Search Results for: complexity

The Cynefin framework identifies five domains within which systems and environments can co-exist. In summary the five domains are:

  • The ‘Simple‘ Domain – characterized by clear cause-and-effect relationships, with well-defined rules of engagement that call for the use of best practice approaches.
  • The ‘Complicated’ domain – where the relationships between cause-and-effect are not straight forward but are discernible subject to some level of analysis or investigation with the application of expert knowledge.
  •  The ‘Complex‘ domain – where the relationship between cause-and-effect can only be perceived in retrospect
  • The ‘Chaos‘ domain – where uncertainty is abound and no discernible cause-and-effect relationship are known to exist.
  • Disorder‘ – when no clear realization exists regarding the state at which the situation is and where no clear action can be taken due to conflicting views and complete lack of leadership.

When tying the concept of software development estimation with the Cynefin framework one has to consider (or rather ‘sense’) in which domain the system and the environment are and, based on that assessment, tailor the estimation process to account to that situation. The situations most likely to be present at the outset of the estimation process are as follows: Cynefin combinations Some of the objections to carrying out estimates touch on the variability (or rather uncertainty) associated with the state of either the System or the Environment. The Cynefin Framework recognizes the difficulty associated with managing complex situations and suggests an approach to effectively get them managed. Tackling complexity requires resident knowledge about the system and its environment and, more importantly, requires adaptation and openness to learn about them. Experimentation management is the key to overcome the fear of tackling the unknown. Rather than adopting an attitude of ‘it cannot be done’ I would suggest that an attitude of ‘let’s put in a place a process of experimentation so we can tackle the unknown’ would better serve the needs of both those delivering the estimates and those requiring them for business decision-making. Think about it!                       aaa

I am by no means an expert on the complex topic of ‘complex systems‘. My basic understanding of the term is enough to realize that most, if not all, of the projects I have managed can be classified as either being complex systems or evolving in the neighborhood of complex systems.

In this post I would like to reflect on my exposure to complex systems and share some thoughts going through my mind when trying to grasp this topic.

Some commentators discussing the domain of complex systems argue that the search for simplifying the complexity represents an over simplification of what complexity is all about. Complexity, so they suggest, is not a sign of over engineered system but rather a natural property of a system that is genuinely complex. Attempts at looking for simplifications is more an indictment of the observer rather than the system. A lack of an intellectual capacity to grasp a complex  system is not a sufficient argument or drive for simplification. If you artificially simplify a complex system you end up with a different system that, while simpler, is fundamentally and conceptually different from the one you started with and thus, simplification ends up with destruction.

When going through a thought experiment involving a complex system it is useful to contrast that system with other, better known, such systems.  Many observers use different analogies, like that of the human body, ant colonies and modern cities.

The obvious observation arising from such comparisons is that organization-made complex systems have some things in common with these three examples. To begin with, they are highly regulated and all parts of the system are engineered to support a common goal – i.e. advance the survivability and, subsequently, the well-being of the organism. All parts in a complex system are there to support the system and not themselves. In fact, without the whole, no part could practically survive.

On the other hand the key differentiating factor between most organization-made complex systems and the three examples provide is their aversion to adaptability. Being highly regulated they enforce their policies, standards, processes and work instructions and attempt, quite strictly, to govern all aspects of their existence. In contrast, adaptive systems recognize the connectivity between all parts of the system but acknowledge that no centralized control can effectively manage all parts of the system, thus allowing the constituent parts to govern themselves.

Some may refer to this as an evolution of spontaneous order and others (especially if they are economists) might refer to it as an intervention by an Invisible Hand; though irrespective of how you refer to it, it demonstrates the ability of highly complex systems to be successful, efficient and sustainable with little or no governance except for a set of commonly agreed rules.

Which is the point where one ought to ask, what is preventing a complex system from evolving into a complex adaptive system; after all, it does seem like the natural thing to do?

In a naturally evolved complex system there is an underlying governance theme that dictates that all parts of the complex system drive their respective operations towards contributing to and sustaining the common good of the system. While natural complex systems are not immune to the emergence of rogue components, they operate under the expectation that in the main the majority of the activity  around their different parts will be constructive rather than destructive. In other words, TRUST is built into the system and this trust is complemented by control mechanisms aimed at reacting to events should that trust be broken.

