The High Impact PMO



How do complexity sciences, indirect strategies and human dynamics advance project management at new levels of performance ?



The Next Seneca Cliff

When I wrote the book, “The High-Impact PMO[1], in 2017, my true and hidden goal was to help PMOs prepare for “unusual unfolding” of their business environment.

My belief was that human history may be more a succession of big surprises than a long series of small evolutions. I also learned by experience that what really moves businesses, organizations and societies are the (strategic) projects they undertake. That PMOs should prepare to unforeseen events if they were to successfully support projects was an evidence to me.

One of the paragraphs concerned the Seneca Cliff[2], a phenomenon studied by Ugo Bardi or François Roddier, also called collapse, avalanche, disaster, failures, or all sorts of adverse effects.

About 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca wrote to his friend Licilius[3] noting that “growth is slow, but ruin is rapid”

Seneca was a good Stoic. He knew that we must always be prepared for the future, knowing full well that ruin can come upon us at any moment. This is true for individuals as well as for an entire society.

He wrote in his letter that “it would be some consolation for the feebleness of ourselves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has very abruptly put billions of people in very difficult situations. This “Seneca Cliff” unfortunately seems to me nothing more than a wake-up call and the trigger of bigger “unusual unfoldings”. It is a call to anticipate a much bigger “Seneca Cliff” where financial, social, and political systems could very well be shaken in a way none of us can imagine today.

I remember another chapter of my book. It says how difficult, if not impossible, it is to forecast a future. Do not ever try to forecast this second “Seneca Cliff”. Any event of this kind is unpredictable. But conversely, prepare for its consequences. Here you are in the domain of certainty.

And this is where the Project Management community and the PMOs can have a huge value. This is still more true for those who evolve close to the strategic levels of their organization. They can have indeed a strong influence on the system behavior. They can explore and adjust the position of their organization between order and chaos.

A single recommendation? Study and learn what Nassim Taleb, the author of the wonderful “Incerto[4], calls a barbell strategy: “A barbell strategy is to be as hyper-conservative and hyper-aggressive as you can be instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative: taking maximum exposure to the positive Black Swans while remaining paranoid about the negative ones.”

May I remind that “a Black Swan event is a highly unexpected event for certain observers, that carries large consequences and that is subjected to ex-post rationalization.” A pandemic is a Black Swan for some, a White Swan for others.

Stay safe, wear a mask and respect social distancing

Philippe

[Note: I beg your indulgence for the Globish language I am using in this article. Any copyediting from one of you, dear reader, will be highly appreciated.]


[1] Husser, Philippe, The High-Impact PMO, Amazon Publishing, 2017

[2] Bardi, Ugo, The Seneca Effect: Why Growth is Slow But Collapse is Rapid. Springer. 2017

[3] Seneca, Lucius Anneaus, Letters to Lucilius, n. 91

[4] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, Incerto, Incerto: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile, Skin in the Game, 2019

You can also read some of my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

The Enjoyment That Comes From Working With a Great Community.

Thank You

What a wonderful feedback from the members of the PMO Global Alliance community! I love you all. Take care and stay safe, you and your loved ones during these volatile and uncertain times. Life is stronger than a virus. You form such an exciting and valuable community!

The PMO Global Alliance Community

PMO GLOBAL ALLIANCE is indeed a global community of professionals with a common interest in the PMO (Project Management Office) topic. Members are PMO leaders, PMO members, Executives, Consultants, Teachers, Students, Project Managers.

An Old Story

Why such an interest for Portfolio, Program, Project, or even Product Management Offices and Officers? Simply because PMOs are adding a tangible and recognized value to any organization prepared to set up, develop, and work with a top notch PMO.

I remember a sad story that happened to a PMO several years ago. A Senior Vice President once nicknamed in public “pousse-café” (in French) or “coffee runner” one of his PMOs. He used to consider a PMO as a mere meeting facilitator. A PMO was limited in his mind to making sure coffee and pastries were served on time at the beginning of each meeting. He even required that this PMO (who resigned shortly afterwards) had to leave a strategy management board meeting a few minutes before starting to animate the meeting on the grounds that the strategy was confidential.

