Forums Managing Risk in Complexity SIG
(MRC SIG)
Working Group B: What principles are important in dealing with complexity?

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  • Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
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    I thought that since we are talking about trust, and recognising the behavioural  basis of many of the sources of complexity, I would post a paper I put together talking about trust from a behavioural perspective. Hope you find it of interest. The paper was prepared a few years ago, so please excuse the old statistics presented.

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    Stephen Grey
    Participant
    @stephen-grey
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    I think it would be useful to draft a question and pass it around to see what it prompts among us and whether we all see the same themes at work

    Richard Barber
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    @richard-barber
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    As usual, todays meeting was a really insightful conversation.  I also liked that we were able to identify some actions to get on with between meetings.

    Quite a few times “trust” was mentioned as being crucial.  I wonder if we can ask and answer the question “What does it take to enable or build sufficient trust with people who are not yet “woken up” for them (and or their organisation) to come on this journey?”    One suggestion from Ian was that we make use of the Fellows of ICCPM.  So how about we frame a single open question to be sent to ICCPM fellows about how to build the trust needed?   What is their experience?

    If others think this is a decent idea, I’m happy to collaborate in developing the question and the process.

    Ian Mack
    Participant
    @ian-mack
    Post count: 68
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    Thanks Stephen and Santosh. We really are talking many of the same issues already raised but recommending one do the organizational and powerful stakeholder assessment before launching a complexity methos marketing campaign.

     

    As an additional thought (spurred on by the ‘maverick’ comment in the paper)I rather wonder whether another method is to include the reluctant organizational stakeholders in the Risk Management system within the confidential stakeholder risk treatment module. One would then apply mitigating actions (as we have/are generating) while recording the issues/consequences  generated when stakeholders did not accept complex methods. If nothing else, it could protect the Risk Manager downstream and deliver a powerful case study to influence change for future projects.

    Santhosh Therakam
    Participant
    @santhosh-therakam
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    Thanks @stephen-grey for sharing the info on engaging people with complexity. The insights on client profile, pitfalls, success factors and strategies resonate with me. Top two hurdles, from my experience, in getting the client’s traction on engaging with complexity are a. Perception and being sceptical; and b. scared of being exposed and acknowledgement of their vulnerability.

    Stephen Grey
    Participant
    @stephen-grey
    Post count: 86
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    The attached is a precis of some of the key points I extracted from a Cognitive Edge webinar on selling complexity based methods

    Different context but many of the same concerns arise

    2 pages only and fairly sparse

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    Simon Springate
    Participant
    @springates
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    That was a good response from Collin which implies that complexity has a long way to go in convincing the world to actively consider it in Project Management.

    So perhaps we can use complexity in Risk Management (for projects) as a way of introducing complexity.  After all most people are mystified on how risk is calculated (its complicated) so we are already part way there on managing expectations.

    Perhaps a little tongue in cheek but still a serious thought – perhaps a survey to understand if complexity makes risk management ‘easier’ to understand?
    Simon

    Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
    Post count: 103
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    Hi Group B,

    As a follow on from our conversation last Thursday, I approached Colin Smith to see if ICCPM would be interested in a survey of its members to see why they were interested in complexity in projects, and the use of appropriate tools. Colin responded very positively – my email and his response are shown below:

    Hi Davin,

    I am so appreciative of your and Richard’s efforts with regard to the MRC-SIG work.  I am hearing good things all the time.

    In regard to the survey idea, we are always open to these sorts of ideas, and yes, we have done similar surveys in the past but I’m afraid that the response rate is very poor.  People (ICCPM members or otherwise) generally don’t seem to have much appetite for surveys.  I wish it were different since the data would be most useful!

    Something to keep in mind is the reality that ICCPM was formed and exists to ‘champion’ the complexity thinking approach to projects rather than in response to pre-existing interest and /or demand for training such as our Cert 4.

    So, in reference to the Cert 4, when you say  “The levels of investment have been significant and would indicate a strong commitment to the need to understand and invest in relevant complexity skills” I would have to say that while this is partially true, for the most part it has been a ‘push’ strategy from us rather than a ‘pull’ strategy from our customers to date, although we are beginning seeing some change now.  That is to say, the bulk of our enrolments have been because of us pushing the course to our corporate clients rather than them coming to us out of their own to request the course.  A very big part of our mission and vision is still very much to educate project people / leaders on the why they should take complexity seriously because for the most part not enough do!

