What Projects and Portfolios Managers Can Learn From Thermodynamic Cycles – F. Roddier

This article explores what project practioners can learn from thermodynamic cycles and their four phases. These four phases are: expansion, stagflation, crisis, and depression. The article suggests that project stakeholders should consider where their ecosystem stands regarding these cycles. Then they should adapt their approach to the ongoing phase. They should anticipate as well the next phase of the cycle. 

Thermodynamics Deals With Heat and Other Forms of Energy

François Roddier, a French scientist and astronomer, is exploring how thermodynamics applies to economies and human societies. Thermodynamics is the branch of physical science that deals with the relations between heat and other forms of energy. These forms can be mechanical, electrical, or chemical energy for example. François Roddier proposed very exciting parallels between the thermodynamic cycles and the economical and sociological cycles[1]. Why would these teachings interest the project management community? Because, synchronizing projects with each of the four phases of these thermodynamic cycles is a sure way to limit disappointing (if not catastrophic) results.

The French Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot introduced the new science of thermodynamics. He worked on the first two laws of this science. The first law states that energy is conserved. Heat is a form of energy. The second law states that energy dissipates. You cannot convert heat into mechanical energy without a temperature difference. And the total entropy can never decrease over time for an isolated system in which neither energy nor matter can enter nor leave.

We will see in a later article that there is a third law of thermodynamics. This third law states that energy dissipates as fast as possible, given a set of constraints. For now, only the first two laws need our attention.

Sadi Carnot stated that one can sustainably produce mechanical work only through a cycle of transformations extracting energy from a heat source and giving part of it back to a cold source.

A Steam Engine Produces Four Cycles of Transformations

A steam engine produces cycles of transformations. If steam or hot air can push a piston, one must apply a force to bring the piston back to its initial state. For this force to be weaker, one must condense the steam or cool the air content inside the cylinder. After each cycle, it returns to its initial state. During a cycle, it extracts heat from the boiler where the water is vaporized. And then part of the heat is given back to the condenser where water condenses. Only the heat difference is converted into mechanical energy. This thermodynamic cycle has four phases: isothermal expansion (the temperature of the gas does not change during the process), adiabatic expansion (they neither gain nor lose heat), isothermal compression, and adiabatic compression.

Learn From Thermodynamic Cycles

Figure 1 – The thermodynamic cycle.

The Same Cycle of Transformations Applies to Business Organizations

The laws Carnot developed could be applied to any dissipative structure. Such dissipative structures include human societies, economies, or business organizations.

They all show cycles made of four phases where the temperature, pressure, and volume of a fluid are replaced by supply, production, and demand. Peter Turchin and Sergey A. Nefedov describe these four phases in Secular cycles[2]: expansion, stagflation, collapse, and depression. This is what figure 2 shows.

Let us follow the cycle with Turchin and Nefedov. The grey abrupt zone is called the Seneca cliff[3] in relation to Seneca’s quote in his letter to Lucilius:

“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.”

If you start from the foot of the Seneca cliff, the production is minimal. Demand grows. It is the depression or “inter-cycle” phase.

While production grows, wealth inequalities are rare, and employment is high. Supply and demand even out. This is the expansion phase.

Once satisfied, demand tends to decrease. However, supply continues, sustained by the investments realized. This is a zone where luxury markets grow. Rich people are more and more numerous (and richer).

Production ends up stagnating and unemployment increases. This is the stagflation phase.

At the end, production collapses, firms go bankrupt, populations rebel, and governments fall. This is the crisis phase.

Learn From Thermodynamic Cycles

Figure 2 – The thermodynamic cycles apply to human societies.

When a System Is Too Complex, It Collapses

Around the critical point C, firms reorganize themselves to adapt to the environmental changes they produced. Such a change is a society divided in two poorly interconnected groups.  one of (very) rich people and one of (numerous) poor people.

The farther from the critical point C, the bigger the avalanches or the crisis. It corresponds to the fluid condensation zone. But the avalanches are also less frequent. These avalanches help the natural process to self-organize. They appear when the ecosystem becomes too interconnected and too complex. It then collapses[4].

The period of these cycles varies. Small firms have a “Kitchin cycle”[5] of 3 to 5 years. Medium-size firms’ “Juglar” cycles[6] vary from 7 to 11 years. Large organizations have 15 to 25-year “Kuznets[7]” cycles.

What Project Managers and PMOs Can Learn From the Thermodynamic Cycles

During a stagflation phase, leaders should regionalize the organization or the economy. This is the reverse of globalization. They may do this even at the cost of a business or an economic decline. For example, they have to tackle indebtedness. They also diminish the size of the cycle. Positioning initiatives as close as possible to the critical point is like being inside the cyclone eye.

It is not possible to avoid a crisis. Avalanches are inherent in complex ecosystems. However one can reduce its impact by getting closer to the critical point.

During a depression, the opposite move is favorable. Leaders must internationalize the exchanges and increase the size of the economic cycle.

Why not apply these hypotheses to project management?

Project practitioners and PMOs, especially those closest to the strategic level, would benefit from synchronizing their projects with their environment and their firm’s position on the four-phase Carnot cycle. They will thus avoid the launch or the execution of projects running counter to current economic, social, and technological circumstances.

Adjusting the approach to the phase of the cycle is especially vital during the two phases “depression” and “expansion.” Anticipating the Seneca cliff and its height is very important too.

To your continued success

Philippe Husser, author of the book The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World

High-Impact PMO

Notes

[1] François Roddier, Blog 104 – Les oscillations du cerveau (généralisation) http://www.francois-roddier.fr/

[2] P. Turchin, S. Nefedov, Secular cycles, Princeton, 2009.

[3] Ugo Bardi, The Seneca effect: why decline is faster than growth, http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.fr/2011/08/seneca-effect-origins-of-collapse.html

[4] Joseph A. Tainter, The collapse of complex societies, New York & Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Later Robert Ulanowicz defined a law explaining the phenomenon.

[5] Kitchin cycle is a short business cycle of about 40 months. Kitchin discovered it in the 1920s. This cycle is believed to be accounted for by time lags in information movements affecting the decision making of commercial firms (Wikipedia).