A Great Opportunity

But a PMO is not a “paper tiger” nor a division on the side telling people what to do. On the contrary, a PMO is there to help project owners execute and deliver resources to the best of their ability. And everyone knows how challenging it is for the project management community to be successful in our complex world.

The PMO of the above story was right to leave a VP who did not want to consider his added value. Do not stay close to anyone acting like Procrustes.

An organization delivers successfully its mission through the combination of both operational excellence and project management excellence.

And a seasoned PMO brings valuable knowledge and experience in supporting the development of the right techniques (and they are numerous and complex) in project management, the right type of leadership, and the human dynamics required to make the project stakeholders work together in the best possible manner.

Back to the PMO Global Alliance

PMO GLOBAL Alliance mission is to support the professional development of its members through mutual support, networking, advanced research and an intensive exchange of experiences.

I have joined this community several years ago. And I can tell you that I find many extraordinary benefits in being part of this community:

  • Learning about innovative practices for PMOs, broadening my knowledge and evolving in my career.
  • Accessing and sharing successful experiences with PMO professionals worldwide.
  • Expanding my network in a vast international community of PMO professionals as well as many CEOs, Strategic Initiative Sponsors and leaders, Portfolio Managers, just to cite a few.

Join Us

Do you want to learn how this PMO Global Alliance can transform your PMO? Join us. You will not be disappointed.

To you continued success

Philippe

sand pile effect

The Sand Pile Effect

The world is about to breach a critical threshold in the global geopolitical dislocation. And as with every breach of threshold in a complex system, this will generate a suite of nonlinear phenomena: developments that do not conform to the usual rules and the traditional projections, be they economic, monetary, financial, social or political.

LEAP 2020[1]

Imagine you are on a beach of fine, golden sand.

Take a shovel and a bucket. Build a castle by pouring wet sand regularly on what will become the chateau of Sleeping Beauty. The pile of sand becomes higher and higher. Now and then, the heap of sand slides in avalanches from the top. Isn’t it frustrating?

This experiment was built by Per Bak[2], Chao Tang, and Kurt Wisensefeld, a group of physicists at the Santa Fe Institute in the 1980’s. Per Bak was a twentieth century Danish theoretical physicist. He coauthored the 1987 academic paper that coined the term “self-organized criticality.” Their beach was a table in their laboratory where the experiment repeated your sand pile and its avalanches.

What’s interesting is that, when piling higher, sand piles achieve a rest angle and a rough stationary state. As the sand is poured ever more upon the sand pile, we see many small avalanches of sand occurring. From time to time, we see a large or very large slide occurring. The sand rest angle weaves around a critical value without ever stabilizing. Figure 1 describes this phenomenon.

Figure 1 – Sand piles produce avalanches around a critical slope and their size is inversely proportional to their frequency.[3]

There is no typical size for sand pile avalanches.

If you try to estimate the weight of human beings, the more humans you will weigh, the better you will become in ability to estimate their mean weight.

Conversely, if you try to estimate the size of the sand piles avalanches, the more avalanches you will observe, the greater your chance to see an avalanche size bigger than any previous one.

Repeating the experiment long enough, you will see massive avalanches, although these may be rare in occurrence. This remains true whatever the grain of sand.

This is a power law[4]. Per Bak and his friends have shown that it was a law in 1/f. What does it mean? F is the frequency of the avalanches. The function is the size of the avalanches. The more frequent the avalanches, the smaller they are. And the less frequent they are, the bigger they are.

Big events can be triggered by the same tiny (and invisible or undetected) cause.

An example of self-organized criticality.

A sand pile organizes itself until it tunes itself to a critical state of its rest angle. Each small avalanche cascades other small avalanches, thus redistributing its energy information from one group of sand to the other.

Complexity originates from the tendency of large dynamical systems to organize themselves into a critical state, with avalanches or “punctuations” of all sizes.

Large systems do not need massive movers to move immensely.

Ecosystems tune their structure to a poised regime between order and chaos, between subcritical and supra-critical behavior, with power law avalanches. What we observe here can also apply to flooding of rivers, to many biological systems, to earthquakes, and, most importantly for you, and to all kinds of social organizations as well.

Organizations also are oscillating between order and chaos.

They permanently self-organize by importing energy and information while exporting to the outside the maximum possible production of entropy.

