How to solve the problem of high project failure rates by combining structure and the ability to handle the unpredictable

Many projects fail. That is a well documented fact. Depending on source, somewhere in the range of 50% to 75% of projects are reported to fail in delivering what they were supposed to, at the time and within cost allocated. This is obviously a totally unacceptable waste of resources and a tremendous untapped potential. And yet, this seems to be silently endured by many organisations.

Industry and society have a long history of concluding that projects are risky endeavours and of compiling recipes for how to improve success rate.
Of course, there is a great deal of variation across dimensions such as sector, project type and size. But the sad fact is that although there are signs of improvement in certain areas, often attributed to evolved methodology and significant improvement in tool support, there is no radical overall improvement seen.

An alternative solution that combines structure and unpredictability

The problem prevails and we don’t seem to change our behaviour when faced with common project challenges:

 

  • In the face of uncertainty and risk, we apply increased governance & controls
  • In the face of complexity, we focus on organisation and planning
  • In the face of resistance or ambiguity, we try to compel and sell

 

This is often done at great cost, with tremendous efforts and perfect rationality but still it doesn’t seem to make a significant difference.
So, what if we stop trying to systematically plan and control every critical part of a project and instead ask ourselves what the best way of working is, accepting that projects are to a large extent unpredictable?

At Influence, we did just that. By considering how we and our customers work in successful projects. When we did, we discovered an alternative solution that combines structure and the ability to handle unpredictability.

Imagine you are a football coach, preparing your team for an important tournament

You know that it will be challenging and require tremendous skills and efforts. Just as the first match is about to start, you are told that the most critical player is caught in a doping control and won’t be able to play in the tournament. A few minutes in to the second game you realize that the referee is bribed and takes decisions that are not at all predictable.
Before the third match you are told that the match will be moved to another city due to unrest among fans and you will not have any supporters on place. Between the third and the forth match (crucial to reach the semi-final) part of your players start questioning the game strategy you have prepared and trained the past year…

Recognize any of this? This illustrates the reality that faces most project management professionals on a regular basis. What do you do in this situation? How do you train for this?

By now, you laugh when looking at your original plan and organisation and you have started to desperately introduce some mechanism of controlling this ever-changing environment.

Recognize any of this? This illustrates the reality that faces most project management professionals on a regular basis. What do you do in this situation? How do you train for this?

Create a project organisation that is intelligent and dynamic

In sports, the answer might be intuitive. You train the general ability to be a good team leader and or player and you build as good a general physique as possible. Perhaps you spend an increasing amount of time on mental training to be able to rapidly cope with changing games and rules.
The answer is the same in project delivery: If you know that your project will face obstacles that you cannot foresee and hence cannot predict and plan for, then your best bet is to create a project organisation that is intelligent and dynamic enough to adapt to and compensate for imperfections instead of becoming a victim of them.
We call such project organisations “collectively intelligent” and we have project managers who know how to build and lead them. This by integrating collective intelligence with almost any project methodology.

If you know that your project will face obstacles that you cannot foresee your best bet is to create an intelligent and dynamic project organization

Collective ability increases the project effectiveness and efficiency by developing the teams’ abilities in:

 

  • Reflection, reflect and learn from the cooperation and how it affects the team efficiency
  • Integration, act as a team caring about each other and the common task
  • Representation, interpreting its task and optimize roles based on skills
  • Relation, create an open and comfortable social climate where members trust each other’s knowledge and intentions.

 

Project organisations trained in group dynamics perform 25% better

The results so far are quite remarkable. Not only do we see consistently high success rates (lower rates of failure…), but in a typical project we also see lower staff turnover, higher levels of commitment and, not least, people having more fun. We observe this ourselves and there is research showing that project organisations trained in group dynamics perform 25% better.
We believe that we have cracked the code to success through this way of working. Want to join our movement?

Also look out for future publications on:

 

  • Planning for the unplannable – the collectively intelligent project plan
  • SMART goals may be smart but they are not intelligent – using the project vision as a tool for success
  • If you want to control something, let it go – collective intelligence as a means of follow-up and steering.

 

 

Author: Fredrik Westlund – fredrik.westlund@influence.se

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