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How complexity is clogging your project environments

Corinne Forrest | June 24, 2014
Projects often suffer from bloated, convoluted solutions that impede delivery, says Corinne Forrest

project management

Consider this scenario. A government department charged with delivering the IT component of a massive infrastructure program recognised complexity caused its $3 billion project environment to perform in, at times, mystifying ways.

Complexity, rather than the nature of the projects themselves, created a tangle of interdependencies that were inexplicable, emergent and mostly impossible to manage.

Unfortunately, this is a common scenario. Complexity slows down, or at worst, completely halts technology projects. Too often, project portfolio management (PPM) environments suffer from bloated, convoluted solutions that impede project delivery and make PPM a discrete function rather than a core organisational capability.

Companies in the banking, mining, logistics and other sectors have all found that eliminating PPM complexity removes unnecessary, hidden costs, and organisational friction.

Once the complexity is removed, project delivery dramatically improves. This helps bring project portfolios under control, reduces project execution cost, improves success rates and stakeholder confidence.

Take a simple approach
Unnecessary PPM complexity arises from growing misalignment between the needs of the project environment and the processes supporting it. It is easily managed once identified.

Once the project management office (PMO) has a clear picture of where complexity hampers effectiveness — and the easiest way is to analyse the incumbent project environment against the PPM Operating Model — removing complexity requires the integration of fundamentals, experience and expertise.

The PPM operating model, illustrated below, is the critical link between project environment performance and organisational design.

PPM, and its mother ship, the PMO, have had indifferent careers in the past decade. Despite being regarded as critical to ensure project success, PPM and PMOs can be, as one client said, "Sluggish, expensive; sometimes a hindrance".

Despite widespread agreement that PPM environment complexity creates big problems, few PPM consultants (regrettably) and only some PMO managers understand what PPM complexity looks like.

PPM environments, like Hollywood action movies, are simple creatures (and they're all the same). Apart from master scheduling and portfolio optimisation, which can be tricky, PPM theoretical disciplines are straightforward.

PMOs can boost PPM environment effectiveness through a combination of two things: Removing complexity that doesn't add value and aligning PPM processes, frameworks and business rules to a streamlined, integrated operating model.

Fortune favours the fundamentals
The challenge with eliminating complexity is, of course, that the short-term actions which reduce costs and create reliability can also expose other performance problems.

Often, staff numbers need to be reduced. Sometimes a more streamlined and controlled way of operating uncovers underperformance and a bias towards operating in chaos.

The key task is to manage the balance points by attacking environment complexity first (the superstructure), process complexity next and only then focus on performance issues.


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