In his book The Thermodynamics of Evolution, François Roddier explains that[5]

the universe incessantly strives to maximize the speed with which energy dissipates. That this principle also applies to human evolution should therefore not surprise us.

In 1988, the American scientist Rod Swenson recognized the Law of Maximum Entropy Production (LMEP or MEP) that states

the world will select the path or assemblage of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the constraints.

Finally, we know since Claude Shannon that entropy and information are equivalent (though with a different sign). Exporting entropy to the outside is done by importing information from the outside. An organization that closes on itself ends up “lukewarm” and cannot produce any work. Organizations open on their external environment import information on the evolution, the expectations, and the other players of this environment. By doing so, they generate the equivalent of avalanches that are reorganizations, small and large, frequent and infrequent.

This is a lesson for anyone working in the domain of Strategy and Project Management.

Sometimes as a Strategy Management Officer or a (Strategic) Portfolio and Project Manager, you will be part of “something” sparking the avalanche. Sometimes you will stay a spectator or a watchman awaiting the next “Big One.”

Remember though that even if a Big One is a sure event, no one can predict when it will happen.

Yet, getting on board of a Big One is often the opportunity of a lifetime. Do not miss such a chance to be engaged in something big.

Look at the example of bicycles. Bicycles were introduced in the late nineteenth century in Europe (around 1885). This has been a lifetime event. By the early twenty-first century, more than 1 billion bicycles have been produced worldwide. They now outnumber cars. However, only modest improvements have followed the first time humans used only two wheels in tandem as a means of transport.

Key Takeaway

Regardless of the situation, playing with the waves of the inevitable successive reorganizations (avalanches), and especially big ones, is a chance for the Strategy and Project Management Community willing to catch opportunities to favorably surf on these waves and learn to develop favorable impact.

To your continued success

Philippe

This article is an extract of my book The High-Impact PMO . You can also read some related articles here:

High-Impact PMO


[1] LEAP (Laboratoire Européen d’Anticipation Politique) 2020, GEAB49, November 2010.

[2] Bak, P., How Nature Works, The Science of Self-Organized Criticality

[3] https://source.wustl.edu/2015/06/functioning-brain-follows-famous-sand-pile-model/

[4] A power law is a functional relationship between two quantities, where a relative change in one quantity results in a proportional relative change in the other quantity, independent of the initial size of those quantities: one quantity varies as a power of another. Source: Wikipedia

[5] François Roddier, Thermodynamics of Evolution, An essay of thermo-bio-sociology, Parole Editions, 2012.

Desert, Meditation, and Preparation

Friends, you regularly ask me about my recent silence. Confinement is a time of desert, meditation and preparation.

Here are the 5 books I am (re)reading and studying in greater depth during this period:

  • The Dao of Capital and Austrian Investing in a Distorted World,
  • The Black Swan and The Impact of the Highly Improbable,
  • Antifragile and Things That Gain from Disorder,
  • Skin in the Game and Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life,
  • and last but not least To the Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons.

My eternal gratitude to their wonderful authors.

And take care of you and your loved ones.

Philippe

There is no harder work than not working

“There is no harder work than not working.” Years ago, I read this sentence from Guigues[1], one of the first Carthusian priors. It never quit me since then. Which life never goes through times of desert and dereliction? May this sentence of wisdom help you today during this worldwide long and total confinement period. Here is a full text you may also want to read and keep deep in your heart.


“The dweller in cell should be diligently and carefully on his guard against contriving or accepting occasions for going out, other than those normally prescribed; rather, let him consider the cell as as necessary for his salvation and life, as water for fish and the sheepfold for sheep.

For if he gets into the habit of going out of cell frequently and for trivial reasons it will quickly become hateful to him; as Augustine expressed it, “For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working.”

On the other hand, the longer he lives in cell, the more gladly will he do so, as long as he occupies himself in it usefully and in an orderly manner, reading, writing, reciting psalms, praying, meditating, contemplating and working.

Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages. In this way with God’s help, he will avoid the dangers that often lie in wait for the solitary; such as following too easy a path in cell and meriting to be numbered among the lukewarm.

http://www.chartreux.org/en/texts/statutes-book-1.php

Photo: Buckfast Abbaye

[1] GUIGUES LE CHARTREUX, Méditations, 50 (SC, 308, 120

Insights for PMOs in a VUCA World

Succeeding as a PMO in a complex and volatile world is not easy. So, thanks to my friend Ken Martin, here are a few insights for PMOs in a VUCA world.

