Having a clear definition of success is one of the key components in achieving the desired results of a project but oftentimes, many projects become too complex to manage. In many of these cases, major projects and programs which are considered initially “complicated” in nature, end up in “chaos”, and often subject to visceral media scrutiny.
Various issues contribute to the complexity and confusion of project management including setting budgets too early; fractured accountabilities; excessive governance by committees; diverging stakeholder’s expectations; poor strategic risk analysis and the lack of competition, particularly in the sustainment phase.
But it does not end there, it is further exacerbated by inadequate knowledge and experience in managing complex programs by some project managers and by their senior leaders.
Project failure can often be boiled down to six major causes. These warning signs, if recognized and addressed in the identification and early option analysis phases before selecting a course of action, can greatly reduce the likelihood of failure.
The six major causes of project failure are:
1. Failure to recognize complexity early
2. Failure to identify and engage key stakeholders early
3. Failure to understand the why early
4. Failure to fully understand what the desired outcome needs to be and the real effects of that outcome
5. Failure to understand who are the ultimate clients of the effects
6. Failure to identify major risks in the project environment early and to recognize their likely impact
Current Situation in Canada
The problem with traditional procurement approaches is that it creates unwarranted optimism and fails to prepare for the dynamics of emergent factors. It is imperative to solve this problem by adopting new approaches that incorporate global best practices and new proven techniques.
Reframing Project Management
The table below shows on the left what we are currently familiar with in project management and on the right, the practices that should be considered and applied to complex projects.
Enhancing the Project Management Body of Knowledge
Traditional engineering approaches to project management have a strong focus on the iron triangle of scope, cost and time. These variables have proven useful in the planning and delivery of projects, but have been less useful in projects that experience an evolution of key parameters. These methodologies are necessary but not sufficient to manage in complex environments.
Large and complex projects—are more challenging for traditional project managers because they demand highly developed project leadership skills. Organizations have experienced that high-performance project leadership can reduce departmental costs through project efficiency. To achieve this result, project leaders use systemic skills to positively engage and influence stakeholders, build high-performing teams, effectively manage client-contractor relationships, measure performance in a changing environment, find innovative solutions that are in the best interest of the organization as a whole and establish and effectively work within an adaptive project governance framework.
Why is this important for Canada?
“Whether we are talking about large government projects or corporate ones, there is no question that these big-budget, long-term projects, such as the government’s recently announced defence acquisition program or the soon to be completed City of Ottawa rapid rail system, are an important part of the economy,” Jonathan Calof, professor of International Business and Strategy at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa explained.
Calof, who teaches the Strategic Management of Complex Projects and Programs course added, “The World Bank estimates that these kinds of large, complex, long-term projects account for roughly 25 per cent of world’s GDP. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these projects are late, are over budget, fail, fail badly or die, and that means not just the bad press associated with big project failures, but major strategic failure as well.”
Solving Complex Projects
To combat this problem, Telfer developed the Complex Project Management degree program to help organizations succeed at managing these types of projects.
“Alongside some of the top academics in project management and seasoned practitioners who have run billion-dollar programs, I am privileged to be teaching our students the best approaches for addressing complexity,” Calof said. “We are developing professional project managers and providing them with methods, techniques and theories for complex project and portfolio success.”
The Telfer Master of Business in Complex Project Leadership is a program that is designed to fill this gap and equip project and program leads with the ability to make creative, holistic and effective decisions with multiple stakeholders. The aim of this program is to equip managers and executives with the competencies essential to define and deliver large, complex and inherently risky projects in the infrastructure, IT, health, defence, and business transformation sectors.
The requisite knowledge, skills and attributes were defined by experienced global practitioners and codified by the International Centre for Complex Project Management. This degree has been refined and validated over the past 10 years in Australia through the participation of both government and industry.
Telfer’s CPL programs provide emphasis is on Managing Complexity, Leadership Development and Strategic Decision Making.
The Outcome is Transformational
Current candidates are attesting to the practicality and effectiveness of the techniques they are acquiring, especially in areas such as stakeholder alignment, benefits realization, business strategy, and business transformation.
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