The ability of any complex system to aspire to become adaptive is predicated on trust. Its success (or even initiation) hinges on the acceptance of people morality. While the scope of ‘morality’ can be subject to interpretation, establishing moral ground rules should be the first step on the way to becoming adaptive. And with the ground rules needs to come the acceptance to let go and trust people to follow the rules.

And this is where the difficulty lies. Letting go of centralized command and control in favor of distributed leadership is a tough call for many, both conceptually and practically. If you think about it, though, it is the way to go.

Think about it!

The PMFlashBlog event has been, for me, an awesome experience. it demonstrated the simple fact that with concentrated focus great results can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.

Since the official release on Sep 25th I’ve had the opportunity to review all 70 participating posts. My objective in this review was to identify, in each post, the key sentence, paragraph, or words that appeal to me the most or those representing my understanding of the key message arising for that post.

The list below represents those key points I have taken from each post. It is possible that in some instances the comment needs to be looked at in the context of the surrounding paragraphs so feel free to use the provided links to return to the original post for further elaboration.

So here we go:

Any Art is meaningless if you cannot apply it to your everyday life in addition to its intended purpose!

I have been blogging on project management since – holy cow – 2005. You would think by now that I would have this question answered. And once upon a time I did. And then I learned more and I didn’t again. And then I learned more, and I was able to answer the question again. And today I am not so sure.  The lessons are never ending, but there are probably a few fundamental truths at the heart of it.

In one way or another, we all have something to do that requires coming up with a plan, getting the necessary resources scheduled and completing out the work.

Project management is, in essence, a means to an end. It’s about delivering stuff. Creating new business outcomes. New futures. That’s one of the reasons why projects can be so motivating. Outcomes usually outlive the projects that created them in the first place. That’s how it should be. Children should outlive their parents. It’s the natural order of things in both projects and life.

However (as Ferris Bueller points out) life moves pretty fast. Spend the best years of your life blindly running projects, being a slave to PRINCE2, and you could miss it. The last thing you want in life is to reach the final destination and to realise you didn’t care for the journey much.

The lot of a project manager is not an easy one. They have more in common with project managers in other organisations than they do with employees in their own. They share common burdens. They don’t completely fit in with the organisational structure, but they are absolutely and completely necessary. To a certain extent their work is unplannable and hard to control, but they are expected to plan and be in control. They work in a world of largely guessed at estimates, yet they are held accountable to budgets. They can be paid good money, but work is not always guaranteed. They can be deemed as responsible, but often have little decision-making power. And when they are able to make decisions, how should the project manager know what the right or good decision is? What decision-making framework should they use? Should it be what’s right for the project, or what’s right for the organisation, or what’s right for the client, or what’s right for themself and their career? Should it be a combination of these or just one? The project manager lives in a world of tensions and dilemmas.

Better Projects: Kelsey on “What does project management mean to me?” #PMFlashBlog

As a project manager on an Agile software development project, your job is not command and control, but is truly that of the servant leader, you play a key role as a facilitator between the team and business and are an integral enabler of the team’s success.

If you get to the destination, but no one was willing to move with you, you lost.

They didn’t teach me that in my PM training. That projects are people and that’s where the gold is. Maybe Oscar Wilde was right in saying that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. I’ve learned a lot from projects and the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting along the way, but I still know next to nothing. This could take a lifetime!

Luckily I’m a project manager, and it’s my life’s work.

I’m a big believer and supporter of project management as a discipline
Project manager’s understand that the  execution part of the project is the easy part. Planning and preparing for a project is time consuming. But when the planning and preparation is done well because critical elements like resource loading, risk management,  and communication plans, to name a few, were examined, it sets the team up for smoother project execution.

To many, project management conjures up visions of plans & planning, risks & issues, reporting, tracking etc. – all important tools, techniques, methods and processes. But for me, project management is about people. People deliver projects, to people, for people and impacting people.

If you cannot be trusted in the face of risks and issues, you cannot be trusted with the project. For one thing is certain, projects are full of risks and issues.

As PMs we cannot avoid the inevitable, or avoid events in the projects. However, we can change our attitude to reality. In this, each and every one of us as PMs are responsible for our attitude. Each and every of us have an opportunity every day to confront reality with a construction and positive attitude.

But most of all, projects remind us that human efforts are not a zero sum.  Projects show us that together we can add more than we take.
Project management to me is the science of effectively changing the world.

What does project management mean to me?  I can answer that in two words:

Shared commitment.