Ken, among many other exciting things, publishes great one-page descriptions of many different roles. You can find them on his LinkedIn profile.

Ken suggested recently that I create a one-page list of insights dedicated to PMOs thriving in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) environment.

So here is the result. It is a summary of my key insights everyone engaged in portfolio, program or project management should study and solve to make it better succeed.

You can find it also on my Linkedin’s profile here and on Ken’s profile here.

You will obviously recognize many tips of my book “The High-Impact PMO” published in 2017 and updated several times since then.

You can also retrieve some of these insights in a former article here.

I will love to receive any comment, knowledge, or contact from you.

Warm regards

Philippe

ONE TINY SPARK

Staffing a Transformation Program

In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man” How does this quote from Galileo Galilei apply to transformation programs? Staffing a transformation program requires a very specific type of strategy. First, there is a need for contributors who are external to the system to transform. Secondly, these contributors can be of two radically different types. The consultants and a champion are these two types that maximize your chance of success. The former corresponds to a statistical thin tail (close to the mean, small impact, the latter to a fat tail (far from the mean, high impact).

The difference between thin and fat tails matters in staffing a transformation.

With fat tailed distributions, extreme events (e.g. a champion joining the transformation program team) away from the center of the distribution (i.e. the organization’s population) create a strong impact on the final performance.

Not so in thin tail distributions (e.g. a group of consultants in the midst of the organization’s population) where you need a number of events (i.e. a number of different consulting teams) to achieve a visible level of impact.

An example of application in an organization is the decision to resource complex transformation programs with two separate (competing?) teams: a traditional consulting team and a single proven champion of the domain.

Why consultants and a champion? Simply because the transformation of a system needs an exchange of energy or information from within and with its outside world[1] to transform itself.

For example, transforming wheat and sugar into a muffin needs heat. And a caterpillar first stuffs itself with leaves, then digests itself and morphs into a butterfly.

This is what consultants and / or champions hired from outside do.

Here is a story explaining the consequences of such a choice.

An aerospace manufacturer had to dramatically and rapidly increase its competitiveness.

The board of directors launched a competitiveness transformation program.

Then, the directors formed a transformation program team with two separate arms.

One was a team made of management consultants (with a capability of, say, X, relatively above the existing organization’s capabilities).

The other one was a just-retired senior executive of the manufacturer’s top competitor (with a capability of, say, 2 X).

The consulting team

On one hand, the consulting team had twelve more or less junior individuals and a senior manager. They were all brilliant MBAs de facto structured around the consulting firm famous toolbox. Adding (or subtracting) a new consultant would not drastically change the consulting team contribution. Nor would this single consulting team impact drastically change the organization’s performance (say f(X)).

This arm of the program is the statistical domain of the thin tail.

The probability of hiring consultants higher than X twice in a row is greater than hiring them once with a capability higher than 2 X.

No single change in the consulting team resources could really modify their impact on the company’s performance. To strongly modify the resulting performance, you need a number of such consulting teams (associated with their high corresponding cost).

The champion

On the other hand, the former senior executive was a champion with a proven success in the domain. He had a level (2 X) of experience and knowledge well above the consulting team level. Plus, his seniority gave him a strong influence on the aerospace manufacturer leadership team. As a consequence, he offered an exceptional opportunity to increase significantly the level of performance (f(2 X)) of the company.

This arm of the program is the statistical domain of the fat tail.

With fat tailed distributions, extreme events (2 X) away from the center of the distribution play a very large role. The events in a fat tail may not be more frequent, but their consequences are much bigger.

The benefits

In my story, while the consultants got bogged down in number crunching and powerpoint presentations, the champion identified a weakness in the development of satellite antennas.

He simply proposed to focus on the antenna design as a primary driver of competitiveness. This single action was going to optimize the need of power necessary to cover a specific surface on the earth. Decreasing the need of power strongly reduces the global weight of the satellite. And a lighter satellite reduces the cost of its launch and its placement in orbit.

As a result, the champion identified a well-known mathematician, the best in this domain. And he recommended that we hire him.

