Project Management: Complexity, Stakeholders and Change
Complexity, stakeholders and change: all key issues in project management. Gary Straw's new book provides guidance to help managers avoid over- or under-managing projects.
Projects are not only inherently built on risk, they also tend to be complex activities. What do we mean by ‘complex’? A couple of definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary usefully highlight some aspects of the problem:
- ‘Consisting of many different and connected parts; not easy to analyse or understand’
- (Mathematics)- ‘denoting or involving number or quantities containing both a real and an imaginary part’
Do we need to understand the level of complexity within the projects we manage? This can certainly help in terms of ensuring that the management approach adopted is appropriate for the scale of challenge it will present. For example, in a public sector multi-partner project where there may be considerable ambiguity in terms of stakeholder ambition, objectives, structure and roles, among many other aspects, understanding the complexity may help to determine whether to adopt an appropriate formalized project approach. Conversely, if the complexity of the activity is lower, we may be over-managing the project if we utilize similar approaches.
This complexity provides a justification for committing to undertake sufficient analysis, to accept additional formality in management processes when appropriate, and to understand that for some projects a quantity, such as budget, might contain both real and imaginary parts!
While discussing complexity, we mentioned stakeholders; this is one of the most fundamental components of any project. A word of caution: this can be one of the most difficult areas to ‘manage.’
Stakeholders include people within and outside the project; some of these will have requested the project, or will finance it, or benefit from it, or have been annoyed by it or helped to deliver it. Many of the stakeholder groups will be outside the direct control of project management. The effect of this can be underestimated. Indeed, some projects might provide a surprise in terms of the large amount of time and effort we need to devote to the stakeholder groups to achieve success in the project. A final point: we may need to consider the stakeholder perspective well beyond our initially defined project timeframe.
The idea for the project may come as a desire to change something, a situation or a scenario. The need to improve a process, penetrate a market or develop a new market all equate to changing something. Change is a key theme: it is impossible to undertake a project without causing this effect. In this respect, its relationship with project management has strong similarities to risk management, and a ‘show-stopping’ risk may have the same effect on a project as unwelcome and resisted change; a project may be stopped, altered or regarded as unsuccessful because of this.
This is an edited extract from Understanding Project Management: Skills and Insights for Successful Project Delivery, by Gary Straw.