[6] The Juglar cycle is a fixed investment cycle of 7 to 11 years. Clément Juglar identified it in 1862. Within the Juglar cycle one can observe oscillations of investments into fixed capital and not just changes in the level of employment of the fixed capital (and respective changes in inventories), as is observed with respect to Kitchin cycles. (Wikipedia).

[7] The Kuznets swing is a claimed medium-range economic wave with a period of 15–25 years. It has been identified in 1930 by Simon Kuznets. Kuznets connected these waves with demographic processes.  (Wikipedia).

Why PMO Should Escape From the Bed of Procrustes

“The bed of Procrustes” represent situations where different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard.

Read how a PMO went into a bed of Procrustes and escaped from it. This story is an extract of the book :  The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World.

15 Minutes Before the Bed of Procrustes

Grigory, a newly-hired PMO, feels happy on this sunny afternoon. He is still alone in the executive Committee room of the company he just joined a few weeks ago as its Strategic PMO. What kind of PMO? Grigory is not sure yet. Neither he nor the CEO who delegated his recruitment to his Quality EVP really knew how a Strategic PMO should function. However, the company was famous in its industry. And Grigory was hired to develop and lead two management processes: the strategic planning process and the strategic initiative portfolio management process.

Grigory feels his tension grow. His CEO asked him to prepare and lead this afternoon’s meeting of the Executive Committee. That is going to be his first meeting at this level in the company. They will spend their afternoon updating the company’s five-year strategic plan.

Grigory is rather confident he will create the right environment for the executives to update their strategy. He has met all of them in advance to get their expectations as well as some early information on their thoughts regarding what needs to be done to improve the company’s value proposition and its overall performance. He has prepared a review of key facts and a list of key decisions to make. This included a performance review of key dimensions of the current strategic plan and of the Strategic Initiative portfolio. Customer surveys also completed the data.

10 Minutes Before the Bed of Procrustes

The big wooden oval table shines. The chairs are aligned. The video projector is on and ready. The agenda he has prepared for the afternoon meeting already projects on the huge video screen on the wall. The executive team members will soon fill the room after their lunch in a private room while Grigory had a sandwich here in the meeting room.  He is mentally reviewing the most important issues the executive Committee members asked to discuss.

In the Bed of Procrustes

They enter the room. A few members come to Grigory and shake hands. However, the CEO stays apart whispering a few words in his boss’s right ear. His boss turns and tells Grigory bluntly that he has to leave the meeting room right away since they are going to debate confidential matters (“the bed of Procrustes”). Before leaving, Grigory has to give the file containing the slides he was going to use during the meeting.

5 Minutes Later

A defeated Grigory exits the room.

One Day Later.

Grigory and his boss shared their perception of the event. His boss found him too impatient and not yet experienced enough. Grigory explained how he had been disappointed not to participate in the meeting for the reason of confidentiality, since his job involved further work on the meeting outcomes.

This single event marked the end of the beginning of his trusting relationship with that CEO and with his boss. Grigory wanted to pursue his career with exciting jobs and great teams. But he had first to survive this initial false start. He thought that it was better to have a good boss in a bad company than a bad boss in a good company. Grigory found out that the false start was only a first of many subsequent facts that demonstrated how this company had poor managers.

Three Months Later

Grigory took over a great Strategic Initiative Portfolio manager job in a similar company. His new boss gave him the secret combination of his office safe the day of his arrival. Grigory first refused the honor. However, his boss told him then: “If I did not trust you, I would not have hired you. There is information in the safe you will need to do your job. Now, listen, the day I will not trust you anymore, I will fire you.”

A Few Years Later

Grigory and this gentleman became inseparable buddies. The lesson Grigory took is that an initial trust is an absolute prerequisite if you want to build a trust relationship. Building trust requires open conversations, overcoming stress and challenging environments, working through crisis and learning each other’s reactions. People build trust over time. Yet, take the chance to initiate this trust relationship early on. Trust relationships are key to success. Grigory forever sought to select missions driven by trusted project directors and sponsors who in return gave faith in him.

Lessons Learned: Discover the Bed of Procrustes.

Grigory found in this apparently unfortunate event great food for thought. He related it to the Greek mythology story of the Procrustes’ bed. Procrustes, “the stretcher”, was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica. He physically attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, to force them to fit the size of an iron bed.

Procrustes operated in his stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, on the sacred road between Athens and Eleusis, two cities of ancient Greece. There he had a bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night. He set to work on them with his smith’s hammer, to stretch them to fit. If the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly.

It is interesting to note that Eleusis was the site of the Eleusinian mysteries, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece. These Mysteries represented the myth of the abduction of Persephone from her mother Demeter by the king of the underworld Hades. The cycle had three phases, the “descent” (loss), the “search,” and the “ascent” of Persephone followed by the reunion with her mother.

The Decision: Escape from Procrustes

Grigory realized that his first CEO had in fact no precise idea of what a PMO could do for him and his company. He erroneously thought that a PMO was a sort of middle manager in charge of standards and back office activities. Therefore, he acted like Procrustes, cutting his legs by not allowing him to fulfill his duty in facilitating the meeting under the pretext that it would be confidential.

By doing this, the CEO was unwittingly contributing to a “descent” of Grigory on his way to Eleusis. That was a Procrustean situation, a state of affairs where different lengths or sizes or properties are fitted to an arbitrary standard. The standard at this first company for a PMO was only an administrative back office support for his boss.

The Future: Accountability, Autonomy, and Trust

Procrustes is a symbol of conformism and standardization. A norm is most of the time arbitrary. “Procrustean” qualifies situations where an arbitrary standard constraints different lengths, sizes, or properties. For this reason, its application to the living is generally harsh.

Grigory understood the mistake he made. His experience was a happy fault. As a result he decided that he would never ever work again with anyone close to Procrustes. He would escape especially project sponsors or project managers who would only consider a PMO as a back-office assistant. He would only work with those who would give him accountability, autonomy, and trust.

Finally, if you wonder what Procrustes became, here is the end of the story. Procrustes was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who “fitted” Procrustes to his own bed.

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

* the image on top of the article is from https://milocca.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/il-letto-di-procuste/

Colibri

Read Real Life Stories of PMO Who Delivered Value in a VUCA World

Read real life stories of PMO who delivered exceptional value to complex projects, programs, and portfolios in a VUCA world.

