Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More on Project Management in Knowledge-Based Organizations

I've been thinking about this topic a bit more, and having some interesting conversations with colleagues about PM in KBOs. I even had a very stimulating conversation with someone involved in enterprise risk management and new organizational environments where this process takes place.

It could be that PM in knowledge-based organizations (complex, un-ordered, adaptive systems)is rooted in a very "mechanistic" view of an organization (that it's an ordered system where you can predict cause/effect relationships well into the future) and based on a resulting set of assumptions that don't apply in today's knowledge based/complex organizations. Assumpitions like "the project has a high probability of happening as planned," "desired project outcomes will remain static," nothing should get in the way of success," "the project WILL happen as planned because we planned it that way.. "

Project Managers are constantly challenged with "standing on shifting sand"... from the instant they start planning and executing change is constant - people (decision makers/project resources) change, budgets change, organizational context changes, even business needs, objectives and project outcomes change... this is life in complex, unordered systems. I wonder if traditional project planning methodologies, if followed as prescribed, truly account effectively for this - despite the profile of project risk management in the project plannaing and management processes. I see a lot of Project managers with major headaches dealing with unintended consequences, unexpected events internal and external to the project, and a lot of pressure and expectations around sticking to "the original plan".

Borrowing and building on some cues from noteable experts, perhaps something to try is to look at project plans more as living-breathing entities and plan for change. This might involve:

  • ensuring a "change" mindset and expectations across the project team, clients, stakeholders etc.
  • building specific activities in the project plan, and identifying specific roles and responsibilities, for sensing (even anticipating), and communicating consequences of project actions as well as contextual and environmental changes
  • building in specific activities to bring all the right perspectives to consider the sensing data/information, along with other appropriate related information and make sense and learn from it (sounds a bit like an after action review, dosen't it?)
  • bring that learning to the decision making table with the appropriate people around it to adjust the project plan accordingly - which could include adding new tasks to frame up sub-activities to innovate around newly surfaced challenges and opportunities.

Perhaps this doesn't sound all that different from traditional good project management. Maybe what is truly different is setting and managing expectations around project planning and management processes in organizations today, and building sensing and learning activities more explicitly in project plans.

2 comments:

Mark said...

What makes your flow interesting is that it acknowledges, and includes, the role of learning and innovation based on making sense of results (expected and unexpected). Plan-Do-Check-Act is robotic and fails to include the relevance of individual and collaborative critical evaluation (versus Check).

I'm certain that good PMs do a lot of this intuitively. It's nice to see a model that puts some context to it.

Thanks!
Mark

Dale Arseneault said...

I also came across an interesting article by Jill Owen, Monash University, Australia, titled Knowledge Reuse and Transfer in Project Management Environment , where she talks about the OODA Loop (observe, orient, decide, act) as being at a more strategic level than Plan-Do-Check-Act, which as you say, is rebotic (and very operational focused).