We project managers can help the developing nations to upgrade products and services using the same global standard, the PMBOK, as the more developed nations.  Using our craft, we can help this world become a better place through the projects we undertake and the value of successfully completing them.

I have never been tempted to change career, I have been content in this profession and striving for perfection in it from day 1, sure I have moved across industries, but always staying within the scope of project management

Self-actualization – that’s what project management means to me. And I get there by leading teams of talented individuals to create the right deliverables in order to fulfill the dreams of the involved stakeholders.

Project Management taught me that the most important skill in life is the capacity to learn. I get the opportunity to deal with new people, new experience, and new challenges. And with each challenge, I get to test how low or high my ceiling of complexity is. That is how much ambiguity and uncertainty my central nervous system can cope with, before I feel loss of control. I get to learn about who I am and what I am capable of. But more importantly, with every project I get to learn how to continue to raise the ceiling.

During early days of Agile, there were debates challenging the role of a PM in Agile projects, however, now it has become a reality that PMs are needed to handle the “admin” tasks. The prime reason being, they know how to “get things done” in any situation. Large companies implementing complex Agile projects still have dedicated project managers, but they don’t interfere much with day to day running of projects.

Remember, when you close this page, do not think friendships are cheap. Take care of them, there is always something to learn, and you will be rewarded.

the true art of Project Management shines through when we connect with our teams and stakeholders, helping them see possibilities and transforming the way that they live and work.

It’s been about the future.  And ultimately, that’s what project management means to me: an opportunity to help create the future.
We stand, every day, upon the shoulders of teams of giants.  As a project manager, I am humbled by the opportunity to offer up my shoulders to the future.

I get meaning from working programs (as we say) for the program’s success.
This success can be simple – it worked as we planned. Or it can be more complex
having a customer say to a large crowd, this program would not have been a success without you and your team.

Inspired by some pictures from Gilbert Garcin I found on the web, I will visualize and explain some characteristics of the ideal project manager and than the answer will be in your hands. Do we have them?

Thanks of Project Management I have many good friends around the world.

For me, project management is logically organizing your world in the interest of accomplishing something. Just that simple.

Knowledge of the PLC/SDLC, but more importantly, the processes behind the processes

Changing people – their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours – is at the heart of project management. Get the people bit right and our project succeeds, get it wrong and we fail to deliver lasting change.

I’ve been managing projects for several years now.  I have sinned often.  And I’ve learned from them.  When I started out, I did what I think most new project managers do.  I was a task master.  I had a Microsoft project plan and it was my bible.

As the years went by and my experience level increased, I learned a few things.  First of all – and most importantly – if the project you deliver to the business people doesn’t provide the value they expect, on time and on budget is meaningless. 

Secondly, if you drive your team into the ground to get a project done by a specified date, you risk losing some or all of your valuable people.  That will make adding value on your next project all the more difficult.

I hope in my lifetime we’ll see project management as a life skill develop and certainly something that every child has access to. Imagine our knowledge economy world in 10 years time if every child is taught how to use these simple techniques; something they’ll be able to practice throughout their school and university years. When they enter the job market after twenty years they’ll have a great skill set that enables them to make things happen in the workplace and any other challenges they face in their lives.

we as Project Manager’s need to continue contributing to the project and knowledge management literature and provide an opportunity to improve project knowledge sharing, and ensure projects achieve success for organizations.

Project Management – an exercise in common sense.

My vision and desire is to see more project managers transform into great project leaders; project leaders who continuously improve and innovate; who partner with their clients with a view to delivering what they need rather than what they want; and who maximize human potential by motivating and inspiring everybody around them to contribute to the project’s overall goal.

The impact for me was to focus on project management as a tool for bringing about change

Project management has always been a journey for me, where I have learned every single day from my work, from my team and from my mentors. It’s been more about people for me than managing work through tools.

for me, project management is the journey required to remove the friction between doing the right thing for my client, the right thing for my team and the right thing for my conscious and to successfully bring the members of this iron triangle to their respective destination

The Project Manager, 2584BC- 2013AD


It brings excitement when starting something new, as well as satisfaction when bringing a project to successful completion and having formed lasting relationships with the team members.

