June 28, 2018

Conquering Chaos in Process Implementation

19 minute read

Most people have seen some variation of an old Sidney Harris cartoon published in The New Yorker in which two people stand before a black board covered in mathematical equations. Somewhere in the center are the scribbled words “Then a Miracle Occurs”. The caption reads ‘I think you should be more explicit here in step two”. 

When I first read the comic, it resonated. I was obtaining my degree in math, and the subject was chaos theory. I wore the comic emblazoned on a t-shirt, and every bleary-eyed college peer raised their coffee mugs in appreciation the day I walked into class. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who faced the class with anxiety and trepidation. 

Chaos theory notes that small differences in initial conditions, yield widely diverging outcomes and that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, repetition, self-organization and constant feedback loops. Interestingly, it’s notable the theory applies to a number of systems: weather, computer science, psychology and sociology. What about project management and project execution?  

Is project execution chaos? It certainly can feel that way. Most team members would agree that how a project begins dictates how the project will execute and how it will ultimately end. If we pay close attention, we can usually draw some reasonable conclusions:  

  • If we adjust the beginning, we have a variety of outcomes 
  • patterns exist 
  • feedback loops are beneficial 
  • self-organization will occur 

So what if we control the initial conditions? What if we get more explicit in step two? Why not set the pattern for project execution, hold our teams accountable to it, and build in feedback loops from the outset? Is it possible that if we set up a framework from which our teams operate, we will successfully manage the chaos? Can we help to shape the end? Can we improve efficiency and reduce time and costs?  

Blog_SV-FrameworkWe believe the answer is yes. 

An implementation framework helps control the chaos. Much like a PMO dictates how project management should be managed 
thoughout projects of varying sizes and complexity, an implementation framework provides guidelines, templates and deliverable samples the rest of the team should leverage during project execution. In short, our framework ensures step 2 (and steps 3-N) are more explicit. By building consistencyefficiency, and feedback loops into our projects, we can effectively put a rein on the chaos to create a process that is sustainable and responsive to changing needs.  

Build Consistency 

There may be a wide variety of project types and objectives and people who deliver them, but the phases a project moves through and the deliverables generated must be consistent. Regardless of the project management methodology employed, by evaluating common project types, an organization can design an implementation framework that defines a consistent set of phases associated to tasks, references and tools, and deliverables and samples that are appropriate for each phase, at least for the majority of project circumstances within their environment 

When all team members execute the majority of projects through the framework, there is a higher degree of consistency across deliverables and processes. What previously felt like chaos – simultaneous projects operating differently, generating inconsistent deliverables  becomes more controlled. Project team members know what to anticipate and have a starting point. Patterns in delivery emerge. Project health anomalies become more easily and quickly reconcilable within the project and, to a broader extent, within the framework itself. 

Build Efficiency 

A second objective, a more critical objective that has greater benefits, is to build efficiency. What will help your projects run more efficiently in your organization? Efficiencies are gained when there is focus on a clear structure, well-defined processes, and right-sized approaches.  

The execution framework must be accessible to team members as a permanent, visible, and navigable reference. It should visually tie phases, guides, processes, templates, and samples together through their respective relationships. When team members reach a certain point within their project, they should have a reference that allows them to quickly surface the tools that they need without the noise of other framework components.  

In addition to guidelines, templates, references and samples, the framework should also include processes to follow during implementation. Will you have a request for a user account? How does this happen, and who is engaged? Is there a turnover or knowledge transfer process? Projects are not executed in a vacuum; all too often insufficient attention is paid to the external operational constraints that exist. Ignoring these can have a negative impact on our ability to execute smoothly: there are real budget costs and impacts to schedule to be considered. Bring awareness of those processes into the framework, or build them. They’re just another reference to be leveraged or required.  

It’s important to recognize that all projects do not all require the same steps, controls, or deliverables. The framework is just that: a framework. It is not a mandate unless you build it to be, in which case it should probably be renamed. A framework should allow for flexibility. Identify what tasks and deliverables and processes are required versus optional, and allow this to vary based on a criteria that is meaningful to the organization such as project type, time, size, complexity, or process requirements. The start of every project should begin with understanding what is necessary and beneficial for the execution of the project, and project management should then manage to those goals. 

Building Feedback Loops 

The final objective? Maintain the momentum and keep the framework relevant. This can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Reduce the time spent on maintaining the framework by making framework maintenance a part of the project execution. Think about it: every deliverable is a bit of an improvement over the previous, and every lessons learned meeting conducted presents an opportunity to adjust. Within chaos, self-organization emerges, so change the dynamic: promote team-organization, and let the team build and improve the framework. Don’t treat feedback as an event, treat it as a process. 

Chaos is Expensive

Allowing chaos to promulgate unchecked is a bigger investment than building an execution framework. Complex dynamic projects that are uncontrolled can quickly become a dark hole, an immeasurable mystery with dubious outcomes. Spend a little time getting more explicit around the steps in the middle.  

As we begin, so we shall end. 

If you need help conquering the chaos of change management, reach out to our services team at servicesteam@gimmal.com!

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