Softly, softly catchee monkey

by | May 9, 2016 | insights

Project Management is rooted in a “hard” engineering background and an engineering mindset. This mindset is categorised as a hard system approach which seeks to reduce problems to controllable elements, is categorised by robust processes, and a one size fits all approach.

Participants in major projects need to know, understand and acknowledge the limitations of even the best models and simulations. It has been said that “all models are wrong, but some can be useful”. We should encourage off-piste thinking to improve outcomes, seek improvements and innovation from a diversity of people across the breadth and depth of the project organisation.

Major projects are multidisciplinary, complex, and emergent; this requires human centred design when constructing a project organisation.  Project “owners” should look to adopt a “softer” approach on developing a solution for the problem at hand rather than accepting the status quo i.e. standard methodologies. We should fully accept the concept of emergent properties and resist the pull of reductionism.  We need to create project organisations that are adaptive to complexity and uncertainty; taking the concept of the project manager as a facilitator.  This may help manage the failings in the standard methodologies espoused by the Body of Knowledge approaches when dealing with major projects such as:

  • goal uncertainty and simplistic success criteria
  • over reliance on normative process and procedure
  • oversimplification of project systems
  • dominance of a hard mindset
  • lack of appreciation of complexity and uncertainty

The “hard” mindset does have many positive aspects and can adequately deal with simple projects but is found wanting in more complex systems such as major projects and programmes. An integrative design thinking approach should be adopted to construct project organisations that respond to their unique purpose and environment. Major Project/Programme practitioners need to understand the shortcomings of a hard approach and build capability to lead, manage and work within emergent complexity.

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