The conditions over causes argument is yet to make an impact on mainstream practice – particularly in project management. Unfortunately,  those who wrote  the “The Book” (and those who update it) seem to  be unaware that conditions are more important than causes. It is a completely different way of looking at projects, so it may take a while for aficionados of “The Book” to make the change. That said, I’m an optimist so I believe that it  will eventually catch on; it is just a matter of time …

Well, hopefully it means to mean what it means to the business:

A leadership and management wrapping around project activity that adds value (to the business) by delivering predictable results for the business.   

My intent with this is now advocating that fun is what Project Management should mean for Project Managers (although I think I could give it a try sometime). But for me, fun is central.

The excitement that something new is going to be created is a fantastic feeling and this stays with you throughout the project as you focus on the completion. This combined with the achievement of finishing a project makes being a project manager the best job in the world.

Project management, to me, is multi-faceted. There’s a part of it that is about process and there’s a part that’s about dealing with other team members in a human, collaborative way.

Project management is often described as a set of skills or a collection of best practices, and while those descriptions are not incorrect, in reality, project management goes way beyond this. There is an art to managing projects that cannot be developed based purely on best practices, spreadsheets and organizational skills.

Anyhow, hopefully that’s given you an idea about what PM is to me.  Some days are great and others aren’t.  You’ve got to remember that you’re the Rock Star and the Tea Boy, so get in there and make a cuppa.  Mine’s a tea, milk no sugar!!

Whether you’re a credentialed project manager or accidental, the project management community is a place to share, empathise, sympathise, learn, teach, laugh, mentor and be mentored, grow, understand and appreciate diversity, commiserate and celebrate.

It’s being able to think quickly and say sorry, and most of the time, it’s about putting other people’s and company goals above your own professional ambition. But it works out well when the two things align.

The Way is not complex.
Follow the simplest path for it is The Way.  

Be open with your team and they will be open with you.  
Be one with the universe and the universe will be one with you.
The wise project manager is humble, he knows the team does the work.  

He respects and acknowledges the team and they in turn respect and acknowledge him.  
The poor project manager seeks fame, the wise project manager seeks inner peace.  
With fame come problems, with inner peace comes understanding.  
The poor project manager worries about what to do next.  
The wise project manager relishes not doing, when nothing needs to be done.  
Do little, for this is the way of the project manager. 

The truth is I knew I was a true project manager when I realized that my sense of gratification and pride had shifted from doing great work myself to seeing great work created by a team whose path I had carefully tended.

Being PM means carry everything, know everything and find that everything and everyone is okay. And this goes from caring for the environment in which we work, you have coffee, everything is clean or creating employment and generating culture belonging to others to be team’s emotional coach and understanding to each of the way it is, for make the best of all.

People are at the core of what project management is. The glue that holds these people together is relationships. Adhering people to your project to facilitate a beneficial relationship can really mean the difference between dazzling success and dismal failure.

What does project management mean to me?” Simply this: Make informed decisions, gain management support, and know how to deal with the unexpected.

Project Management is a practice for your entire life (personal and professional). It’s like having the ability to change the world.

Mostly importantly though, Project Management is about people. People who come together and work together towards a common goal, and for the Project Manager, this requires the facilitation and leadership to empower these people to carry out the work required, with an increasingly important emphasis on our soft skills to influence.

Well if you want me to give you the ‘glass half empty’ perspective, it’s easy. What project management means to me is a confused discipline where practitioners routinely do really dumb shit in its name.

Project management is about getting the right stuff done right, improving and building trust.

So, what does project management mean to me? That’s where I feel at home! Even if I do not get to meet my fellow project managers very often, I know they are out there. Accomplishing great things by taking the initiative, whatever frustrating politics or bureaucracy they have to deal with.

I look forward to seeing my profession of project management in the hands of those who believe in project management in the future.

Amen to that.

Project Management to me, means avoiding the current trend of turning a project managers job from what could be seen as a pure relationship role back into a project management role; doing the basics and doing them well.

I’m not saying that relationships and politics are not important, or managing stakeholder expectations should be ignored (and at your peril!!), yet so many projects seem to be just about this, and have less focus on leading a team to design and deliver.

Ideas Into Reality

It is time for Project Managers, everywhere, to stand up and take back the leadership role that their organizations need!  Refuse to be reduced to a meeting scheduler! Refuse to be minimized to a scribe!  You are the leader!  You are the hero that your organization needs! You are the last stop before failure or missed opportunity.  Rise up and be a project leader!  You have it in you, I know you do!

