Managing Dynamic Environments ADDITION
Effectively managing complex information technology projects is predominantly an exercise in precision and planning, but the best project managers know that adaptability is often the best way to mitigate the risk factors posed by dynamic environments. Adhering to a company’s most recently issued mission statement is often the primary priority of top managers and executives, and with the fluid nature of modern organizational structures, outdated or obsolete projects reflecting prior mission statements may still be on the company’s proverbial books. In this instance, competent managers are expected to identify projects which do not reflect the company’s current mission statement, either adapting them to ensure compliance across all project parameters, or terminating the project’s progress in an effective and efficient fashion. A recent article published by the prestigious International Journal of Project Management focused its analysis on the role that dynamic environments, which are typified by a continual process of minor system changes and the fluid interplay of resources, in order to determine the optimal strategy for project managers.
Researcher Simon Collyer, of the University of Brisbane Business School, authored the report Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments in 2009, with a stated objective to examine the nature of projects carried out in quickly changing settings (Collyer, 2009). According to Collyer, who conducted a comprehensive research review on the subject, “in the project management context dynamism is taken to be a dimension of a project that represents the extent to which a project is influenced by changes in the environment in which it is conducted” (2009). This innovative approach to the unending stream of stakeholder input, risk management contingencies, executive decrees, and other changes which are inherent to the project management process ultimately proposes a set of informative guidelines under the headings Planning, Experimentation, Lifecycle, Controls, Culture, Communication, and Leadership. Each of these unique leadership styles is then subjected to rigorous analysis to determine the advantages and disadvantages afforded to managers, with a series of relevant examples used for the sake of emphasis. This surprisingly simple method of communicating often intricate managerial techniques proves to be extremely effective, as Collyer references contemporary research seamlessly while providing tangible examples gleaned from anecdotal evidence.
One of the article’s most intriguing observations holds that in any dynamic setting, it is useful for managers to separate the project into various stages, beginning with the most limited scope possible and expanding outwards, as this segmentation technique alleviates the detrimental impacts of environmental fluidity (Collyer, 2009). The article explicitly advises project managers to ensure strict scope controls through precise segmentation. The textbook used throughout this course also warns that “it is crucial for information technology project managers and their teams to work on improving user input and reducing incomplete and changing requirements and specifications & #8230; to avoid project failures” (Schwalbe, 2011), and this advice would appear to align with that given by Collyer. When a multifaceted project is very likely to experience fundamental changes during the course of its completion, the concept of handling each component of the project on a separate basis is especially appealing, because when those inevitable changes eventually occur, they will be isolated to a single segment of the entire project. Project managers have always known this to be true on an instinctual and experiential level, but Collyer’s research quantifies the intangible benefits of segmentation, while showing how this approach to dealing with dynamic environments can be successfully integrated throughout an array of project types.
It is widely known within the project management profession that failure rates increase with project size (Collyer, 2009), but the article goes to great lengths to inform readers as to the effect that dynamic environments can exert on this existing trend. The concept of scope control, while essential to managing projects of every variety, is especially pertinent when attempting to guide a project that is subject to a dynamic environment. In addition to the practice of segmentation described above, Collyer advocates a process known as controlled experimentation for project managers hoping to mitigate the risks of continually changing project parameters. According to Collyer’s research, “organisations in environments with high levels of unknowns should benefit from experimentation, discovery and selection processes” (2009), and confirmation of this theory can be found whenever a major company develops multiple prototypes for prerelease testing, or when firms perform their due diligence using several independent auditors. By spreading resources equally among a number of segments, at least during the initial phases of the project schedule, competent managers can utilize controlled experimentation to quickly identify weaknesses, order improvements, and investing time and energy appropriately once feasibility has been evaluated. The challenges posed by dynamic environments can plague even the most experienced project managers, but by applying the conclusions reached by Collyer and his colleagues, unpredictability can be harnessed to fuel innovation.
Collyer, S. (2009) Project management approaches for dynamic environments. International Journal of Project Management, 27 (4), p.355-364. Available at: http://espace.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:175094/Project_Management.pdf [Accessed: 11th Feb 2013].
Schwalbe, K. (2011) Information technology project management. Boston: Course Technology