Tag Archives: complexity

Two new papers on the web

BeaverWe presented papers at the Engineers Australia MCPC14 conference late last year. They are now available on our website.

Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent looks at the problem of communicating complex project information to stakeholders in a way they can understand.

Scheduling Complexity discusses the challenges of managing time in complex projects and the need for qualified schedulers.

For more of our papers and articles see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html


Stakeholders in complexity

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.


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

PGCS #2 – the importance of communication

A consistent theme running through many of the presentation at both the Project Zone Congress  in Germany and the Project Governance and Controls Symposium  in Canberra was the importance of effective communication. This is particularly so when dealing with complex projects involving ‘teams of teams’ many of which may be focused on ‘their objectives’ ahead of the overall project.

Reinventing CommunicationMark Phillips  a keynote speaker at  PGCS highlighted some of the concepts in his new book Reinventing Communication: How to Design, Lead and Manage High Performing Projects’.  Several of the concepts align closely with our views.

The first ‘reinvention’ we fully agree with is the importance of in-person communication – in-person allows energy top build within the communication and facilitates knowledge development by the parties to the communication!  Remote communication is limited to knowledge transfer (see more on communication theory).

More important is the need to design your project’s organisation to allow success to be created. The hierarchy of design is:

  • Setting the right governance systems, policy and regulations
  • Designing the organisation structured to facilitate communication
  • Developing the people and the networking environment
  • Encouraging open, effective and fearless communication (frightened people won’t communicate bad news)

With the right communication structure and attitudes in place, innovation can thrive leading to problem solving and the creation of the outputs needed for success.  Conway’s law (1968) states that ‘that organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations’.  A fractured communication landscape leads to disjointed project deliverables.

With communication central to success, one of the key strategic intents of the project design should be to engineer an effective communications environment and then to measure the effectiveness of the communications taking place.  However, when setting KPIs it is important to measure the effectiveness of the communication, not just the volume!

This is not easy, some of the challenges associated with creating an effective communication environment are discussed in this RSA Animate video – Re-Imagining Work!

PGCS 2014 Update – I’ve been proved wrong!!

G-C_SymposiumThe Project Governance and Controls Symposium 2014, Canberra, is in full swing with wall-to-wall interesting presentations!

The focus of this post is the presentation by Stephan Vandevoorde on the work he is involved in at Ghent University, Belgium focused on developing  processes for the validated testing of project control tools entitled ‘If Time is Money, then Accuracy is Important’.

The problems with studying the effect of project control processes in live projects are many, the most significant being:

  • The control function generates information that influences management action causing different outcomes.
  • The ‘Hawthorne Effect’ where people being ‘observed’ change behaviour because they are being observed.
  • The uniqueness of each project, its team dynamics, luck, and the overall operating environment making replication of an ‘experiment’ difficult.

As part of their on-going work to validate Earned Schedule (ES) the Ghent team have developed a set of project networks using different topologies to emulate schedules ranging from those that are largely sequential, through to those that have a high level of parallel working.  The models are updated with a range of 9 different progress options leading to a total of 2.8 million unique data sets. This resource provides a unique test bed for evaluating the effectiveness of various predictive and preventative tools and techniques.  For more on this valuable resource, which is available for research, see http://www.or-as.be/research/database

One of the earlier studies (on a smaller simulation) focused on testing the effectiveness of various techniques in predicting the final schedule outcome of a project. And this research has proved me wrong!  In a blog post following last year’s PGCS ‘Earned Schedule comes of Age’  I lamented the fact that a detailed study proving Earned Schedule (ES) was significantly better at predicting project completion than the traditional Earned Value SPI had not taken the extra step and also demonstrated its predictive effectiveness compared to traditional CPM.  My paper Why Critical Path Scheduling (CPM) is Wildly Optimistic highlights the issues but lacks statistical validation.  As it happens, the ‘missing’ studies had been done and the outcomes presented by Stephan showed the results of a 2008 study by Prof. M. Vanhoucke (also of Ghent University) that demonstrate the superiority of Earned Schedule as a predictive tool designed to complement the true focus of CPM which should be the optimisation of resources and workflow (rather than the projection of the overall project completion – for more on this read my paper).

ES Table

So the basic research has been done, the results are conclusive and based on the research the effective controlling of projects needs a combination of CPM, EV and ES for optimum results!  The research frontier is moving towards effective early indicators such as the ‘P factor’ and intervention and with the data tools now available, statistically  significant analysis becomes feasible.

With the steady stream of papers validating Earned Schedule, I hope the flow of misleading information from a few die-hard traditionalists in the USA is finally extinguished and comments from leading authors such as Quentin Fleming and Joel Koppelman in the  4th Edition of ‘Earned Value Project Management’ (2010), that ‘The authors do not endorse [earned schedule]. Nor have they ever read any scientific studies that support [it]’ disappear.  It really does not matter what Fleming and/or Koppelman have bothered to read, making misleading statement like this helps no one.