Project management is a road movie. And having arrived safely (hopefully), project managers are immediately looking forward to the next trip. The journey is the important part: making things happen.
So that is what project management means to me. Project management is about making things happen, and project managers are people that like to make things happen.

However project management isn’t all doom, gloom and stress. Out of the controlled chaos comes a great feeling of accomplishment and pride when you finish a challenging project, when a team is working well or a client is happy.

In a world dominated by wonderful human and technological achievements – the most amazing modern cities, technology and infrastructure for example, the world faces a myriad of challenges.

Global warming threatens to destroy many of the achievements of the past. Rising sea levels, if left unchecked, will flood many of the world’s great cities. Droughts will cause hunger leading to millions of refugees. Wars between nations will increase as resources get scarcer.

Project managers have a role to play in helping prevent this catastrophe by using that most precious project management skill of all – communication.

It doesn’t matter much to me about the project management framework, or how rigid or freeing the processes are that I use. What matters most to me is how effective I am at helping my team understand the vision of the project and working with their strengths to build a powerful team which will deliver extraordinary value to our customer.

That is what project management means to me…and that is my sermon.

I prefer to believe that the common thread between soldiers, engineers, and project manager is that they are mission oriented people.  We deliver something that has not been delivered before while trying to be on time and controlling cost.

Every now and again I come across tweets with links to interesting and stimulating web sites and articles, two of which I’ve spotted today:

@troy_plant tweeted a link to a great quote from Dave West, VP Research Director at Forrester Research (brought in Software Development and Human Capital):

It’s interesting, what we at Forrester have observed across the industry this particular kind of  maniacal kind of addition to the program management kind of practice. PMO’s have grown in size and stature in organizations and become incredibly…big, in terms of their execution. One thing that it illustrates is that complexity does not solve complexity.  As organizations wrestle with increasingly diverse portfolio, time-to-market pressures, one thing that they want to do is add more complexity. “When in doubt, add more governance!”,”When in doubt, add more people to manage the people that are managing the people!” “When in doubt, get more Gannt charts!” And I think that we’ve found that that does not work. I think it’s clear that breakthrough companies or companies that are definitely driving the industry around change and innovation are not solving those problems with complexity.
I love this quote because it says so beautifully and eloquently what I’ve been thinking for quite some time but was unable to articulate so well. In my experience (and IMHO only – but see also “Project Management Offices: A Waste of Money?“), PMO’s are a complete waste of time and money.
@pbadenski tweeted a link titled “Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature“. This title is absolutely spot on as the article outlines 10 human traits, some of which one would hesitate to mention or discuss in public at least on certain circumstances.
Here’s the list:
  1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)
  2. Humans are naturally polygamous
  3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy
  4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim
  5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce
  6. Beautiful people have more daughters
  7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals
  8. The midlife crisis is a myth—sort of
  9. It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)
  10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

Think about it!

In the last few days a number of respectable bloggers (see HERE and HERE) made a reference to a paper published by the ESI, outlining the Top 10 Trends for Project Management for 2013 (and if you’re really desperate, here’s their report predicting the trends for 2012)

I hope I am not stating the obvious but, as ESI seems to be a training organisation, its projected trends are tailored around highlighting the need to facilitate and obtain training in a variety of disciplines. There is nothing wrong with pushing a commercial agenda to grow a business but that agenda is not immediately clear from reading the title of the prediction.

Apart from the implicit bias and the sublime emphasise on training, there are two major issues I have with this report:

  1. The predictions it contains lack clear means of tractability and verification. In other words, comes January 2014, looking back at these predictions I will have little or nothing to hang on to in order verify whether these predictions have materialised and, if so, to what level of accuracy.
  2. Most of the predictions are vague, trivial or both. For instance, the prediction that “Large projects pose unique challenges that are increasingly tough to overcome” (apart from being obvious) is trivial. Sure, large projects pose unique challenges and with the increase in technological complexity, large integration projects are increasingly more difficult and thus tougher to complete successfully. This prediction is almost as useful as saying that some integration projects will fail next year.

Want to know what my predictions are for 2013? Check it HERE.

Think about it!

When I was but a young child my mother read me a story that, for all intents and purposes, came straight out of the Grimm brothers library. The story was about a project manager that was lucky enough to manage in the most perfect, supportive, positive, encouraging, politics free organization. The project manager had the unconditional and relentless support of his (although it might have been ‘her’) project sponsor and all stakeholders, internal and external, have gone out of their way to offer the support and the buy-in necessary to make sure the project is delivered exactly on time and right on budget.