Here, the probability of sampling higher than 2X once (with the antenna expert) is greater than the probability of sampling higher than X twice in a row. As a result, the champion can play a disproportionately large role in determining the new level of performance with a single high-impact event.

The counterpart

Of course, there is a counterpart to this resourcing strategy. The story ended very well. Yet it could have been deceptive.

For example, our famous champion used to fly (First Class) every weekend back home. One of those trips ended badly. Our champion had to spend a week in the hospital. He fortunately recovered quickly and went back to work.

Under fat tails, wrong choices (e.g. too frequent intercontinental travel) or mistakes (the wrong champion) can be terminal. Under thin tails, they can generate great learning experiences (e.g. visiting France during the weekends or hiring different consultants). The consultants and a champion are very complementary.

Key takeaway: a dual-mode transformation program resourcing strategy

There is a key takeaway though. This takeaway is that complex program leaders may have interest to use a dual-mode strategy in resourcing their program.

One mode relies on thin tail distributions with a number of traditional rather average-level people, the other one on fat tails with a recognized champion of the domain.

Again, the consultants and a champion are an excellent source of success in complex transformations.

Any comments? Here or on LinkedIn

Warmly

Philippe

You can also read some of my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

[1] Read my articles about complex dissipative systems, for instance here.

PMO or TMO? 3 Key Differences

Do You Need a PMO or a TMO?

Everyone knows what the various types of PMO generally do. Yet, following the current fad for “business transformations”, many change the name of their PMO into TMO, Transformation Management Office. This misleads everyone since a transformation is very different from mere projects or programs. Accompanying a transformation is indeed radically different from managing a project.

A TMO should obviously play some or all of the traditional PMO roles. After all, transformations present many of the characteristics of large and complex programs. However, because of their characteristics of complexity, transformations result in the emergence of “something” that cannot be inferred from the mere characteristics of the components initially concerned by the transformation. A PMO knows how to support a project delivering a new aircraft. A TMO learns to accompany the transformation of an organizational culture.

Therefore, there are specific roles that a real TMO must play that traditional PMOs do not have to fulfill. These specific roles find their origin in what transformations are as compared to project portfolios or programs.

What Is a Transformation?

The Cambridge dictionary tells us that a transformation is “a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone”.

A transformation is also “the process of changing completely the character or appearance of something in order to improve it”. As a synonym, a metamorphosis is a change into a completely different form or type, a change in composition or structure.

In aerospace, switching technologies from mechanical to hydro-mechanical and then to fly-by-wire control systems are typical examples of transformations.

E-commerce is another example of a transformation that shakes entire consumer behaviors, markets and businesses. Platform companies have revolutionized the way sellers and customers interact.

Transformation Management Requires Studying and Solving New Problems

Transformations clearly belong to the domain of complex systems. Complex systems are made of a large number of components that dynamically interact together in modes impossible to understand and control.

First, these interactions result in behaviors at the macro-system level that individual behaviors at the micro-level cannot explain. Transformation management must therefore develop a set of capabilities built upon complexity sciences.

Secondly, when the system is a social organization, transformation management also requires to study and solve advanced human dynamics. and indirect strategies.

Thirdly, direct interventions (such as mandating individual behaviors) are unlikely to bring about the required change in a complex system. Transformation management needs to study and solve indirect strategies that prove to be more effective because they touch the deeper, more persistent drivers of behavior.

Transformations Result in the Emergence of Something Radically New

During a transformation process, new “things” emerge. Emergence is “the fact of something becoming known or starting to exist”, or “the process of appearing”. Several types of emergence exist.

Example 1 – when you mix and cook sugar, wheat, yeast and other components, you get a muffin that is radically different from its constituents.

Example 2 – a caterpillar hungrily stuffs itself with leaves, grows, and then pupates a chrysalis. When metamorphosis is complete, the pupal skin splits and a butterfly flies off.

The first example is an “emergent behavior” that characterizes properties of a system that are in some way (possibly in a particular way) not captured by the properties of the parts.

The second example is a temporal version in which a new kind of system “emerges” at some historical time without in some way being captured in the previously existing systems.

In each case, the initial system and its components become something entirely new. There is no way to run the process backwards, recover the initial state of the components, and start all over again.

Some transformations require a long and continuous process. Others are explosive.

