Conversations at Intelligent Management this week have been abuzz with Project Management. This is hardly surprising as we have been preparing to speak at the sold-out event tomorrow evening for PMI Northern Italy dedicated to the New Leadership for Complexity. But also because Project Management really is at the heart of every kind of business. So whenever people contact us for help, the ability to manage projects successfully is a major concern.
This concern inevitably brings us to highlight certain key factors that determine how successful projects can be engineered when approached systemically. This increases project resilience.
Sub-optimizing is good
Organizations are not made up of separate bits but are highly interconnected systems. Engineers learn early in their education that optimizing each part of a system will not lead to optimal performance of the system as a whole. In addition, by constraining a system in one point, we can leverage that constraint by subordinating the rest of the system to it. This makes sense because it is the constraint that dictates the pace at which the system delivers, so the more the constraint is free to work at its maximum the better the whole system performs.
We can do the same with projects when we see projects as systems. Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt developed a breakthrough approach to Project Management that he called Critical Chain that is based precisely on this systemic principle of leveraging the constraint. The Critical Chain of a project is the longest sequence of dependent tasks taking into consideration the sharing of resources. By identifying the Critical Chain and monitoring progress through buffer management, projects are guaranteed to be faster and more resilient.
This requires abandoning non-systemic attitudes and behaviours that focus on local optima. Instead, the predominant mindset has to be one of speed, focusing on performing single tasks (no multi-tasking), no milestones (because the project is ONE project and cannot be artificially sectioned) and no student syndrome (procrastinating).
A systemic approach to managing projects increases project resilience because resource contention is eliminated, interdependencies and task duration are carefully evaluated, and variation is absorbed and managed through the buffers. There is enough capacity within the system as a whole (not just the critical chain but the feeding buffers and the way non-critical tasks are designed and scheduled) to cope with inevitable variation.
Projects don’t like silos
A major obstacle for successful project management is that resources for projects reside in various ‘functions’ that are siloed off. Once again, this is a vestige of local-optima thinking as opposed to whole system optimization. What organizations need to learn is that functions are ‘centres of competencies’. When these competencies are seen as part of a pool instead of belonging to a particular fiefdom, then project management can be taken to a whole new level and competencies can be accessed and scheduled as required.
It’s up to us
The only thing today that is standing between us and a significant leap in the ability to manage successful and resilient projects is our ability to think systemically. The theory, the practice and the “thought technology” all exist to achieve this. We can save billions of dollars and tap into a wealth of currently unexpressed potential and energy. It’s our choice.
Sign up to our blog here and shift your thinking towards broader, systemic possibilities for yourself and your organization.
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.