    So, your topic  ‘How can we “wake up” project leaders and stakeholders who are reluctant to accept or apply complexity methods and models.’ Is absolutely spot on and of critical interest to us.  The presupposition of ‘reluctance’ embedded in the topic is sadly also true and hence we I make the point above that the demand for our courses currently is mainly as a result of us pushing hard to break through the reluctance.   I wish it was driven by independent interest / demand!  However, as mentioned we are starting to see some (a little) of that come through as complexity becomes more mainstream.

    We have often said that third party endorsement would be helpful in this sense for example if large industry bodies or government were to mandate some training or skills in project complexity as a prerequisite to government project related tenders or industry / professional certification or accreditation then we would see a significant increase in demand for our offerings.  The problem is to get government and industry to “wake up” and accept and apply complexity methods!  So, there is a sort of circular reference problem here between government, industry and individual PMs.

    My personal observation is that an appreciation for complexity methods and models re quires a higher order critical thinking aptitude which immediately reduces the potential pool of candidates.  I mean do disrespect by this, but the reality is that anyone can follow a linear reductionist and sequential PM process methodology but not everyone can think independently and critically at different levels of abstraction about the complexities encountered in the project delivery environment.  This is a cognitive and emotional leadership skill that not everyone is capable of and that is just the truth of it.

    Even those capable of it must swim upstream against the current because the ‘pull’ back to the linear reductionist ways of doing things is so strong (path of least resistance) that it takes genuine leadership and persistence to bring about a different culture and understanding.

    In the land of the reluctant the ‘one- size- fits- all’ / ‘knock-and -drop’ approach is king!  This is driven by a desire for control and certainty by business and government even in situations when control and certainty may not be possible (at least not to the extent they would like it).

    So, yes I would be very interested in insight into  ‘How can we “wake up” project leaders and stakeholders who are reluctant to accept or apply complexity methods and models. and would be happy to work with the SIG working group on getting a survey out but we need to manage expectations in terms of response rates.

    Attached is a recent survey we did last year when COVID hit- see the poor response rate.  (provided in confidence please).  I will try to pull some other survey stats we might have and if there is anything useful I will send it on to you.

    Note from Davin: I will share this survey at the next Group B meeting – confidential of course.

    Regards

     

    Collin Smith

    Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

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    From: Davin Shellshear <dkea1598@bigpond.net.au>
    Sent: Tuesday, 22 June 2021 2:03 PM
    Cc: Richard Barber <rbarber@riskiq.com.au>
    Subject: Survey of ICCPM membership by MRC SIG Working Group B

     

    Hi Colin

    As you are aware, MRC SIG working group B is working on the topic ‘How can we “wake up” project leaders and stakeholders who are reluctant to accept or apply complexity methods and models.’, with the task of ‘Create insights/outputs of practical value that can be reported back to ICCPM members.

    We have completed 4 meetings at this stage. Full transcripts of our meetings are available on the forum.

    The group has thought deeply about the topic, and has drawn on the expertise of the group to develop a range of valuable insights, which have been captured, at least partially, in a risk map – also on the forum.

    In the last meeting, the question was turned around to ask ‘Why do some organisations and individuals accept and apply complexity models?’.

    An obvious place to start answering this question is from the membership of ICCPM, and in particular, those who have invested in the Cert 4 training program. The levels of investment have been significant, and would indicate a strong commitment to the need to understand and invest in relevant complexity skills.

    Hence this email – would ICCPM be interested in Group B undertaking a survey of ICCPM’s membership to understand the motivations and expectations of its members?

    We hope that this data would be of assistance in addressing the MRC SIG topic in a very practical way. I am sure the data would also be of great interest to ICCPM and its members.

    Of course, ICCPM may have already conducted surveys of this nature, and if so, would ICCPM be willing to make the data available to Working Group B?

    In either case, there may be great value in surveying the membership from the perspective of the Group B topic.

    I would expect that a survey of this nature would be conducted within the framework of ICCPM, and would follow any relevant policies and procedures.

    So Colin …. Is this of interest to you and ICCPM.

    If so, what would you advise, and what constraints would we need to observe?

    Perhaps Working Group B could suggest questions relevant to its topic to go in such a survey. I am sure ICCPM would also add questions of interest to include.

    If the above is agreeable to ICCPM, I think it would be of great value to undertake and report on the survey over the next 6 weeks. Does that seem feasible?

    Warm Regards

    Davin Shellshear

    MRC SIG, Working Group B

    Ian Mack
    Participant
    @ian-mack
    Post count: 68
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    I found reading the latest transcript again very interesting.

     

    I noted the comment about challenges in including complexity in standards , perhaps because the approaches to complexity are much less prescriptive – it is a mindset, recognition of trial-and-error processes as much as anything, risk management on steroids and tips on what to expect/do and what to avoid. I rather wonder whether the inability to offer a ‘paint by number’ solution is not a key challenge in selling decision-makers on adopting new approaches.