Transformations Rely on Interactions Between Agents

Interactions between agents are more important than the components themselves.

Emergent properties are a product of the synergies between the agents (components of a system). These synergies give rise to a new macrolevel of organization. Therefore, these emergent properties cannot be observed locally in the subsystems. They you can only observe them at the macrolevel structure.

The key point here is that the behavior of complex systems results more from the interactions (inside and outside the system) between the components than from the behavior of the components themselves taken in isolation.

Do not conflate interactions with interdependencies. Most projects depend on other projects or initiatives to deliver some enabling capabilities that are essential to their successful implementation. This is the domain of interdependencies. An interaction is simply a back and forth action or communication between different agents with some kind of resulting effect.

Example: The properties of water are not apparent in the properties of gasses of oxygen or hydrogen. Neither does an isolated water molecule reveal most properties of water. However, a microscopic amount of water is sufficient to observe these properties.

Phase transitions occur along lines of equilibrium. An exchange of energy and various sets of volume, pressure and temperature transform the water into different states as you can see in the figure below.

Whereas the solid area is well distinct from the other two, the line separating the liquid area from the vapor area ends up at some critical point beyond which the liquid phase can no longer be distinguished from the vapor phase.

In the business world, production, demand and offer are similar to volume, temperature and pressure of the water.

Transformations Concern the Macrolevel and the Microlevel

Due to the development of the different levels of organization within a single overall system, emergence gives rise to a complex dynamic between the different levels; most notably between the macro and micro levels of the system.

All the restaurants in a city give a typical example of this phenomenon. There is a macrolevel looking at how the people in the city eat globally outside their homes. And there is a microlevel that considers the individual restaurants. Running a single restaurant does not say anything about how the network of restaurants in a city works. Nor why you could run this network with some kind of “plan” similar to the management of a single resturant.

As a consequence, you cannot describe the emergent macrolevel phenomena with the vocabulary applicable to the parts. The emergent features require new terms and new concepts to categorize them.

A TMO Should Develop 3 Typical Characteristics

TMOs do differ very clearly from the traditional PMO. Several characteristics distinguish a TMO from a mere PMO. Here are three key characteristics among all of them:

  1. A TMO focuses primarily on the interactions between the components of this system over time, space and depth.
    • This requires that the TMO study and solve problems of network analysis, human dynamics and stakeholder management.
  2. A TMO addresses complex tasks and interactions at different scales
    • A family is not a village, a village is not a large city, and a large city is not a country. This is also true in a business organization. A TMO should study and solve problems of multiscale (from microlevel to macrolevel) adaptive system development.
  3. Finally, a TMO facilitates the emergence of new “things”
    • So a TMO should study and solve problems of newness management, rather than sticking to known “things” (e.g. creating a winning proprietary technology instead of fighting existing competitors by cutting costs).

And if I had to summarize what a TMO is, I would say that a TMO is a sort of farmer who “prepares the ground, plant seeds, then weeds, hoes, and waters the corn, and waits until it is ripe”.

Do you agree? Your contributions to this important question are welcomed here. Thank you.

Philippe

You can also read some of my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

Do Not Stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management

Do not stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management. Only time proves the success of a project. Not the successful realization of the Triple Constraint (scope, time, cost… and quality), the famous Iron Triangle.

Consider the following two examples: the Boeing 737 MAX 8 project and the Sydney Opera House project.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 was an initial project management success. The aircraft was delivered on schedule in May 2017 to catch up with its Airbus A320 NEO competitor. Sadly, this initial success was followed by a huge drawback with 2 crashes that killed 346 people. Since then, the aircraft are grounded, customers lost their trust, and Boeing loses several billions of $.

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Fig. 1 – Representation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Benefits

The Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House project has been an initial failure. Budget increased from AU $7 million to AU $102 million. The delivery was 10 years behind schedule. This project became a study in the domain of project failure. Who remembers the name of the architect, the Dane Jørn Utzon? The overrun on the Opera House, and the controversy that followed, destroyed Utzon’s career and kept him from building more masterpieces. He had even to leave Australia and the Opera House, in the middle of construction and never returned. Yet the Opera House is today a worldwide attraction for millions of tourists and a major success for Australia. the Australian government even recouped the massive cost after only two years. More than 8.2 million people from Australia and around the world visit it each year and some 300,000 people take part in guided tours. Isn’t it a huge success?