As I grew up I discovered that this, like many other childhood fairy tales, was nothing but a feel-good story as in reality there are no such things as perfect conditions and consequently there are no such things as perfect projects.

I argued the case in an earlier post (see HERE) that not all project managers are born equal (so to speak) as some are lucky (or smart) enough to work in mature organizations while others (and IMHO – the majority of us) are unlucky and are bound to operate in less than mature environments.

Further to the above I believe it would be also prudent to mention that project management (be it a profession or not) carries some functional components, the complexity of which cannot be taught in training schools or PMP learning institutions.

 While project management teaches you that…

  • communication is a key component of the project manager job – it does not teach you how to communicate effectively and productively
  • organizations are committed to the preservation and maintenance of historical records – from my experience – very few actually do
  • there are some challenges in managing projects in matrix organizations, it does not teach you how to navigate through the bureaucratic maze this arrangement actually creates
  • projects are a temporary endeavours it does not indicate they can – and do – turn into a permanent headache

One of the areas, training cannot equip you with the relevant skills to successfully deal with, is bureaucracy. Organizational bureaucracy, driven by fear and incompetency, can cripple, maim, or at least – weaken, even the strongest minded, self-assured and confident individual. Having been dealing with this modern reflection of incorrect risk management attitude, I have little respect and little appreciation to the role played by the Quality Assurance Gate Keepers, who, by and large, add negative value to the business by hiding behind process instead of using common sense, while blocking projects from moving into production.

My solution: Relax Service Transition and Change Management processes and allow project managers to do their job. Use the funds you saved on financing the dedicated and over elaborate Service Transition and Change Management department and utilise it to equip the projects with project administrators who can help and maintain audit trails, and demonstrate compliance with corporate project auditing requirements.

Think about it!

The Victorian State Ombudsman has tabled his report, titled “Own motion investigation into ICT-enabled projects” with scathing comments about incompetence and poor practices in the Victorian public sector.

 Key findings in the report include the following:

1.  Leadership, accountability and governance Issued

  •  Roles and responsibilities for ICT-enabled projects were often not clearly defined, acknowledged and accepted.
  • Senior officers appeared reluctant to make critical decisions about projects.
  • Many of the project steering committees did not have the requisite expertise.
  • DTF could have taken a more pro-active role in many of the projects.
  • The effectiveness of DTF’s Gateway Review process was limited by its reliance on agencies engaging in and being supportive of the process, which often was not the case.
  • The government announced its ’high-value and high-risk’ process in December 2010; however, there is limited publicly available information about the process and some witnesses from DTF and departments remained unclear about the process

 2. Planning Issues

  •  Agencies failed to commit the necessary time and effort to develop business cases, which led to significant differences between the planned and actual time, cost and outcomes.
  • In some cases, optimism bias led to costs and timelines being based upon hope, rather than evidence or comparisons with similar projects and despite advice from experts and vendors.
  • Agencies often gave the government no choice other than to invest in the agency’s preferred option and failed to provide government with adequate advice to make an informed decision.
  • Business cases for many of the projects were not updated throughout the life of the projects. In some cases, they were not read by key people.
  • Insufficient attention was given to managing or mitigating risks.

 3. Funding Issues

  •  Agencies felt the need to create ‘big vision’ projects to capture the government’s attention, which increased complexity and risk.
  • In some cases the Cabinet budget committee only partially funded projects, but agencies failed to revise the scope of the projects to fit within the allocated budget.
  • Public announcement of major project funding decisions prior to business case development resulted in business cases being rushed and projects being ‘shoe-horned’ into the published funding ceiling.
  • The costs and timelines of comparative projects were sometimes ignored.
  • Projects funded internally have not been subject to the same level of scrutiny as projects funded by the Cabinet budget committee.
  • Agencies were unable to identify the cost of significant projects with any accuracy.

 4. Probity and procurement Issues

  • Agencies appeared to pay limited regard and expanded minimal funds on probity advice and audit.
  • Agency and probity practitioner responses to conflict of interest sometimes failed to recognise the importance of the perception of a conflict of interest.
  • The tendency appeared to be to purchase an off-the-shelf system and then to customise the system to such a degree that the benefits were lost to government.
  • The evidence suggests government should explore new procurement methods for ICT-enabled projects.
  • Large vendors are well-versed and experienced in contract negotiations and government is generally at a disadvantage for that very reason.

