As projects have become more and more complex, there has been an increasing concern about the dimensions affecting the project construction and planning, in other words, project complexity. An understanding of project complexity and how it can be managed is of significant importance for project managers or for people involved in the project planning because of the different perceptions associated with decision-making and goal attainment which has a direct impact on the successful construction of a project. Complexity has an impact on project planning and control; it can make it harder to set up the clear identification of goals and objectives or it can even make a negative impact on project outcomes. Project complexity is the property of a project which makes it difficult to understand, foresee, and keep under control its overall behavior, even when reasonably complete information is given about the project.
Identifying the sources and factors that contribute to the complexity of a project is paramount for project managers. Organizations are compelled to make decisions and act based on several unknown variables due to the increasingly fast-moving systems of the current business and social landscape, characterized by discontinuity and dynamism. When projects contain the characteristics of complex systems, the methods, or ways to manage the impact areas cannot be predicted in advance. It emerges from the interactions between the project elements and the environment.
In my blog today, I am going to help you gain a better understanding of the impact areas in a journey of project construction by walking you through the dimensions related to the complexity of projects.
The real crux of project management is planning. While it is true that we can never predict the uncertainties waiting to happen, we can reduce their effect by planning ahead of time. As the saying goes, with the absence of a plan, you are in fact planning to fail. However, not all plans work, which is why an alternate plan B should be in the picture.
Methods like keeping a fixed scope, putting forward the estimation slightly higher than the actual estimation of completion, and reducing the number of elements in the estimation in order to make it more reliable create breathable space for uncertainties and also help to reduce them.
1. Fixed Schedule, Fixed Scope:
When the scope is truly fixed, the schedule is subject to uncertainty. This method works well by adding 30% buffer time for projects in which repetitive tasks are to be developed.
2. Fixed Schedule, Adjustable Scope –
Agile methodology handles such projects effectively by committing to the only thing that can truly be controlled, which is the schedule. Scrum projects work in short cycles to deliver modest increments of scope, allow the frequent changes in scope as well as priority. Within each cycle, scope is adjusted as per the need.
3. No Schedule, Unknown Scope –
Uncertainties are greatest when the scope is unknown at the start. Another agile process, Kanban which focuses on constraining work-in-progress is useful for such scenarios.
While scope change is inevitable, there are certain solutions which can help in controlling the frequent scope changes like documenting every scope change, setting up a structured approval process, designing a basic foundation for the project, setting up clear acceptance criteria, creating a work-breakdown structure or using a project management software to manage the scope changes.
If there are no processes in place to manage the scope changes, the projects suffer in multiple ways. We must build our house on a strong foundation to secure it from the unplanned changes.
Often, if the number of stakeholders is high, managing the unaligned goals, incorporating different stakeholder’s ideas into the development, and ensuring everyone’s wishes meet in a timeframe becomes a Catch-22 situation. Project management in such cases should take into account the degree of interest and influence each stakeholder carries in the project development. The type of information to be provided to different stakeholders based on their involvement becomes a necessity to avoid confusion and too many suggestions.
Sometimes the ambiguity occurs in the stakeholder’s expectations due to the fact that different stakeholders might have a strong background of certain fields and they may not have a disciplined opinion on the other aspects of the project. For example, a stakeholder having strong knowledge of IT may wish to develop something in a specific way and the legal or compliance team wants it the other way. Communication from the project managers in such cases becomes crucial while bringing all the stakeholders on the same page. To achieve this, any communication breakdowns with the key stakeholders should be avoided and definite communication protocols should be set as a process from the project management side.
While multiple stakeholders suggest changes, it is a must to ensure that every change suggested by a stakeholder must contribute towards the success of the project. Outlining the goals and objectives and then prioritizing the changes helps dealing with the conflicts in an effective way. Ambiguity in such cases can always be settled by knowing the group of stakeholders who are actually funding the particular project. They would have the final say. In a way that makes space for some more clarity. In any ambiguous situation, a project manager must go to a high enough level within that organization and get an answer.
