Project LeadershipProject Management

More Processes, More Problems: Do This Instead

Complexity is, fittingly, complex. Susanne Madsen recently attended a lecture from Stephen Carver at the Cranfield School of Management, and she learned of the three types of complexity and how they affect our projects. In a post at her blog, she describes these three “buckets,” and then she explains how traditional project processes are only effective enough to handle one of them:

  • Blue bucket: structural complexity
  • Green bucket: emergent complexity
  • Red bucket: socio-political complexity

Bucket Basics

The blue bucket deals with structural complexity, meaning traditional elements of size and scope. Construction projects deal heavily with the blue bucket, in that there are many evident resourcing and logistical challenges. The green bucket, emergent complexity, deals with change. As you know, change is an inevitable dimension of projects, but treating the development of changes as opportunities rather than risks will allow you to better leverage them. Finally, the red bucket is socio-political complexity. This deals with the finer aspects of human interaction that are attributed to personality, relationships, soft skills, etc. Madsen states that the researchers at Carver’s school found the red bucket to be the most troublesome:

At Cranfield School of Management the academics asked about 250 project management practitioners which of the three types of complexity caused them most trouble on live projects. 70% of respondents said that it was the socio political factors that caused them the most problems. 20% answered that their issues predominantly stemmed from emergent complexity. Only 10% said their issues were due to structural complexity.

The [researchers] then asked people which of the three categories of complexity had received the most attention during their formal training. It turned out that 80% of the training and certification was focused on structural complexity, 10% on emergent and 10% on socio political complexity.

Madsen goes on to describe five levels of competency for project management, and fixating on blue-bucket processes alone can only get you as far as the third level: The first level is an unstructured mess. At level two, change management exists in spaces, but systems and processes are not adopted throughout the organization. The third level shows a common framework rolled out across the organization. But level four is when the training wheels come off and the company switches the focus to socio-political and emergent complexity, because enough processes are in place and more would just be a burden. This level is about creating personal commitment to project management methodologies instead, which increases project success rates. Finally, level five is where everything now runs smoothly, projects are integrated into strategy, and the business responds agilely to opportunities.

If you want your business to operate at its highest capacity, you must address all three of these buckets of complexity, not just one. You can view the original post here:

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One Comment

  1. The results match my 30+ years of experience in IT projects, mostly software. As early as the 1970s people like Fred Brooks were saying that in large scale software projects actually writing code (blue bucket) only consumed 1/6th of the time and resources. The other 5/6th was spent on other things (mostly in the other two buckets). The change management and people factors are major challenges.

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