Explore a variety of capabilities that will make you navigate in the most complex environments.

Coverage includes:

  • Dealing with nonlinearities
  • Surfing on transitions, bifurcations, and avalanches
  • Thriving with uncertainty and unpredictability
  • Understanding power laws and tail effects
  • Adapting your approach to the thermodynamic cycles
  • Learning direct and indirect strategies
  • Focusing on people and great causes
  • Escaping the Procrustean bias
  • Being a challenger and a coach
  • Finding your buddy
  • Bridging cultural gaps
  • Capitalizing on technology
  • Analyzing your network
  • Getting to tipping points
  • Building your Enterprise PMO
Books

The 12 Books That Enlightened My PMO Life

Managing projects in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world is not an easy task. Imagine delivering their outputs and their benefits much better than ever. By exploring the latest findings in complexity sciences, human dynamics, and advanced strategies, you can improve significantly your way and your excitement to manage projects, especially in the most complex environments.

Here are 12 books (including 2 in French) that enlightened my life as a project manager and as a PMO.

These 4 Books Helped Me Discover Exciting Findings in Complexity Sciences:

  • In The End of Certainty, Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine tackles some of the difficult questions that bedevil physicists trying to provide an explanation for the world we observe. How is it, for instance, that basic principles of quantum mechanics–which lack any differentiation between forward and backward directions in time–can explain a world with an “arrow of time” headed unambiguously forward? And how do we escape classical physics’ assertion that the world is deterministic?
  • In At Home in the Universe, Kauffman weaves together the excitement of intellectual discovery and a fertile mix of insights to give the general reader a fascinating look at this new science,  the discovery of the order that lies deep within the most complex of systems, and at the forces for order that lie at the edge of chaos.
  • In How Nature Works: the science of self-organized criticality, Per Bak explains self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state. This theory describes how many seemingly desperate aspects of the world, from stock market crashes to mass extinctions, avalanches to solar flares, all share a set of simple, easily described properties.
  • In The Thermodynamics of Evolution, An essay of thermo-bio-sociology, François Roddier shows that, under different aspects, one is able to find the same underlying processes as much in physics as in biology or sociology.  The central idea of this book is that evolution has progressively shifted from being genetic to being cultural (informational) and that the metabolism of an economy is governed by thermodynamics, just as the physiological aspects of human metabolism.

I Studied Some Important Aspects of Human Dynamics With These 4 Books:

  • In Network Science, Albert-László Barabási spans a wide range of topics from physics to computer science, engineering, economics and the social sciences. He introduces network science to an interdisciplinary audience. From the origins of the six degrees of separation to explaining why networks are robust to random failures, the author explores how viruses like Ebola and H1N1 spread, and why it is that our friends have more friends than we do.
  • In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane breaks charisma down into its components. Becoming more charismatic doesn’t mean transforming your fundamental personality. It’s about adopting a series of specific practices that fit in with the personality you already have.
  • In When Cultures Collide, Richard Lewis provides a guide to working and communicating across cultures, and explains how your culture and language affect the ways in which you think and respond. You can gain competitive advantage from having strategies to deal with the cultural differences you will encounter in any international business setting.
  • In L’élan sociodynamique, J.C. Fauvet present the strengths and weaknesses of four major types of organizations: mechanistic, individualistic, tribal,  and self-organizing. He describes ideas, methods, and practices designed to transform work, mixing together stress, pleasure, and performance.

These 3 “Strategy” Books Never Leave My Desk

  • In The Black SwanTaleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world.
  • In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.
  • In A Treatise on Efficacy, François Jullien shows how Western and Chinese strategies work in several domains (the battlefield, for example) and analyzes two resulting acts of war.

And Finally, If You Want to Learn Real Life Stories of Project Stakeholders Navigating a VUCA World, Read This Book :

High-Impact PMO

“This book will be an invaluable resource to both seasoned and new entrants into the PM field, offering practical insight into situations that appear on a program/ project manager’s radar as you navigate your career. By stratifying the domains of an effective PMO, the insight can assist with strategic focus and effective goal setting, especially where PMOs are not taken seriously. There’s a number of useful tools which can assist in honing your skills; give you access to enhanced levers & move you up a notch in this complex space.”

Pranash Ramanundh, Programme Planner, Dublin

Buttons

Attach Buttons And Understand Critical Thresholds

Why Attached Buttons Two by Two Help Understand a Benefits Realization Curve

Complex Program Benefit Realization Can Be Slow

[This article is inspired by the book: The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

Grigori was once the PMO of a company-wide program whose deployment concerned several tens of local organizations around the world. Each organization had to install a lean management system in order to improve their performance.

All organizations had to be connected to several others at one time or another one. For example, they supplied other organizations with products or services. They had interfaces with functional departments like Finance, Marketing, and Information Technology.

The program was going to last at least five years due to the time required to change in depth the organizational culture. Several organizations volunteered as pilot organizations and developed their lean management practices with the support of Master Black Belts.

Grigori was in the early years of the program. Yet, the program sponsor was expecting quick visible improvements in the global performance of the company. Alas, even after several pilot organizations had adopted the lean management principles, no real high-level gains were visible. Benefits realization was far behind the initial premise.

What could be the problem?

How 1000 Randomly Attached Buttons Help You To Discover the Phenomenon

Stuart Kauffman is a complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth. Kauffman explains the following simple thought experiment in his book At Home in the Universe, the Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. It is about random graphs. Random graphs are a set of dots, or nodes, connected at random by a set of lines, or edges.

You can realize this toy problem at home yourself right away with buttons. Take all the buttons ripped off your shirts you can have saved, add maybe a few more, let say one hundred. Take some sewing thread. Now spread these buttons across your dining room floor and randomly attach two buttons at a time using bits of thread.

While you progress by linking buttons randomly two by two, one after the other; every time you have connected two buttons, pull one random button and observe how many buttons come together. At a certain point, you will pass a critical threshold. When lifting one button randomly, you will get most of the other buttons as well. You won’t need to have connected all buttons.

You do not need to link all buttons with a thread to pull them all together at once[i].

