Overcome Project Complexity

Overcome Project Complexity With Clear Objectives

by Bernhard Bals | 2 Comments

Projects are complex by nature. This turns out to be true when a project gets stuck at some time. When this happened to me, I felt lost. How can you prevent this? How can clear objectives help you to overcome project complexity?

What Are Reasons For Project Complexity?

To my surprise, there is not even a clear definition for complexity in wikipedia. So when I write about project complexity, what am I thinking of?

A project is characterized by

  • Competition between schedule, cost and performance
  • Involvement of many stakeholders
  • Unpredictable dynamics of project risks

In each specific project there are many more factors. All of them interact with each other. For me, it is pretty hard to predict what happens. I consider that situation to be complex. How can a project manager deal with this complexity?

How To Handle Complexity?

The life (not only) of a project manager consists of decisions. Recall the reasons for project complexity. Can a project manager always predict the outcome of his decisions? – No – Scary? – Yes! – How does a project manager make decisions?

A structured process is useful in a complex environment. There is a way to make effective decisions in 7 steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Collect information
  3. Identify possible solutions
  4. Weight the alternative solutions
  5. Decide for a solution
  6. Perform action
  7. Verify that the problem is solved

I also like the decision making process Joel Penson describes in his Better Decisions Blog.

How you make your decisions? Leave a reply below this post.

Why Do Projects Get Stuck?

I believe a major reason for projects to get stuck is ineffective decision making. Decisions are made, but they do not solve the real problem. So why do I continue here? I already described an effective decision making process. So how can there be ineffective decisions?

Lets look at two perspectives:

  • Micro Perspective: In this case, the micro perspective contains a single decision to be made. The decision to solve the problem you identified. If you follow the process, your problem will be solved. The decision was effective – on micro level.
  • Macro Perspective: The macro perspective considers the full project. It contains all single decisions to be made in various micro perspectives. A decision that is effective on micro level can cause new problems on macro level.

That means when you follow the process, you will get an effective decision on micro perspective only. Because of the project complexity, the decision can be ineffective on macro level. If that happens to often, the project gets stuck. What now?

How To Make Decisions That Are Effective On The Macro Perspective?

Don’t worry, I will not present a new revolutionary decision making process. There is no need for that. What is my approach to ensure that a decision in the micro perspective is also effective on macro perspective?

Objectives are the connection between micro and macro perspectives. Project objectives are valid on both levels. The solution is: pursuing the project objectives in any decision I make.

So what is new here? Haven’t you always had a set of project objectives? Haven’t you always considered the project objectives in your decision?

Be honest: have you really? I am not talking about “The project shall be successfully completed within the given schedule and budget”. In my opinion, this global objective does not help a lot in making specific decisions.

Establish A Hierarchical Set Of Clear Objectives

What I am talking about is breaking down this global objective into a hierarchical set of specific objectives. This should be the first step in a successful project:

  1. Set a global objective: The global objective aggregates in one sentence what has to be achieved for the project to be successful.
  2. Derive a set of lower level objectives: Set the objective for each domain, e.g. quality, financial, schedule, performance
  3. Derive a set of lower level objectives for each domain.

Here are some helpful remarks:

  • Establish this hierarchy in the beginning of the project. Review the objectives periodically.
  • Consider this tutorial on how to write objectives
  • Make sure that each level of objectives is comprehensive and suitable to achieve the parent objective
  • Prioritize, using “must have”, “should have” and “nice to have” categories

Why Does That Help You To Overcome Project Complexity?

  1. Your set of project objectives takes into account the project complexity
  2. When you have to make decisions, the objectives are specific enough to show you the right direction
  3. You don’t have to take into account the full project complexity when making decisions – you did that before
  4. Your decisions in the micro perspective will be effective for the overall project

Was this post useful for you? What is your experience with project complexity? Please leave a reply with your feedback below this post. Also do not hesitate to contact me.

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2 Comments

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