     

    I also like the suggestion that we might survey all the CEOs of companies and organizations that ‘get it’ and are sending their people for training at ICCPM (or at universities offering Complex CPM post-graduate degrees) or investing in corporate ICCPM memberships – such survey to ask what was their motivation to do so. ICCPM would need to agree to this and provide the contact info. Might this be a ‘next step” and if so should we pass along our initial thoughts on what we think might be ways to motivate others?

     

    I also saw a lot of detail that might go into standards or guidelines: processes to assess projects for degree of complexity; policies to allow audits to assess compliancy; culture requirements such as a “Senior Complex Projects Officer” and “pull” by the leadership to support the ongoing introduction of emerging practices; key aspects of the differences risk management in complex endeavours; the importance of comprehensive on-boarding of governance members into the details of the risk management process (and more); and the setting of expectations at the launch (e.g. when complexity can be expected [on implementation rather than initial approvals], satisficing the requirements [likely not satisfying them]), what/when risks should be escalated, short term wave planning rather than long term, and flexible and collaborative contracts).

     

    Much worth pursuing!     Ian

    Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
    Post count: 103
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    Attached is the transcript of our fourth meeting.

    Please use the forum to share your thoughts, potential strategies, and suggestions to help approach our problem statement.

    Attached is the updated risk map, with the causes combined – as suggested by Ian.

    Please consider the responses suggested in Ian’s post.

    Cheers

    Davin Shellshear

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    Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
    Post count: 103
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    Thank you Ian for your post and analysis. I assume other members of Group B will discuss Ian’s contribution on Thursday.

    In the meantime, I was pondering the meaning of ‘wake up’ in reference to project managers and stakeholders. Does it mean these people are generally unaware of matters complex, or if they have some awareness, are not willing (or able) to address the matter at all.   Do we seek a nudge – a small increase in the numbers of project managers and stakeholders who are ‘awake’? Or are we seeking an across the board shift in attitude and awareness? Are we actually referring to individuals or organisations, since the discussion to date seems to indicate that organisations have heavily invested in linear risk systems and are unwilling to contemplate change?

    I suspect the question is unclear due to terminology. Are we referring to ‘complex projects’, or ‘projects with complex aspects’. The discussion to date would seem to indicate the latter, with suggestions that the tools applicable to projects should align with the context – if this next part of the project is merely complicated (or even simple), then use tools appropriate to complicated (or simple) issues, and not tools applicable to complex issues. If this is true, how do we decide which aspects of the project are complex, complicated or merely simple? When do we make these calls? The attached diagram shows one approach I have seen. If complex, what form of complexity are we talking about – cultural, technical, goal, stakeholder, etc. – since the tools used will surely depend on the form of complexity we are dealing with? Do models for project complexity add any value in asking this question?

    I think Stephen’s post ‘Monash Uni Masters course lecture 2021’ has some interesting suggestions in this regard.

    I suspect that if we are considering a handbook for project leaders, then we may need to consider these questions.

    I have also taken the opportunity to attach a paper by John Sterman which came from ResearchGate. I thought it might point to some of the difficulties people have in getting their heads around complexity and projects, particularly when we consider aspects of time delays and stocks. If an organisation has built up a large stock of ‘experience’ in linear risk systems, and another stock of ‘trust’ in those systems, how do we gradually change that dynamic, particularly when we recognise a large delay from anything we may do to actually seeing a change.

    Cheers

    Davin Shellshear

    What do you think?

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    Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
    Post count: 103
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    Did you know that the Institute of Risk Management in UK also has a Special Interest Group working on Complexity and Risk. In the last meeting we talked about looking for other sources of advice and opinion. The link to IRMs SIG is

    https://www.theirm.org/join-our-community/special-interest-groups/risk-and-complexity/

    Stephen Suminguit
    SIG Community Manager
    @stephen-suminguit
    Post count: 35
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    Hi Everyone,

    I’ve uploaded a document on behalf of Ian Mack.

    Kind regards,

    Stephen

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    Davin Shellshear
    SIG Chair
    @davin-shellshear
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    Hi Working Group B

    Attached are the notes from today’s meeting. I have now edited the notes – previous post deleted

    Cheers

    Davin

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    Anthony Graham
    Participant
    @tony-graham
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    I think we are talking about a handbook for Project Leaders to help them have constructive conversations with decision-makers (strawman example attached). This could be developed by offering a comprehensive range of approaches that a project leader could adopt as circumstances suited.

    Unfortunately I’m very busy at the moment otherwise I’d develop more fully- but offer a basic strawman sample as a starter.

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