Project novelty represents the relative newness of the project for the firm/project team, as determined by the project’s characteristics while technological novelty and technological change occurs when new technological functionalities are introduced into the existing repertoire of technologies. Factors which increase the novelty in a project include technology familiarity, technology newness, discontinuous technology changes, platform changes and scope changes. Sometimes a client pitches the technology he is using even if it’s old or irrelevant while there are better technologies available to be used for the project. All these factors increase the degree of project novelty.
But project novelty is not all negative. Project novelty offers an addition to the organization’s capability analysis. It builds off an established premise that the movement from no experience to some experience is crucial. It also extends from the premise that a more detailed evaluation of project attributes is important to understand the appropriateness and applicability of the organization’s capability sets. Employee training programs, cross-domain knowledge, periodic skill audits of the individuals can help significantly in reducing the project novelty.
Technological interdependence can be understood as the degree to which various parts of the organization need to exchange information as well as materials to complete their essential tasks. There are three major types of technological interdependence:
1. Pooled interdependence:
In this type, teams accomplish their tasks simply by combining everyone’s separate efforts in which units/teams operate independently but their individual efforts are important to the success of the project as a whole. This leads to an indirect sort of dependence on the performance of others in which the failure of one department may cause the failure of the process as a whole.
Standardization becomes important in the situation of pooled interdependence for better coordination between the teams involved. If all the team members decide to follow a set of rules and processes, the output of every team member can contribute to the end result, that is, the completion of the task. The standardized process can be kept unchanged as long as the situation is stable. Along with the standardization, centralized communication channels should also be developed and maintained to avoid any communication breakdown between the involved teams.
2. Sequential interdependence:
Within this type, one unit needs to complete a certain task before the succeeding unit can start working. In this interdependence, team members rely on each other in predictable ways for the flow of information, work and decisions.
In sequential interdependence, each person/team must complete their task before anyone later in the sequence can start with theirs.
Planning is essential while tackling the sequential interdependence. The planning must include coordinating schedules, deadlines, and other relevant information at the beginning of the process, as well as outlining cases where the process might need to change.
3. Reciprocal interdependence:
The most complex situation is reciprocal interdependence, in which one unit’s outputs become inputs to another unit and vice versa.
Team members need to adjust to each other’s actions as the situation changes. Reciprocal interdependence is likely to require greater efforts at horizontal coordination than do the other two types of interdependence.
Mutual adjustment helps in facing reciprocal interdependence. At any given time, any team member should be allowed to introduce new information which might affect the model of coordination between the team members or the teams. This approach can handle most of the uncertainty but it also has the greatest risks too.
Achieving performance goals – be it for the Individual contributors or even for an organization – requires efforts and continuous adherence to the process. Performance goals are achieved when individual contributors start perceiving the organization’s goals as important, achievable and adds value not just to the organization but also to their self-growth by the degree of fulfillment they feel at every success of the organization. On the other hand, organizations should also focus on the growth of their individual contributors in order to be more equipped against the impact areas like project novelty and tackle tough situations like technological interdependence.
Not keeping specific and measurable goals makes them unattainable/unachievable. Performance goals should be realistic, relevant, result-oriented, and most importantly time-bound. An organization is a group of people either with common goals or a group of people who understands and can relate with each other’s goals.
So, there you have it!
Understanding these dimensions affecting the project construction and planning can create a space for analysis on several levels ranging from the individuals to the organization. The analysis of these dimensions enables the organization, managers and individuals to better understand the estimations and practicality of the deliverables.
It is a known fact that only certain projects are complex. Still, it must be noted that all projects have a lifecycle, and a majority of projects undergo a phase of complexity. Project complexity can help understand the dynamic nature of the technological advancements as well as the stakeholders’ perspectives and can also help in analyzing the unpredictability in the product development journey.
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter!