Over time companies tend to take on projects with increasing levels of complexity. This happens either as a side benefit of a boost in organizational project management maturity, reactively when responding to regulatory or competitive pressures or organically as an outcome of strategic planning.
Unlike many of my previous posts, the WHY behind this increase is not my focus but rather the HOW.
Do governance bodies within most companies recognize when a proposed project or program is beyond its current capabilities and if so, how do they do this?
Project uncertainty and complexity are continuums and the sweet spot along those continuums will vary by company. There are three company-specific zones within this continuum – low uncertainty/complexity, high uncertainty/complexity and the chaos zone.
The boundary between the first and the second zones tends to become clearer over time, and as a company matures, they will use that boundary to dictate staff assignments as well as the required level of governance. For example, lower complexity projects might require minimal oversight and can be managed by a junior or intermediate project manager whereas those in the higher complexity zone will benefit from steering committees, highly seasoned project directors and regular delivery assurance checks.
But what about the chaos zone – what defines its boundaries?
In the past, when travelling the world’s oceans, ships’ captains used maps with notations indicating where the edges of the known world were as well as that wonderful warning “Here, there be dragons”. Unfortunately, such cartographic aids are not available to portfolio governance teams! Without having the boundaries for the chaos zone defined, it would be easy for a company to invest in a project whose failure could result in catastrophic organizational consequences.
One approach might be to use the same set of criteria which are used to distinguish low and high complexity projects. A radar chart such as the one below provides one way of presenting this. Complexity inputs such as the number of distinct stakeholders involved/impacted, total number of unique delivery partners or the extent of external influence could be assessed using a simple questionnaire.
Assessing and presenting this information is a good start, but it might still not be enough to prevent a sponsor or line of business from undertaking a “bet the firm” project. This is where the checks and balances of effective governance are crucial.
A common misbelief is that Sir Edmund stated the reason “Because it’s there” when asked about climbing Mount Everest. In fact, George Mallory is believed to have said it almost thirty years earlier. Unfortunately, George perished on the way to the summit.
Start a chaos zone project and your company could face a similar fate.