Well before normally expected, most buttons will have been interconnected and grouped into a single set of buttons. This threshold is represented in the above figure. It appears when around 50% of the buttons are connected.

The curve is what we call an S-shaped or a sigmoidal curve. The steepness of the curve at this critical point depends on the number of buttons. When this number is small, the steepest part of the curve is shallow. When the number increases, the steepness becomes more vertical.

This phenomenon is similar, explains Kauffman to phase transitions. During a phase transition certain properties of a medium change, often discontinuously, because of the change of some external conditions (here sewing two buttons).

Can this experiment serve to explain why benefits realization in a large complex program may not be a linear curve?

From Isolated Components to an Integrated Network of Connections

Imagine that instead of buttons, you repeat the same exercise again with people or with processes.

The properties of the isolated components do not define the complex system they form. What is connected, how it is connected, and to what it is connected, are all dimensions of great importance to understand observed system behavior. The nature and structure of the connections define the system.

In the real life of an organization and its ecosystem, these people and processes will be already more or less connected. Like in the button experiment, at some critical level of connectivity, the system stops being a set of apparently isolated components and becomes an integrated network of connections.

Here also we have this significant behavior change at a critical point.

You have surely already seen that your organization generates such transitions as the result of changes and connections you introduced. What is called transformation in an organization is nothing more than a successful transition. What is interesting for a Project Practioners and especially for PMOs is to understand as much as possible this phenomenon of transitions and how it is generated.

Tipping points are at the end of this process.

Grigory hypothesized that one of the possible reasons he did not yet see benefits in the deployment of his program was maybe that not enough organizations were connected. He did not have to pressure the system. On the opposite, he had to let the interconnections develop without creating unnecessary constraints on them. His role was only to remind the vision of the lean system they all looked for and to facilitate what needed to be.

Your remarks, own experience, and additions will be warmly appreciated.

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe

Check out my new Book that explores a series of real life snapshots showing how project management practioners and especially PMOs can confront a VUCA world.  It gives valuable insights that will allow you to more successfully navigate the wave of complexity that is coming our way.

You can also contact me at www.philippehusser.com

[i] Picture inspired from Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, 1995,

Squirrel

Characteristics of an Agile PMO

Can and Should a PMO Be Agile?

Becoming an agile PMO is a hot topic today in an ever more complex and fast changing world.

There is no doubt that reality shows PMOs looking like horses and PMOs looking like squirrels. Both have value. However both do not add the same value when you want to climb trees or when you need to pull the plow. Horses and squirrels do not show similar levels of agility.

Why label a PMO as agile? Isn’t agile merely a delivery method and shouldn’t a PMO be much more focused on helping projects deliver organizational strategic value” recently asked a project manager. This sort of question is very usual indeed. It shows how difficult it is to use the word agile when speaking of PMOs.

A PMO is an organization serving a project, or several projects, programs, portfolios, and a whole organization. As such a PMO can and must show certain characteristics of agility in what it does. What are these characteristics?

An Organization Is Agile (More or Less)

An agile organization?

Lower case “a” agile is a characteristic of who we are. Something agile is able to move quickly and easily. Someone who has an agile mind is able to think quickly and clearly. A squirrel is agile, a cow is not really. A trader has a mental agility, a back office bureaucrat from the social security has not. An agile business like Alibaba is always in a position to take account of market changes, while a more traditional business like […] is not (anymore).

Agile organizations or agile systems present specific characteristics. They are, among many characteristics:

  1. Oriented by the ends of a system more than by its structure
  2. Adaptive more than predictive
  3. Favoring innovation more than status quo
  4. Incremental and iterative more than cascading and waterfall
  5. Explorative and experimental more than analytical and descriptive
  6. Systemic and heuristic more than discursive
  7. Holistic more than reductionist
  8. Interested more by the effect than by the nature of interactions
  9. Thriving to reduce their entropy (being open to the outside) rather than increasing it (being closed)
  10. Confronting continuously their model with the reality rather than confronting test proofs or copies of this reality

An organization sustainably develops through the degree of excellence of its operations and the degree of excellence of its projects. The degree of agility of an organization is by construction related to the degree of agility of its projects.

Projects Are Agile Too (More or Less)

An Agile project?

“Upper case “A” Agile is more often used to define what we do. It is born from an iterative approach to software development and project management with articulated principles (12) and values (4) defined by a Manifesto for Agile Software Development[1]. Agile brings together numerous methods, roles, processes and tools. The Manifesto states that the four Agile values are the following:

  1. Individuals and interactions are over processes and tools,
  2. Working software [or product] is over comprehensive documentation,
  3. Customer collaboration is over contract negotiation,
  4. Responding to change is over following a plan.

At its heart, Agile with “A” upper case is a set of characteristics that can be summarized into five[2]:

  1. Agile teams complete manageable chunks of work and produce a minimum viable product within rather short fixed time periods. On the basis of feedback on the prototype, the team moves forward to a new set of tasks.
  2. The team develops its knowledge by means of observation and experimentation, often without due regard for system and theory. Frequent testing is a cornerstone of the Agile approach. It ensures that product quality remains high and development activities are run efficiently.
  3. Cross-functional. The idea is to put on board the different functions required to develop a product, while limiting membership to those individuals who possess essential and complementary skills so that the team remains lean and can accomplish real work.
  4. The “product owner” is empowered to make decisions about scope, timing, allocation of budget, and product features. He or she is ultimately responsible for delivering value to the customer. He or she divides his or her time between working with the team and coordinating with key stakeholders.
  5. Continually improving. Agile teams rely on retrospectives, obstacle removal processes, and lean experts or scrum masters to continually identify opportunities to enhance productivity by tweaking and tuning their environment and way of working.

The Agile PMO At the Crossroad

PMO

An agile PMO?

Agile, lower case “a”, organizations are capable to handle the pace of change in a manner that is effective and minimizes disruption, resulting in sustainable competitive advantage. Organizational agility belongs to the DNA and the culture of the organization. A squirrel is more agile than a horse.

Agile, upper case “A”, methods are effective at increasing visibility and adaptability, quickening business value, and reducing risk over the duration of an initiative. Agile methods can be put into practice quite quickly, so long as the team is adequately prepared and has effectively engaged the users who will be involved.