The challenge is developing tools and techniques that help manage projects in an environment of increasing complexity – and as one of the other presenters, Stephen Hayes from the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM), traditional tools such as CPM and EV are important, but simply not sufficient in the emerging domain of complex project management, or  as my paper to the PGCS suggests, Agile projects.

Poor Governance creates complexity

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 what 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.

Uncertainty 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.

AmbiguityComplexity 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 social dynamics of governance – Bullying and Pressure Projects

A number of current news items have highlighted the complexity and interconnectedness of governance in organisations. The blog post is going to draw together four elements – high pressure projects, bullying, the need for organisations to provide a safe workplace and the need to support people with mental illness; all of which have interconnected governance implications.

To lay the foundation for this post, the interconnected nature of governance has been discussed in our post Governance -v- Management: A Functional Perspective  and is best displayed in this ‘petal diagram’

Petal Diagram Governance

The catalyst for this post are some recent changes in Australian workplace legislation that is forcing all types of organisations to consider how they manage the mental health of their paid and volunteer workforce.  In essence these codified requirements are no different to the pre-existing requirements to protect the physical wellbeing of the workforce and others interacting with the organisation, the only difference is mental heath and wellbeing are now overtly covered.

The new uniform national workplace health and safety laws require employers to ensure that workplaces are physically and mentally safe and healthy, and the work environment does not cause mental ill-health or aggravate existing conditions.  Under these harmonised laws ‘reckless conduct’ offences incur penalties of up to $3 million for corporations and $600,000 and/or 5 years jail for individuals.

These challenges cannot be avoided; it remains illegal to discriminate against individuals on the grounds of disability, including mental disability, in the same way it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, sex, race, and religious and other beliefs.

These are not trivial issues as the  $230,000 penalty (fines and costs) awarded  by the Victorian Supreme Court against the former operator of a commercial laundry for ‘workplace abuse’ and the  reputations damage suffered by CSIRO (Australia’s premier scientific research organisation), over on-going bullying allegations demonstrate.

There is a growing awareness of psychological hazards in the workplace including bullying, harassment and fatigue; and the consequences of organisational failures in this area can extend well beyond the strict legal liabilities.  To avoid prosecution and reputational damage, organisations are increasingly being required to take proactive, preventative actions and implement a culture, reinforced by effectively implemented policies to manage these aspects of workplace health and safety. Attitudes are slow to change and creating a culture that properly respects and protects mental wellbeing will require a sustained focus at the governance levels of the organisation as well as in the day-to-day management of the work place.

The payback for good governance and effective management in this area is that organisations that promote good mental health in the workplace are seen as great places to work, and have higher levels of productivity, performance, creativity, and staff retention, and tend to financially outperform other less well governed organisations. These are very similar findings to organisations that actively support and embrace ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – apparently the good guys finish first (not last)!!

However, managing this change is not going to be simple!  Organisations are under ever increasing pressure to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and to produce ‘more with less’ to survive. One of the key capabilities enabling quick and effective strategic change is the domain of project and program management. In response to these organisational pressures, project managers are increasingly being placed under stress to be faster, cheaper and better and to deliver the new capability or ‘thing’ in record time.  Couple this to the mistaken belief of some managers that setting ‘stretch targets’ is a way to motivate workers (even though sustained failure is known to be a major cause of stress and demotivation) and you end up with a classic governance dilemma.

Deciding how to best balance these competing demands require an overarching governance policy supported by a sympathetic implementation by management to achieve both a safe work environment and an effective management outcome.  In the absence of effective governance managers are left to sort out their own priorities and frequently are driven by short term KPIs focused on easy to measure cost and time performance criteria. In these circumstances concern for performance frequently outweighs concern for people.

These issues are compounded by the fact that far too many middle and project managers lack effective people skills and can easily drift from pushing for performance to micro management to outright bullying. The mental wellbeing risks include applying undue pressure to perform that induces stress leading to depression; as well as more overt acts of aggression and bullying. The Australian Fair Work Amendment Bill of 2013 defines workplace bullying as ‘repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health or safety’.

Unfortunately, at least in the Australian context, bullying is a major unreported problem. A recent survey by the University of Sydney (see the report summary) has found that workplace bullying tends to be peer-to-peer and occurs at all levels of organisations. Most incidents occur within the presence of one’s peers, including bullying in meetings and other managers are unlikely to intervene. The problem is insidious, nearly 50% of the survey respondents reported bullying in the last year, and only 16% organisation assisted the situation when the problem was reported. But, ignoring the issue is a high risk strategy.

All types of organisation need to develop focused strategies to reduce the opportunities for bullying to occur at every level from the board room table down to the shop floor; and to policies backed by procedures to deal with bullying effectively when it does occur, in ways that support the victims. Bullying is illegal, causing damage to a person’s mental health is illegal (and bullying is only one way this can occur) and failing to effectively manage the consequences of mental illness is illegal.

