I had the pleasure of writing an article for the book, Enabling Innovation: Innovative Capability – German and International Views as a follow-up to some work I did with the EU’s International Monitoring Organisation. An interesting aspect of this book is that major articles are written by German researchers and then shorter comments or additions are presented from an international perspective. My article was in response to a weighty paper by Sibylle Peters, entitled, New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management – Dynamic and Open.
The increasing structuring of work and organizational processes by forming project involves new challenges to the handling of knowledge work and expands the scope to generate innovations. The classic project management alone is less and less able to manage complex, uncertain, knowledge-based processes. Through alternative approaches social, actor-oriented topics of management will be adressed.
If all you want to read is my short article, then let me save you the $189.00 list price for this book.
Managing in Complexity
In New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management – Dynamic and Open a key theme discussed is the lack of flexibility of traditional project management methods in dealing with complexity.
With increasing requirements for complex and creative work we need new models to get things done. Many of our practices are still premised on work being simple or complicated. Simple systems are easily knowable, whereas complicated systems, while not not simple, are still knowable through analysis. These can be easily managed. However, complex systems are not fully knowable though they can be partially understood through interaction with them. This is antithetical to many of the control protocols of traditional project management.
In the developed world, simple work is constantly getting automated (e.g. automatic bank tellers) while complicated work is outsourced to the cheapest labour market (e.g. off-shore call centres). If companies want to remain competitive in the global market, they need to focus on complex and creative work. Much of complex work is in exception-handling and when exceptions are the rule, rigid rules must become the exception.
We have to understand complex adaptive systems and develop work structures that let us focus our efforts on learning as we work in order to continuously develop next practices. In a knowledge-intensive and creative workplace the role of leadership becomes supportive and inspirational rather than directive. Artificial boundaries that limit collaboration and communication only serve to drag projects (and companies) down and create opportunities for more agile competitors.
While agile methods for project management are discussed in New Forms of Project Organisation and Project Management, an overall agile mindset is also required. This can be fostered in a culture of perpetual Beta. Perpetual Beta means we never get to the final release of our work and that our learning will never stop. Agile organisations realize they will never reach some future point where everything stabilizes and they don’t need to learn or do anything new.
In additional to a mindset of agility, workers need a skillset of autonomy. However, we are trained early in life to look to authority for direction in learning and work. The idea that there is a right answer or an expert with the right answer begins in our schools. Too often, the message from the workplace continues to be that good employees wait for their supervisor to tell them what to do. This is counter-productive in dealing with complexity and working in perpetual Beta. It destroys creativity.
When we move away from a “design it first, then build it” mindset, we can then engage everyone in critical and systems thinking. Workers in agile workplaces must be passionate, adaptive, innovative, and collaborative. Autonomy is the beginning.
Fostering autonomy and agility means that we talk about work differently. For example, dropping the notion of being paid for time is one way to start this change. An hourly wage implies that people are interchangeable, but no two minds are the same. Being paid for time fosters neither autonomy nor agility. There are many other human resource practices should be questioned and dropped, such as job competencies.
The new networked workplace requires collaboration and cooperation. Complex problems cannot be solved alone. Tacit knowledge flows in networks through social learning. Learner autonomy is a foundation for effective social learning. It is the lubricant for an agile organisation. Agility becomes a necessity as we deal with increasing complexity. In order to develop the necessary emergent practices to deal with complexity we therefore need to cultivate the diversity and autonomy of each worker. We also must foster richer and deeper connections which can be built through meaningful conversations. This is social learning in the workplace.
Even in project management, learning is the work.
One example of encouraging social learning is the government of British Columbia, Canada which developed an interactive intranet in order to foster collaboration and communication.
The success of a social intranet ultimately has less to do with technology than with planning, governing and managing change. Walsh [B.C.’s Manager of Creative Strategies] had these lessons to share.
Ditch perfectionism [perpetual Beta]
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! [social learning]
Trust your team [Autonomy]
Not your government’s voice
As traditional core activities get automated or outsourced, almost all high value work will be done at the outer edge of organisations. At the fuzzy edge of the organisation life is complex and even chaotic. On this periphery, where things are less homogenous, there is more diversity and more opportunities for innovation. Individuals, project teams and organisations have to move operations to the edge to continue learning and developing. In agile organisations, a greater percentage of workers will be on the edge. The core will be managed by very few internal staff. What does this mean for project management? No matter what model one prefers, it will have to be more open, networked and cooperative.
Change and complexity are becoming the norm in our work. We already see this with increasing numbers of freelancers and contractors. Any work where complexity is not the norm will be of diminishing value.
Embracing complexity and chaos is where the future of work lies.