“Agile” and “agile” are related so much that in reality they form only one family that is agile. Developing the use of Agile makes an organization more agile, at least partially within the domains where Agile is practiced. On the other hand, an agile organization uses Agile as a preferred set of project approach. However both Agile and agile approaches develop in a ceaseless oscillation around critical points. Such critical points exist for example at each interface between a waterfall program like a plant construction and its Agile components in the domain of the plant information systems or between two departments being at different maturity degrees of agility.

Therefore, to go back to the initial interrogation about what an agile PMO is, I would propose that an agile PMO is an organization presenting the 10 characteristics of an agile system, embodying the 4 Agile values and its 12 principles, and promoting any specific state-of-the-art methods and tools required to make projects successful.

An agile PMO wants to deliver valuable increments early, frequently, and to a robust level of quality. It works in small increments rather than in a big planned way. It wants the opportunity to learn as it goes along, to test assumptions, and to make changes in what it does when needed. By working in an iterative and incremental way, such an agile PMO can evidence a better control of risk and get an earlier return on investment than otherwise done.

Your reactions and comments are welcomed.

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe

[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

[1] http://agilemanifesto.org/

[2] Five Secrets to Scaling Up Agile, BCG, Feb. 2016

A population

3 Human Dynamics That Help a PMO Make Projects Better Succeed

If too many projects fail to deliver their promises, project practitioners, project leaders, and especially PMOs can make their projects better succeed when they draw on human dynamics. Among them, 3 are most important: developing a people-oriented project cause, building a community of decentralized change agents, and creating a buddy system.

The number one target of any project is neither a financial benefit nor a market share. The number one target for any project is always the population it serves.

“What’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships” says Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG)[i].

This is now so new. Four centuries B.C., the Chinese Confucian philosopher Mencius[ii] already wrote that “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the least”.

Today, many great leaders develop practical ways to put people at the first place. Among them, the charismatic, then fifty-year old CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar[iii], promoted his radical management philosophy “Employees First, Customers Second” or “EFCS.” Management’s focus on employee culture as a competitive differentiator led to a remarkable turnaround in HCL’s market share and mind share, over a period starting from 2005 until this date. EFCS was initially driven by management and embraced by employees. Over the years, however, the concept has taken on new meaning by becoming employee-driven and management-embraced in the form of programs and initiatives driven by employees.

Successful project practioners also put people at the very first place in their everyday life. Numerous ways to realize this exist. However I would like to share with you 3 actions in the domain of human dynamics that have been most effective in my own work within the project management area.

 

1.     Develop a people-oriented project cause

 

A large complex project bears similarities with revolutionary wars. The population is at the core of the project as it is at the center of a revolution. The project team has mostly one asset, which is the power of the cause the project is supporting. The organization has control on most other assets, from the command and control system to the infrastructure and the project budget.

Therefore a project must have a great and powerful cause. This cause must answer real needs of people. The very strength of a project is assessed by the extent of support to its cause from the population it concerns. A cause must answer a problem, a need, or a desire. No problem, no cause. The problem can be political, social, economic, racial, or virtual. The cause must present positive elements for each and everyone, not only for a minority.

These positive outcomes are both personal gains for the individuals adopting the cause, and organizational benefits for the organization as a whole. The cause must be seducing and able to touch hearts. The project manager, its team and its PMO, must understand that words are the connection between them and their stakeholders. These words must be credible and clear.

Here is one example. Essilor, the world’s largest producer of eyeglass lenses is dedicated to “improving lives by improving sight.” What a great cause when you remember that 4.5 billion people need vision correction, with 2.5 billion living with uncorrected vision problems!

 

an appealing cause

Isn’t sharing a coffee and macarons an appealing cause?

Before you start a project, make sure that it is supported by an appealing cause serving first the interests of all those who will benefit from this project.

You do not build a plant. You develop a business serving a population. You do not build an opera house. You build “a place to take in a spectacular horizon, then broaden your own.” as expressed by the Sydney Opera House

How can you develop a great cause? Here is a simple approach. Gather a certain number of your stakeholders, internal and external, from bottom to top. Create a number of teams with around five to seven people. Ask them to describe their environment once your project successfully delivered. Assign in each group a writer and an interviewer (each being also able to participate and give their opinion), and then listen to the findings. The program cause (and even more) is in your hands.

 

2.     Create Your Community of Decentralized Change Agents

 

A great cause does not fly in the air by itself. People like ideas promoted by individuals they trust. These individuals are like nodes in a network. Build a community of decentralized trust change agents well embedded in the population. The change agent at the origin of a cause, as well as the project manager, the PMO, and all project stakeholders must also be identified with the cause. Remember Gandhi saying that “the change agent must be the change.”

An alliance of decentralized change agents is the secret ingredient of successful indirect project management approaches. Only a community of allied change agents can overcome the vertical barriers and silos traditional vertical management cannot overcome. As soon as you need to drive a collective action, the importance of allies emerges. Management by influence replaces hierarchical management in an alliance that is driven by a temporary shared and balanced interest in a specific cause.

Such an informal trust network of local relays forms a community you will animate around your appealing cause. A community is more than the informal trust network often cited in management books. A community is “a group of nodes that have a higher likelihood of connecting to each other than to nodes from other communities[iv].” The level of connectedness and the intensity of the connections will allow development while each of the individuals forming this community will still belong to other communities, including their own local organization. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French aviator and writer, tells us that:

The greatness of a profession is above all uniting human beings; there is only one true luxury and that is human relationships[v].

A sustainable alliance of trusted agents is built over time, not in a short duration. Trust requires a quality dialog, kept commitments, and mutual respect. While tactical alliances exist, only strategic long-term ones present the characteristics of robustness and sustainability required in large complex transformation programs.

An alliance is possible here since most allies are equals while the project leadership team, and especially its leader and its PMO, is a “primus inter pares.” Groups of people in a true alliance treat each other as equals. They work together to meet a common goal like delivering a shared project objective. Allies make decisions together and deal with the consequences of their decisions jointly. Once its goal is reached, this alliance may dissolve. The shared goal is the nucleus of the partnership.