 5. Project Management Issues

  •  Several agencies failed to act with enough urgency to address potential problems and in doing so allowed the issue to escalate.
  • There is a shortage of skilled senior project managers with relevant ICT experience in government. To compensate, agencies often appoint expensive contractors or inexperienced public sector staff.
  • Managing vendor and user relationships can be a complex exercise and agencies have adopted differing approaches to this problem with varying success.
  • Approaches to training staff were varied and not always effective.

 Call me pedantic and unreasonable person but few of the findings really annoyed the hell out of me, first and foremost the fact that the combined overruns of the 10 projects investigated was $1.44 billion. Then comes Myki, the disgraceful execution of a ticketing sysem was found to be at least $350 million over budget and at least four years behind schedule. But Myki is only one of 10 failed projects – all exhibiting the above ailing symptoms.

As a tax payer I am appalled and as a Project Manager I am embarrassed.

Think about it!

Having referred in an earlier post to the issues arising  from needing to comply with too much process, I’ve come across a beautiful post by Eric D. Brown titled “Complexity & IT“. Eric has been diligent enough to read through a rather long memo published by Ray Ozzie who, five years ago, joined Microsoft as a Chief Software Architect. The memo, titled “Dawn of a New Day“, includes the following statement:

Complexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT.  Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use.  Complexity introduces security challenges.  Complexity causes administrator frustration.”

In attempting to reduce the mounting road toll, the Australian Police has introduced the slogan “Speed Kills“.

In the context of IT Project Management it could easily be argued that “Process Kills“. It does not kill people but it certainly kills innovation, kills originality, kills inventiveness and kills imagination.

Think about it!

Conway’s Law teaches us that a complex organizational structure often results in complex systems. Assuming that organizational complexity is also a result of (or perhaps a catalyst to) the introduction of diverse technologies, it can be deduced that:

An organization that designs a system is bound to produce designs which mirror the myriad of technologies the organization utilizes“.

Think about it!

I wrote in an earlier post (“how much process is too much process?“) about the tendency of some organizations to impose overly engineered processes in a (futile) attempt to increase quality.

Further to that and having been in the Information Technology sector for almost 30 years I can confidently and comfortably conclude that innovation, flexibility and grand availability of sophisticated and feature rich technologies have resulted in substantial increase to projects’ complexity with an increased risk of project integration failures.

Information Technology project tend to include, in one way or another, a number of database, networking, server, software packages and other perhaps more obscure technologies. Each of these technologies require the services of highly technical and trained personnel in order to best use the respective  tools to achieve the best result for the project. Now, the problem with today’s set of technologies is that they are all highly flexible, powerful, customizable and configurable; to the point that a considerable amount of effort need to be spent in order to ensure that the enormous capability built into the tool is harnessed appropriately.

Let’s use a common presentation tool as an analogy to explain the point above. Preparing a presentation is an easy task (provided you have the right tool and you know what you intend to convey to your audience). If you are an average user of Microsoft PowerPoint (or any other similar tool) you will surly know that in addition to the basic presentation capabilities you can introduce complex transitions, timers, sound and multimedia to enhance your presentation and turn it into an Oscar worthy event. Now, most people don’t require this extra elaborate capability and indeed, for many, this extra functionality is more of a distraction than an enabler as they get tempted by the available technology in an attempt to make use of all these gadgets because they are there.

A similar phenomenon which can be easily observed at the micro level can be seen also at the macro level. Organizations are lured into deploying and using large number of technologies, each of which come with a promise of amazing flexibility and functionality, while the consequences of deploying these technologies are not properly understood.

The questions I would like organizations to ask before deploying any new technology are:

  1. Do we need this technology?
  2. What tangible benefits, based on a clear selection criteria, does this technology have that we don’t already have today?
  3. What percentage of the marketed feature would we actually use, compared with those features that we are really excited about but will never ever get used?
  4. Assuming we conclude that we really, really, really need this technology, do we understand the impact on integrating this wonderful thing with our existing technologies?

The Conway’s Law which I got introduced to some time ago states that:

…organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations“.

I would like to propose a slight variation on the above law (which I humbly call “Shim’s Law of the impact of Advanced technologies on projects’ risk“)

organizations which design systems are bound to produce designs which mirror the myriad of technologies the organization utilizes“.

Think about it!

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