Managing Risk in Complexity Special Interest Group (MRC SIG)

ICCPM Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are dedicated to discussing and learning more about a variety of topics in complex project management. They provide a conducive environment for ICCPM Members to come together virtually to share their expertise and experiences, and learn from one another. SIGs are also dedicated to contributing to the growing body of knowledge in complex project management.

The Managing Risk in Complexity Special Interest Group (MRC SIG)  is a forum for open conversations and collaborative exploration into managing risk and uncertainty in complex project environments. The MRC SIG aims to identify and to develop improved risk management insights, tools, and methods of value to project owners and managers. In addition to four formal SIG meetings each year, there will be ongoing opportunities for ad-hoc meetings and collaboration on topics of interest to members.

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Meaningful communications are well known to be difficult at the best of times. They become more challenging when new languages or even words are employed by one party. Age differences, occupations with special languages, jargon and hybrid versions of these can create misinterpretations. And explanations of complex situations add another layer of challenge to communications effectiveness.

Complex projects routinely bring together dozens of people from various backgrounds, professions, organizations and communities of practice. For this paper, these various groups are described as ‘disciplines’. Furthermore, the reference to disciplines identifies those who are considered to be required to participate in complex projects to achieve success because they have influence on, or take an interest in, aspects of the complex project.

Disciplines have developed over decades-to-centuries what they consider acceptable practices to advance the execution of projects. However, complex projects regularly require differences to the norms to enable success. The need for variations is often viewed by members of different and influential disciplines to challenge their standard approaches and to create difficulties. Without understanding and alignment through communications excellence, complex project outcomes can be put at risk when cross-discipline engagement breaks down.

A Working Group of complex project practitioners under the auspices of ICCPM has explored the subject of cross-discipline engagement by pursuing the following question:

“To better enable risk management of complex projects, what considerations should be addressed to reduce the challenges of cross discipline engagement?”

The MRC SIG working group of volunteers explored the subject of defining the elements that should be considered when establishing the initial target for, and final assessment of, project success. The report makes a case for the definition of success in complex projects to include more than the cost of delivering a desired capability against a planned schedule when the project receives formal approval.

Within each of these major project phases, most projects (if not all) experience additional planned and unplanned events which trigger a need for change by going through some form of transition activity. Importantly, complex projects exhibit significantly larger numbers of emerging risks amidst what is already a challenging network of interdependent activities involving many stakeholders. Therefore, complex projects need to carefully consider the particular challenge of identifying both potential transition requirements and responding to unexpected in-train transitions as early as possible to enable an appropriate response.
Complex projects are always by their nature exceptionally busy, as are all the members of the execution team. Amidst the normally high level of ‘noise’ in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) globally interconnected world of business now and in the future, it is often difficult to sense the early and weak signals that indicate the initiation of transition processes that can be detrimental to project delivery. Interestingly, many of the major issues that have detrimentally affected project success are problems that went unnoticed, were underestimated or dismissed until a significant change became obvious which triggered a project crisis.

Based on experience with harmful transitions, a risk-focused Working Group of the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) set out to explore considerations when answering the following question:

How might practitioners mitigate the potential risks inherent in transitions in complex projects with the aim of preserving project momentum in as seamless a way as possible?

The purpose of this paper is to capture a set of what is considered to be important considerations for those navigating complex projects, as developed based on experience, observation and various source documents employed in the past by members of a small Working Group of the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM).

It should be noted that the Working Group included the involvement of the following people on at least an occasional basis: Richard Barber, Laurie Bowman, Reaiche Carmen, Julia Cianci, Greg Fackender, Alistair Godbold, Tony Graham, Stephen Grey, Michael Hawkins, Daniela Kellett, Rob McMartin, Ian Mack, Denis Mitchell, Andrew Pyke, David Preller, Davin Shellshear, Lizzy Smith and Simon Springate. Furthermore, not all aspects of the content of this paper are necessarily endorsed by the participants of the Working Group.