Thursday, January 06, 2011

Managing Projects During Rapid Change

I'm interested in your views on how to manage projects during rapid change.

Your participation and time will be very greatly appreciated and may even help other practitioners.

Participants will not be identified in  study results.

The objective of the research is to explore:
• the causes of change,
• the challenges posed by high rates of change in the business environment,
• your thoughts on project management approaches for these environments.

A group discussion is sometimes used because:
• it provides very rich data in your own words and much deeper insights.
• I want you to build on each others ideas
• I want you to act as reality checks for each other

Discussion Guidelines
• Your responses will not be identified to you. You may withdrawal at any time. You may ask for a copy of the transcript.
• I will start by explaining dynamism, some example challenges and then describe approaches one at a time asking you to comment on them and clarify my understanding. I will then ask you to propose any new approaches.
• I need to record so I don’t miss anything so please speak up, avoid side conversations, allow and encourage equal participation, stay on topic, give examples, forgive me if I try to keep things on subject.

What is Dynamism
Dynamism in this case is meant to mean rapid change in the project environment that necessarily affects the project. Rapidly changing environments are a newly recognized and increasing challenge in the field of project management. Traditional prescriptive approaches, orientated around process control, are considered suboptimal in meeting this challenge.

Listed below are the discussion topics.

Causes of Dynamism

Previous research suggested that the causes of change can be organized into three broad categories (Collyer & Warren, 2009):
• Change in materials, resources, tools, and techniques;
• Changing relationships with other related projects, services, or products; and
• Changing goals due to changes in what is possible, changes in competition, or changes in the general business environment, such as government policy.
Examples to Illustrate: Australian Submarine Project; Iridium Satelite Phone project

Discuss. What are the causes for you?

Problems caused by project dynamism
Examples: (a) difficulty planning, (b) short timeframes, (c) high levels of interdependence between projects, (d) high levels of customization, (e) planning for uncertain outcomes, (f) balancing flexibility with reliability and accountability, (g) balancing decision quality against decision speed, and (h) timing scope freeze during rapid change.

Discuss. What are the problems for you?

Approach: Emergent planning informed with feedback
This approach may also be known as rolling wave or iterative. Involves starting with a high-level framework plan and then filling the details in as they are made available. The full scope can be broken down and delivered in different stages either as separate deliverables or progressively enhanced versions of the one deliverable. Planning is done or completed just in time at the start of each stage or iteration.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Staged Releases
This approach is where the smallest possible scope is released in the initial stage, in order to reduce risk and allow proof of concept. Smaller pilot and production versions are released to the market to test and secure feedback before adding functionality on more capable versions. This scope reduction approach makes the first stage as small as possible in order to quickly obtain feedback that will allow the work to be brought in line with reality more rapidly.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Competing Experiments
Running two or more investigations in parallel to more quickly identify the optimal approach. This is a form of controlled experimentation.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Alternate Controls
This approach involves a greater focus on input, output, boundary and interactive controls such as team selection and clear goals and reward. Traditional project management has focused on formal process control, in the form of a detailed plan, while projects in dynamic environments can be initiated with high level objectives, a framework plan with constant feedback, and reward/motivation for delivery.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Suitable Culture

o A focus on flexibility. Management and approaches are adjusted regularly as needed to achieve the goal. The management approach itself must be dynamic.
o Supportative of experimentation, to resolve unknowns, enhance and improve and identify the best way forward.
o Flat hierarchy that is egalitarian.
o Supports collaboration that respects individual expertise and motivation, guided by clear goals.
o Stakeholders are educated about, understand, and support the required culture.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Communication Styles

o Fast and in-time was a typical description of project communication in a dynamic environment. More regular communication of all types
o The facilitation of greater amounts of informal communications to keep pace.
o Adjusting communication rates and styles according to the needs and stages of the project.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Leadership Styles

o Leader has high subject matter expertise that provides a vision they share with the team and use to motivate the team.
o Leader uses a collaborative egalitarian approach with delegation to achieve the vision
o Leader can be hands on where required but respects and trusts the expertise and advice of his team.
o Leader is flexible and adapts and changes course quickly to react to a changing environment.

Discuss. Would this work for you? Why? How? What is ideal version of this approach?

Approach: Devolved Responsibility with Rapid Decisions

Higher management decisions based on tight control were perceived to be too slow and ill informed to be of practical use in these environments Key principles of decision making in dynamic environments may therefore be rapid decision making cycles using directive control, with some pre-planned decision responses. Management at the top is by intent as opposed to detailed instruction.


Simon Collyer