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Fig. 2 – Representation of the Sydney Opera House Benefits

Key Takeaways

What you want in reality is sustainable success, not costs, schedule or scope. Here are my three takeaways:

  • Quality (the “fourth dimension” of the Iron Triangle) must be the priority one. The Sydney Opera House is a superb iconic building that sooner or later would deserve its rewards. Performance was maybe bounded (by its Triple Constraint overrun), yet its success is unbounded[1].
  • The Iron Triangle is nothing more than an excessive set of constraints. Ease them to make sure that you achieve the right “quality”, that is what the users will get from your project. A few more months and redundant systems would have cost more than initially forecasted by Boeing, yet much less than the costs incurred by the tragedies of the crashes.
  • Above all, replace the efforts you devote to the Triple Constraint by efforts to reduce the fragilities of your project. A fragility is anything that does not like uncertainty, volatility, disorder, or time[2]. Never focus too much on efficiency alone. For example, imitate human bodies that reduce their fragility thanks to redundant eyes, lungs or kidneys.  

Do you agree?

Warmly

Philippe Husser

The article is inspired from the 5th version of my book The High-Impact PMO, Why and how agile project management officers deliver value in a complex world” that you can buy on Amazon

Or read my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

[1] Read L. Barabasi, The Formula

[2] Read N. Taleb, Incerto

The image of the Syndey Opera House is from Patty Jansen, Pixabay

Do Not Stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management

Do not stick to the Iron Triangle in Project Management. Only time proves the success of a project. Not the successful realization of the Triple Constraint (scope, time, and cost), the famous Iron Triangle.

Consider the following two examples: the Boeing 737 MAX 8 project and the Sydney Opera House project.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 was an initial project management success. The aircraft was delivered on schedule in May 2017 to catch up with its Airbus A320 NEO competitor. Sadly, this initial success was followed by a huge drawback with 2 crashes that killed 346 people. Since then, the aircraft are grounded, customers lost their trust, and Boeing loses several billions of $.

Une image contenant capture d’écran

Description générée automatiquement

Fig. 1 – Representation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 Benefits

The Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House project has been an initial failure. Budget increased from AU $7 million to AU $102 million. The delivery was 10 years behind schedule. This project became a study in the domain of project failure. Who remembers the name of the architect, the Dane Jørn Utzon? The overrun on the Opera House, and the controversy that followed, destroyed Utzon’s career and kept him from building more masterpieces. He had even to leave Australia and the Opera House, in the middle of construction and never returned. Yet the Opera House is today a worldwide attraction for millions of tourists and a major success for Australia. the Australian government even recouped the massive cost after only two years. More than 8.2 million people from Australia and around the world visit it each year and some 300,000 people take part in guided tours. Isn’t it a huge success?

Une image contenant capture d’écran

Description générée automatiquement

Fig. 2 – Representation of the Sydney Opera House Benefits

Key Takeaways

What you want in reality is sustainable success, not costs, schedule or scope. Here are my three takeaways:

  • Quality (the “fourth dimension” of the Iron Triangle) must be the priority one. The Sydney Opera House is a superb iconic building that sooner or later would deserve its rewards. Performance was maybe bounded (by its Triple Constraint overrun), yet its success is unbounded[1].
  • The Iron Triangle is nothing more than an excessive set of constraints. Ease them to make sure that you achieve the right “quality”, that is what the users will get from your project. A few more months and redundant systems would have cost more than initially forecasted by Boeing, yet much less than the costs incurred by the tragedies of the crashes.
  • Above all, replace the efforts you devote to the Triple Constraint by efforts to reduce the fragilities of your project. A fragility is anything that does not like uncertainty, volatility, disorder, or time[2]. Never focus too much on efficiency alone. For example, imitate human bodies that reduce their fragility thanks to redundant eyes, lungs or kidneys.  

Do you agree?

Warmly

Philippe Husser

The article is inspired from the 5th version of my book The High-Impact PMO, Why and how agile project management officers deliver value in a complex world” that you can buy on Amazon

Or read my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO



[1] Read L. Barabasi, The Formula

[2] Read N. Taleb, Incerto

The image of the Syndey Opera House is from Patty Jansen, Pixabay