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?

I would like to share an original idea with you. This idea is that 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 show project management techniques that are adapted to organizations seen as dissipative and complex adaptive systems. They 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 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? 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 deal with extended social sciences, both hard (like social network analysis for example) and soft (like cultural understanding for example) adapted to 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? What is the Procrustean bias? Why buddy systems are they so powerful? How do cognitive biases, synergies and antagonisms, decision-making processes play a role? How to capitalize on all human and technological means available today to progress in this domain? How to learn and respect different cultures? How to make an impact when dealing with people or an audience?

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.

This article is derived from the book “The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World.