Managing complex projects in uncertain times

The task is to harness the collective brainpower of the military and their suppliers on three continents to work out how to better manage complex projects in a more uncertain, ambigious and rapidly changing world and to publish the recommendations as a White Paper.

It’s a complex project in its own right. The project taps into the expertise of defence procurement agencies in Australia, the US, Canada and the UK, as well as  defence and aerospace suppliers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Raytheon, Rolls Royce and Thales.

The Zing/Maverick and Boutique network has been facilitating a series of conversations for the International Centre for Complex Project Management. The team comprises Nick Obolensky (in the UK), Abby Straus (in the US) and John Findlay (roving).

A small army of consultants is helping to write the 10 chapters. The chapters deal with the difference between complicated and complex, the leadership styles and competencies required, the tools and methods that are proving most useful, better ways to deal with risk, new approaches to knowledge management and education as well as issues that require further research.

For each chapter, participants were asked to consider how to deal more successfully with the kinds of problems/difficulties that might be encountered in the future. Each question was accompanied by a set of prompts to probe all the different aspects of the issue.

After talking in pairs about each question for about 5-10 minutes to have as much air-time as possible, the task force members captured and shared their ideas using the Zing complex adaptive learning system, which helps shape emergent knowledge. Participants then read aloud and looked for the patterns or stand-out ideas. Examples of past project successes and failures were also recorded.

Here are the kinds of questions we have been asking:

1. BASELINE TRENDS.  What for you is complex and how do you deal with it? Compared with what? What are the big trends/discontinuities emerging?
2. What kinds of EXECUTIVE BEHAVIOURS, LEADERSHIP QUALITIES or CULTURE are essential for great projects or lead to project failures? What qualities do you need to develop?
3. Describe in 25-50 words a real example of a project failure, cost-over-run, cancellation, etc. where issues of EXECUTIVE BEHAVIOURS/LEADERSHIP QUALITIES/CULTURE was a factor.
4. What is RISK for the private sector? What is risk for the public sector?
5. Give examples of projects where RISK was poorly or well managed and the factors that led to these outcomes.
6. COMMERCIAL MANAGEMENT. What do you see as the main contracting challenges in the future?
7. Describe a project where COMMERCIAL MANAGEMENT was either poor or brilliant and the factors that led to these outcomes.

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