned by the ‘Henry Review’ into the Australian taxation system and is published on their web site. Whilst you can safely skip the last section which focuses on applying the knowledge to our tax system. The preceding 7 sections are focused on how people make complex decisions in any sphere and are just as relevant to complex project decisions as to complex investment and taxation decisions.

You can download this free resource from the review panel’s website: download the paper (a copy is also on the Mosaic web site on the assumption the Government site is temporary and will close once the Henry Review has reported: download from Mosaic).

If you find the report useful and you don’t live in Australia, you can buy the next Australian you meet a beer; it was his or her taxes that paid for this amazingly useful report. I know I will be keeping my copy handy for a very long time to come.