Copyright to Michael Cavanagh, © 2011.
Abstracted from original writings and reprinted with permission.
Published August 2011

Editor's Note | Introduction 
Pearls of Wisdom - Management | Pearls of Wisdom - Process
Pearls of Wisdom - Delivery

Pearls of Wisdom - Management

"The West focuses on the short-term; in the East the opposite is true. It's down to culture, and it's almost impossible to change overnight." One of the most influential complexity drivers is project size - and the bigger the project, the longer its duration and the anticipated life of the product, with ramifications about long-term emergent issues. It is very difficult to reconcile adequate consideration of such issues in a promiscuous investment environment that looks for instant return.

"People who come from well-organized, process-oriented backgrounds are not really able to understand complexity, and it's a mistake to push such people, talented as they may be, into situations demanding creativity and improvisation." The normal route to leadership of complex projects is progressive, increased seniority relying on starting small and delivering gradually larger projects. The problem is that this tends to promote those who are accomplished 1st order practitioners, who may not possess the behavioral characteristics required for adhocratic leadership. It may be that 1st and 2nd order Project Management should be seen as separate sub-disciplines and, from an early stage, career development paths planned accordingly.

Ed: This is a perceptive and intriguing proposition. It does depend on the propensity of the individual concerned. Our papers Dominant Personality Traits Suited to Running Projects Successfully and Project Teamwork, Personality Profiles and the Population at Large shed further light on this topic.

"The majority of our existing tools are based on what we see through the rear view mirror" and "Human Beings will always choose a route that best suits their personal experience, whether or not it best suits the task at hand" When addressing a new issue, we tend to operate through fixed mental models - looking for similarity to past experiences and sometimes shoehorning a "fit" where one doesn't exist. Instead of "appreciating the situation", what we're really doing is "situating the appreciation". Again, leadership is needed here - leadership that is courageous enough to hear the opinion of others and accept that they might have a point, and disciplined enough to maintain a mind that is open to new things.

"Even though we always get a lower performance than expected, we are nonetheless incentivized to be optimistic." An executive management mindset that is obsessed with setting ever-increasing stretch targets ignores the concept of elastic limit. A Project Manager who takes on something s/he knows to be unrealistic and probably unachievable deserves what they get.

"'Lean' doesn't work with complex projects - you need resource redundancy" By definition, complex projects are particularly unpredictable. If we know exactly what we have to do, and have the known capability to do it, we can plan to the last detail with a high degree of confidence in our forecasts and estimates. "Lean" is a great 1st order concept. However, it is potentially disastrous when we have to address unknown unknowns and react to them consuming project resources.

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