If partners of the alliance are of unequal power or level, they have a more really patron-client type of relationships. This relationship is based on a prior obligation rather than a partnership centered on a common goal. The patron-client relationship must start with a gift and we know that there is no such thing as a free gift. If someone gives us a gift, then we are obliged to give something or do something in return. The gift giver becomes the patron of the gift receiver, who becomes the client. Such a gift can be an official status within a high-visibility project, or a place around a steering committee table.

 

A web of change agents

Change agents are like water pearls on a spider web

The very first step you have to take is to identify and to create a community relying on local relays who will act as decentralized change agents. They will be proxies to further the transformation goals in their own direct environment. They will be local agents willing and capable to act as local proxies of the transformation.

The candidates for such a role have to possess three capabilities relating to the alignment and the execution of the project.

  • The first capability is to feed the project strategy with his organization’s strategy in order to make sure the program answers the organization’s goals.
  • The second capability is to feed his organization’s strategy with the project strategy in order to make sure that the organization will contribute to the program objectives.
  • The third capability is to put in place and run specific governance, methods, and tools that help realize and monitor its progress and benefits achievement.

 

3.     Make This Community Become a Buddy System

 

A buddy system brings together people, the “buddies.” These people then operate as a single unit. They constantly monitor and help each other. The buddy system is a long-term indefectible relationship of trust and support between two individuals. Buddies must share the hard work each day. They must develop a mutual trust nothing will destroy. They must be ready to share the pains and gains. They must be linked from the beginning until the end of their endeavor, whatever the outcome. Each buddy must have his skin in the same game.

If you are a Project Management Officer, create a buddy system with your project leader. If you are a Project Leader, create a buddy system with your sponsor.

 

A buddy system

When PMOs and Project Leaders are buddies, success Is around the corner

Dan Vasella, former Novartis CEO, said that[vi] every CEO needs someone who can listen—a board member, an adviser—someone to whom he can speak in total confidence, to whom he can say, “I’ve had it; I’m about to resign.” Or, “I really want to beat this guy up.” You need someone who understands and can help you to find the balance.

Great pairs of individuals have often been at the origin of great success in organizational development. Look at one of the best known buddy systems, where Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak launched Apple in 1976. Another wonderful example is given by the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard. They founded the Michelin Company in 1889 with 52 employees. Michelin is still today one of the best and most successful company.

Many high-level leaders want a buddy. Joseph Ackermann, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank[vii] stated that

leaders must create cultures of constructive skepticism and surround themselves with people who bring multiple perspectives and have no fear of challenging the boss.

The very first level of buddy system you have to create concerns the onboarding of new team members. Assign him or her to a workplace buddy.

And go as far as possible on your way to develop a buddy system. As Larry Fowler, BUDS Class 89 Graduated, reminds[viii]:

“A good swim buddy will stoke your inner fires to be a winner! He is always turbo-charged and in-your-face to keep you motivated to complete each BUDS evolution. And you’re returning the favor. He reminds you to take one evolution at a time. He’s there to jet-propel you when you’re down and will get between you and the ‘bell’ if – and when – you get knocked down. If you’re on a six mile ocean swim and you suck water, he has two choices… carry you or suck water too. You’re one.”

 

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe

[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

If you want to contact me, please get to www.philippehusser.com

 

[i] Cited by Richard Branson in « Three things I look for in pitches,” www.virgin.com

[ii] Mengzi, Jin Xin II, Chinese Text project, http://ctext.org/

[iii] V. Nayar, Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional management Upside Down, 2010, Harvard Business Review Press.

[iv] Albert-László Barabási, Network Science

[v] Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Terre des Hommes, Translated into English as Wind, Sand and Stars (1939).

[vi] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.

[vii] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.

[viii] http://www.navy.org/4-dead-on-rules-for-anyone-wanting-to-become-a-navy-seal/

 

Check out my New Book

The High-Impact PMO, How Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World

This book offers an innovative view of what is taking place in the world of project management offices, and gives valuable insights that will allow you to successfully navigate the increasing complexity of our modern world.

Roundabout

Only an Indirect Approach Works in a Complex World

An indirect approach helps project practioners navigate complexity with more chance of success than direct approaches that too often fail to cope with uncertain and volatile environments.

[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

 

The Direct Approach – Goals, Ways, Means

 

In the direct approach, one designs an ideal desired model. The engineer designs a product, the change agent defines a new business model, and the economist sets a growth target. This model becomes the goal to achieve. Those who set this goal launch a project. Their will make them decide on and commit to a particular course of action to impose their model to the existing reality. They define a direct approach based on goals, ways, and means.

Mencius, or Mengzi (372 – 289 BC), one of the most famous Confucian philosophers, warns us about direct approaches. VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) is a characteristic of life. Most circumstances are unpredictable. Therefore developing upstream a detailed project roadmap forecasting both the outputs and the outcomes of a project can only be sooner or later fatally flawed.

 

indirect approach

They, who assist their corn to grow long, pull out their corn.

What they do is not only of no benefit to the nature, but it also injures it.

Mencius[1]

 

Typical examples of direct approaches abound. Among them, the Empire State Building is one of the most famous.

 

direct approach

The Empire State Building project delivered a successful output and a late outcome

Its sponsors, General Motors executive John J. Raskob and former New York Governor Al Smith, set two objectives. The building had to be taller than their competitor Chrysler’s building. And it had to be finished before May 1, 1931. The building (the project “output”) was not only completed on time and under budget, but it was the tallest building in the world when it was officially opened on May 1, 1931. Contractors Starrett Brothers and Eken used an assembly line process to erect the new skyscraper in a brisk 410 days, finishing ahead of schedule. The lower than planned wages and material costs due to the Great Depression decreased the final budget.  Yet less than 25 percent of the building’s retail space was occupied upon its opening in 1931, earning it the nickname the “Empty State Building.” The owner bankruptcy has been avoided thanks to the enormous success of the building’s belvedere. The Empire State Building only became profitable in 1950 (the “outcome”).