The ongoing damage being caused to CSIRO’s reputation by the publication of the report into bullying within the organisation demonstrates the way these problems can escalate into a major issue for the Board. The on-going publicity associated with potential litigation and prosecutions has a long way to run before the final wash up allows CSIRO to move forward with a clean slate. And, as the CSIRO report suggests, the consequences of breaking the law are likely to be a small part of the overall damage caused governance failures in this important area.

The reason this is primarily a governance issue is the challenge associated with developing a philosophy and culture that empowers management to resolve the dilemma associated with balancing commercial objectives against personal wellbeing objectives – there is no ‘right answer’.  It is all too easy for executives to decide the organisation needs a new capability, managers being tasked to deliver the required outcome with inadequate resources, and the project manager to be given an unreasonably short timeframe for delivery.  The pressure to ‘perform’ inevitably leading to increases in stress, conflict and potentially bulling. But whilst there are many questions, and decisions, there are few clear answers:

  • When does the need to perform and work extended hours slip into workplace fatigue and an unsafe work environment?
  • When does the project manager’s desire to push team members for maximum performance slip into bullying?
  • Who is responsible for creating the unsafe work environment:
    –  The PM operating at the tactical level?
    –  The managers that set the strategic objectives?
    –  The executives who created the overall environment?
    –  The ‘governors’ who failed to offer appropriate leadership?

Good management can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms, but good governance is needed to eliminate the root cause and promote mental wellbeing in the workplace. At least in Australia there are now effective laws to help and the data shows improving this aspect of an organisation is good for business, and of course excellent stakeholder management.

Communicating in a Rapidly Changing World

The challenge faced by everyone is the ever increasing rate of change, driven by new knowledge, new ideas, new management fads and of course new technologies.

As individuals and organisations we need to continually accelerate our rate of learning, and according to Eddie Obeng in his TED presentation Smart failure for a fast-changing world  the world is now changing at a rate faster than we can assimilate the new information, making errors and mistakes inevitable.

In the old world, a competent person could keep up with ‘all’ of the relevant changes in their area of expertise and be expected to get the ‘right answers’ – in the new world we simply cannot. What was ‘right’ based on the old paradigms is unlikely to be the best answer now or in the future and there’s no way of knowing if your innovative solution to a problem is right or wrong until later. Timely decisions based on assumptions and partial information are essential (see more on decision making). And adaptation and rapid learning from your mistakes is the new normal.

Obviously this is helped by access to useful information. The challenge is sorting ‘useful’ information from the ever expanding ‘noise’ in every aspect of life, within the ever shortening timeframes needed for effective decisions.

One of the clearest depictions of this problem is the ever increasing number of business fads sweeping management:

Rate of change

This ‘fad-o-gram’ is from ‘The Ebbs, Flows and Residual Impact of Business Fads 1950 – 1995’ by R. Pascale. The chart was developed from a statistical analysis of the indexes of the influence of business ideas, calculated by Richard Pascale, using an importance-weighted citation count, admittedly with a significant subjective component.

Looking at an updated version of the chart from 2000 in more detail is interesting:


The first surprise is the number of ‘defunct’ management theories that are still included in the PMP course requirements such as ‘decision trees’, ‘theory x – theory y’, ‘brainstorming’ and ‘management by objectives’. I have a feeling this is more likely to be a factor of the interest in the concept by author’s looking for a new idea to have their academic papers published, or sell their books, than the actual usefulness of the concepts but equally there are literally dozens of fads and fashions that have arrived, been championed as the solution to all known problems and then died.

The second surprise is the omission of ‘project management’ including ‘program management’ and ‘project portfolio management’. Presumably projects were seen by Pascale as planning processes rather then management theory.

From the perspective of management theories and fads, the most telling insight can be ascribed to Peter Drucker who, in 1993 said ‘The most probable assumption is that no currently working ‘business theory’ will be valid ten years hence — at least not without major modifications’.

So where does this leave us as working managers trying to make good decisions in a rapidly changing world? I would suggest decisions based on common sense and pragmatism, founded on experience, are likely to be far more effective than leaping onto the latest management fad both at the project level and higher management levels. Not worrying too much about the latest fad also helps reduce the learning load. And whilst not included in the diagram, there are plenty of project management fads and ‘silver bullet’ techniques being touted on a regular basis.

But we all need access to useful, relevant and current information to develop our knowledge and ground our experience – competency is founded on knowledge!!

One of our overriding considerations in developing these blogs, our published papers and our White Papers is to take new concepts and make the ideas both practical and usable. The other which is still a work-in-progress is to develop an indexed structure that makes the information easily accessible and findable (see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html).

See also our article: Reducing complexity in management communication