- Paperback: 91 pages
- Publisher: Project Management Institute (May 14, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1933890959
- ISBN-13: 978-1933890951
- Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,629,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Exploring the Complexity of Projects: Implications of Complexity Theory for Project Management Practice Paperback – May 14, 2009
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From the Inside Flap
In practical terms, this research aims to propose and encourage a critical but constructive way of explaining, debating, and deliberating project management and project performance issues that can lead to a wider awareness, knowledge, and development of skills and competencies that match the complexity of projects as experienced by practitioners in contemporary organizations.
In Exploring the Complexity of Projects: Implications of Complexity Theory for Project Management Practice, project managers will find the realities of project management and the strategies to incorporate the complexity of a project into the original scope.
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Top Customer Reviews
Complexity concepts are traditionally defined and operationalized in quantitative terms or as metaphors by those who wish to apply the principles to more abstract applications. In this book the authors are somewhere in between when they first use traditional (quantitatively derived) definitions and then gain insights from a qualitative study which maps persistent ambiguity, unpredictability, and “emergence” (p.47) into the complexity space. Great caution is needed here for both those who are making science and for those interpreting the results, as precisely defined concepts such as “chaotic” or “dissipative” can be diminished with less formal rigor.
“Complexity” in this book is positioned as a Kuhnian style revolution with broad powers to replace existing PM dogma. Yet, complexity is revealed in a somewhat confusing array of descriptions, ranging from literal to metaphorical and mixing concepts from complex physical systems (CPS) and complex adaptive systems (CAS). While those more familiar with complexity science understand that not all complexity principles apply to every situation, the inclusive and varying use of complexity terms in this book may be misleading or difficult for some readers to track. (Note that CPS tend to be deterministic natural systems while CAS tend to be non-deterministic, often human participatory systems with different forms of applicable complexity).
Casual readers should understand that this is a theoretical book about project management. It is not a primer on common management practices, nor does it provide heuristics or advice on managing projects. It is written by several authors who variously refer to it as a “monograph” and a “study” with a two-fold goal. First, to provide a theoretical view and description of complexity theory and second, to relate those principles to project management. The book relies heavily on Stacy’s theory of “complex responsive processes” (CRPR) as the bridge between complexity theory and PM practice. To that end, the book advances the argument that project complexity arises from individual and group interactions, which create complex patterns of behavior that influence project outcomes. So far so good. However, it would be more interesting and complete if the authors included other sources of complexity that are reasonably attributable to projects. For example, stakeholders, funding sources, supply chains, legal risks, and technical challenges may all contribute interconnected complexity characteristics. That is, they may interact in novel and (somewhat) unpredictable ways to unexpectedly impact the outcome of a project.
Perhaps the strongest contribution of this text is how it documents and provides evidence for the failure of traditional PM practices while building the case for alternative approaches. For example, it addresses traditional concepts such as the golden triangle, project life cycle, and key performance indicators, while exploring broader criteria for assigning success to projects. This sets the groundwork for introducing complexity science as a framework for understanding project trajectories.
Complexity concepts emerge (intended pun) in Chapter 2 which focuses directly on complexity science where the authors relate complexity concepts to project management practices. Here, the authors suggest that complexity science may be a true scientific revolution (Kuhn) that creates a new paradigm for understanding the world. Then, they provide a chart (p.23) and additional text which maps and categorizes several developments in complexity theory. Unfortunately, many of these do not relate to project management or that connection is not identified. For example, the authors specifically describe concepts such as sensitive dependence, strange attractors, and fractals.
Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions (butterfly effect). The authors describe how small changes to the input of a system can create larger and unexpected changes to the output, using weather systems as an example. However, they missed the opportunity to explain the key mechanisms and apply this concept to PM. For example, certain project structures may facilitate the repeated, nonlinear amplification or routing of information that impacts project outcomes. And the project structure itself may change throughout the project, causing butterfly-like effects.
Strange Attractors. The term “strange attractors” identifies mathematically precise conditions that can occur in a completely deterministic system (that is, completely defined and free from random inputs). The authors explain that strange attractors represent conditions of quasi-stability in chaotic systems, but fail to explain any relevance to PM. Here it would be interesting to identify types of interaction patterns, which might become literal attractor basins within a project environment.
Fractals. Fractal development is a natural process whereby the exact replication of certain simple actions over time can create fractal patterns within a geometrically connected pattern. Because fractals occur only under very well-defined conditions that are free from any intervention, it is unclear how this might relate to PM.
Edge of Chaos, dissipative structures, self-organizing, etc. Because many of these are constituents of complex physical systems, their literal applications to PM may be tenuous. Hopefully, in a next edition, the authors can better inform us on how these complex processes will provide insights for project managers.
Fortunately, the authors summarize possible implications of complexity in general as
“encouraging considerations of how… complex behavior and structure emerges” (p. 29).
They consolidate the complexity topics into three ideas: nonlinearity, emergence, and states of stability and instability. They claim that
“taken together, they amount to a complementary way of thinking and talking about projects and their management that might shed new light on tractable problems that appear to plague certain areas of project management practice” (p. 30).
The remainder of the book is dedicated specifically to Complex Responsive Processes of Relating (CRPR). Chapter 3 reviews the theory while Chapter 4 summarizes the findings from an actual qualitative study that positions CRPR as an interpretative framework to inform PM practice.
At is core, CRPR is a theory of human interaction, relationships, and dynamics. In the context of an overall project, it might be considered an entire system of micro-level actions, beliefs, and interdependencies that create evolutionary and emergent effects at the project level. Certainly, it qualifies as a CAS as evidenced by the participant narratives in Chapter 4. What is less clear, is how the power of a project manager, organizational norms, and other macro factors may work to mediate activities that arise from these interactions. If specific patterns, trends, or probabilities can be discerned, there is hope for the new paradigm to thrive. I hope the authors will embrace this topic in the next edition and provide a research agenda to move the complexity discussion toward actionable wisdom.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has established itself as a de facto authority over project management and through its certifications, memberships, lobbying, etc. has created a project management profession, complete with an orthodoxy, which is reflected by their “book of knowledge” (PMBOK). The current book under review is published by the PMI, which I find to be astonishing due to the PMI’s long held and rigidly enforced project methodologies. That is, the PMI’s core tenant is that large projects can be effectively managed when they are broken down to smaller blocks (tasks) and then reassembled into a whole, with no loss of fidelity. In the academic world, this is referred to as a linear and reductionistic process, which is antithetical to complexity science. The enticing implication is that the PMI is becoming more open to alternative concepts in PM. This is a good thing.