The question remains to know whether what is successful on a technical point of view is also true on a social or economical point of view. The application of well defined methods and of processes is becoming less effective when you get higher in the hierarchy of things or when you become more strategic. In those situations, you face more living and social forces than physical or mechanistic phenomena. We can only draw uneasy comfort from this: as the world becomes more complex, traditional theories explain less. On a grand scale, the increasing complexity of foreign affairs cuts against the comfortable assumptions of classical approaches. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google said that:

we can tell you with 100 percent certainty that if you have a business plan, it is wrong. MBA-style business plans, no matter how well conceived and thought out are always flawed in some important way. Faithfully following that plan will result in what entrepreneur Eric Ries calls achieving failure… It is fine to have a plan, but understand that it will change as you progress and discover new things…

 

The Indirect Approach – Situations, Potentials, Circumstances

 

A solution for navigating in complexity is the indirect approach. There one sees the environment as a continuously evolving process that should not be blocked by our action but that should be facilitated towards the direction we desire. Instead of defining a model, an indirect approach focuses your attention on the course of things in order to make you take advantage of their evolution. Your role consists to help the situation evolve favorably.

Mencius explains that you have three key dimensions to consider. The first one is the situation in which you are positioned. The second one is the potential this situation offers you. And the third one is made of the circumstances that make the potential become ripe.

Your success relies primarily on the potential. Evaluating a situation (and therefore developing business intelligence) becomes more important than planning what needs to be done. Sensing the potential requires also more talent than tools and techniques. This is the domain of experienced project management practitioners. Instead of willing to impose a model and a plan to the world, they let them be carried by the course of things and by the circumstances they come across.

Being patient and waiting the opportune time is a key success factor. If the situation is not favorable, the wise sits back. He waits until the situation becomes favorable. He yields to time.

Letting the process go, and at the same time, not letting it go without acting is the difficult but rewarding way of an indirect approach. You must facilitate the transformation by cultivating the conditions of smooth and favorable growth. It means both facilitating the process and eliminting the roadblocks and the constraints.

 

The Three Princes of Serendip

Real life stories bring many great examples of indirect approaches that succeeded. However, one of my preferred stories is the following. In the Far East, a long time ago, there was a King named Giaffer. He had three sons whose education he entrusted to the best tutors. Once he found that they were excellent in virtue, sciences, and wisdom, he invited one after the other to accept to reign at his place as the King. But each one refused at his turn with modesty the crown. Thus the King sent them to find the magic formula of the death of the dragons.

Follow a long series of fortuitous events that they successfully used to show their wisdom, compassion, and support to others.

A first encounter brings them a part of the formula they were seeking. A second encounter makes them describe with incredible precisions a camel a merchant had lost. The camel, they say, is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. The Persian King Bahram sentenced them first to death, before pardoning them and inviting them to stay with him a few days once the camel was retrieved. This invitation makes them aware that the King’s Vizier planned to soon poison him. While the King decides to cut off the Vizier’s head, the three princes recommend that the Vizier be rather exiled in a country where his proper son had already been exiled. In recognition, the Vizier gives them another important piece of information concerning the magic formula they seek. The story ends well. The princes understand that they did not learn more with the formula than what they already knew. Instead, tears of compassion they shed for poor villagers they met killed the dragons forever. The story ends with the King Bahram thanking them for the splendor and serenity they brought to his kingdom and their return home to succeed their father.

This story of three princes who are regularly making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things that they were not in quest of is an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip attributed to the Sufi poet Amir Khusrow (1253-1325). The princes live successive events that are fortuitous. They show each time a wonderful capacity to take profit of the events for the good of others. This capacity called serendipity is also an indirect approach.

 

A Few Key Takeways

 

If project outputs and outcomes are only tangible and material, the direct approach may be the most effective one. However, more intangible and social environments render the direct approach very uncertain and unpredictable and make indirect approaches preferable. So here are a few selected characteristics of each approach.

  • While a direct approach emphasizes the ends (and therefore the ways and the means to get to these ends), the indirect approach focuses on a potential (and therefore on a situation and the circumstances that will make the potential become favorable at a certain time).
  • A direct approach favors short term results and may be atemporal (it is independent of or unaffected by time). Conversely, an indirect approach is rather intertemporal (it covers different period of time) and it seeks to secure further advantages.
  • In the direct approach, you impose your action and by imposition of your will and rhythm you do not respect the spontaneous process of development and transformation you want for your environment. You do not let the effect mature. In the indirect approach, you stay aside of the playfield and you assist without action to the spontaneous development of the things. However, as Mencius explains:

It does not mean one must be without action.

It means that one must weed, hoe, and water the corn.

We must wait until it is ripe.

 

indirect approach

 

Philippe Husser

www.philippehusser.com

 

[1] Mencius II, A, 2.

Burger

Become an Agile High Impact PMO in a Complex World

This article reviews how you can become an agile high impact PMO in a complex world. It is the new version of an article I wrote July, 24 on LinkedIn and that got some success. It takes now into account the numerous comments I have received from LinkedIn members since then. It is part of a book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October 2017, revised in August 2018 and that is available on Amazon.

High-Impact PMO

The Black Label Burger Bottom Bun

Did you ever ask yourself why burgers had a bun as a foundation?

There is an excellent reason revealed by two friends, Johann and Blandine. That was a sunny and cool autumn day in New York. Both were enjoying a lunch together at Minetta Tavern where they ate Black Label Burgers. Both Blandine and Johann were working at a well-known Aerospace business where Blandine served as Director of a Transformation Program and her good friend Johann was a Business Unit Project Management Officer (PMO). They inquisitively pondered the question of the burger’s foundation and compared the burger and its bun to a project and its PMO.

They found that the bottom bun, like a PMO, was the most important part required to eat the burger properly or in the case of PMO, to manage a project successfully. They shared the conviction that PMOs were the indispensable foundation of any complex project, program, or portfolio and without them; a high quality experience would be lost.

Some projects taste better than others. Some PMOs deliver a higher impact than others. Yet, they imagined what the burger would be without the indispensable component compared to what a project would be without a PMO. The picture on top of this article visualizes what Blandine and Johann had in mind. On top are stakeholders like sponsors, customers, or product owners. In-between are project teams, project managers, and all sorts of contributing stakeholders. The bottom bun is the PMO.

The PMO Challenge

If the PMO is such a critical element of any project, program, or portfolio’s success, why are they so often considered small players and low value added actors?

