This page collects a number of posts touching on the topic of initiative complexity. It is a burning issue across many industries, so I expect to update it regularly.
The Experience Trap and Managing Complexity
This first group challenges assumptions about the value of experience in project managers, especially when these PMs try to apply this experience to complex projects or programs. The posts are an extended riff on a Harvard Business Review article The Experience Trap (sorry subscribers only, but worth the reprint). I had sponsored an INSEAD knowledge management program with one of the authors — Prof. Kishore Sengupta.
The main finding — that even experienced and seasoned managers still do not consistently know how to efficiently address problems, if not prevent them altogether — corresponds with our real-world experience in the SAP PM community. Ironically, the PMO itself also struggled to learn for experience and adjust our approach to this issue. Below are the posts in chronological order:
What is the Experience Trap?
- Not Learning from Our Mistakes introduces the topic and the problem.
- Mental Models Collapse in Complex Projects refers to the phenomenon of applying simple and inappropriate heuristics to complex situations.
- Time Lags Between Cause and Effect distort PM’s perception of what works/doesn’t.
- Static Estimation Practices perpetuate legacy models into new environments.
- Initial Goal Bias prevents PMs from adjusting the “Iron Triangle” of scope, time, and resources as the project proceeds.
Avoiding the Experience Trap
- Performance Implications of the Experience Trap summarizes the effects of these issues and introduces some of the solutions.
- Providing Cognitive Feedback addresses the issue of using outdated heuristics; using more sophisticated analytics in projects has delivered positive results.
- Hiring/Staffing Tools and Guidelines help to identify time lags and at least plan for them.
- Calibrate Estimation Tools suggests that project estimation tools need careful adaptation to the specific environment of the performing organization.
- Set Goals for Behavior highlights the power of goals that don’t simply replicate planning and control targets, but that focus on behaviors that support project deliverables and outcomes.
- Develop Project Simulators focuses on simulations, which allows project managers to gain experience in a learning environment by immersing them in realistic scenarios where their mistakes aren’t as costly as on-the-job training would be.
- Finally, the Conclusion post summarizes key points with some of my comments.
General Complexity Posts
- Every project becoming a program? Highlights that what we consider projects may be better managed as programs, with a focus on the emerging “platform<>component” design paradigm (e.g., A-380, Dreamliner, Business Process Platform <> Enterprise SOA).
- SAP as a platform company. Outlines success SAP has had in positioning its platform capabilities.
- Simple principles = intelligent behavior. Notes the paradox of too many rules = simplistic responses.
- Leadership Failure in Complex Initiatives. Link to Dietrich Dorner book on how our thinking processes hurt us when coping with complex environments.
- Pressure, Error, and Leading Project Escalations. Link to Ken Thompson post outlining two “leadership failure modes” during crisis: horizontal and vertical flight.