Several recent surveys found that PMOs were often considered “paper tigers” because of their apparent lack of recognized contribution to a project success, other than being administrative assistants to the project leader. Their fundamental and indispensable influence on project outputs (products, services, and any other result like The Great Wall of China or a book published) and outcomes (benefits and value provided to the sponsor and all other beneficiaries, like the reinforcement of a strategic position or great sales of a published book) is too often ignored.

Nevertheless, like in the case of Black Label Burgers, complex projects or portfolios of projects have a greater chance of being successful when their mix of components is supported by a PMO capable of navigating complexity. A great PMO is the number one key success factor of any large and complex endeavor.

PMOs and Complexity

Blandine and Johann had a conviction that originated in their long career in project management and in their deep understanding of the challenges project managers and PMOs face every day.

This conviction is that the primary challenge in project management comes from the characteristics of complexity all projects, programs, and portfolios show. Complexity has many sources. Among these sources are three fundamental characteristics that make an endeavor complex:

· The high number of variables involved. Just think of the number of stakeholders, within and outside an organization, that are working on a large project.

· The nonlinearity of the interactions between these variables. Have you ever accelerated by two a project by putting twice as many team members?

· The irreversibility of phenomena within complex systems. When a project roadmap has been implemented in an organization and then stopped because of its failure to achieve the intended results, can the organization really go back to its initial state before the project launch?

Blandine and Johann know intuitively that the role of a PMO needs to be elevated and developed to navigate this complexity. The search for agility in project management is a favorable move. However, this is still largely insufficient to confront the complexity of our world, complexity that requires a real openness to the immense variety of this world.

PMOs capable of putting in place innovative processes, tools, and competencies adapted to our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment not only allow projects, programs, and portfolios to better deliver promised benefits, but also are recognized as High-Impact PMOs by peers, managers, and generally speaking all stakeholders.

The High-Impact PMO

Project, program, and portfolio management capabilities are often structured around three domains: the domain of Technical knowledge in project management, the domain of Leadership, and the domain of Strategic and Business management. These domains are what everyone needs to master in order to have a chance to manage successful projects.

However, these traditional capabilities obviously do not suffice to make every project successful in a VUCA environment.

The book The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World proposes to explore innovative practices that can be grouped in three domains of knowledge, which I believe should be taught in the project management world.

These three domains are the following:

· The domain of Complexity Sciences.

· The domain of Indirect Strategies.

· The domain of Human Dynamics.

Complexity Sciences complement what you already practice in the Technical project management domain. Indirect Strategies complement what you already practice in the Strategic and Business management domain. Human Dynamics complement what you already practice in the Leadership domain.

Once studied and learned, these domains make you much more comfortable in navigating complexity. They offer you two benefits. As a first benefit, you become more than ever able to deliver an impact in your projects, programs, and portfolios. As a second benefit, you also become more than ever recognized as an indispensable buddy to any large complex project team. In the end, you will especially love to be a PMO, a High-Impact PMO, and a recognized value-adding PMO.

Philippe Husser

October 12, 2017

 

Comments and new inputs are welcomed on Linkedin or on my site at www.philippehusser.com

Complexity dragon

3 Domains Project Management Practitioners Must Learn to Confront the Complexity Dragon

Project practioners and especially project management offices (PMO) can explore and practice complexity sciences, indirect strategies, and human dynamics to deliver more successful projects, programs, and portfolios.

Do you know that that there are several tens of millions of Project Managers in the world? If the number of PMOs seems difficult to apprehend, there is no doubt that it represents a large percentage of the previous number.

On the impact side, are you aware that most surveys find fewer than a third of all projects being successfully completed (whatever means success for project)? Now, can you imagine a world where PMOs would contribute to, say, double the number of successful projects?

The fundamental foe to fight in any project, program, and portfolio is complexity.

Complexity is the dragon that, like the Phoenix, always rises from its ashes.

However, there are solutions PMOs may decide to explore and adopt if they want to better navigate complexity, and, at the end, make their projects more successful.

Let me share with you what I have experienced as a tinkerer for more than 40 years in complex project management.

Project, program, and portfolio practitioners and especially the PMOs can find actionable insights by exploring, learning, and putting in practice

  • complexity sciences,
  • indirect strategies,
  • and human dynamics.

When they do, they soon become “high-impact PMOs.”

Complexity Sciences

Complexity Sciences show project management techniques that are adapted to organizations seen as dissipative and complex adaptive systems.

These sciences explore typical questions. What is the difference between simple, complicated, and complex? What is a dissipative system? How to deal with nonlinear behaviors? Is a complex system predictable? How important are initial conditions when propelling a change in a social organization? What are phase transitions or avalanches? What is the difference between fragility and antifragility, between resilience and efficiency? How do social networks function? How do you create favorable conditions for achieving tipping points?

Indirect Strategies

Indirect Strategies consist in studying and developing roundabout approaches that are adapted to a complex world where direct strategies fail most of the time.

Here also they explore typical questions. Should multimodal approaches study and practice both the Chinese indirectness (situation, potential, opportunity) and the Western directness (goals, ways, means)? What if project approaches were intertemporal rather than temporal? Is it worth losing first to earn more lately? What means pulling back before re-engaging? How to connect a portfolio with a strategy? And how to describe a strategy in one page? What role should have and should not have measures? How to use a five-ring framework to define and monitor your approach?

Human Dynamics

Human Dynamics deal with extended social sciences, both hard (like social network analysis for example) and soft (like cultural understanding for example). They come from our very diverse and complex world.

Human Dynamics go well beyond traditional leadership. They also explore many topics. Why and how to really position people as your number one focus? What are the social structures, cultures, languages, behaviors, influence networks concerned by a project? Can we detect and overcome the Procrustean bias? Why buddy systems are they so powerful? What impact have cognitive biases, synergies and antagonisms, on our decision-making processes? How to capitalize on all human and technological means available today to progress in this domain? Why learn and understand different cultures? How to make an impact when dealing with people or an audience?

Explore and Learn

By studying these three domains and by putting what they learn into practice, project management practioners and especially PMOs get a real chance to better navigate within complex environments and to deliver higher results in what they do.

To your continued success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO