Complex Problems and Light-weight Project Management

I'm currently working on a new project which aims to reexamine one of the key components of our economy and how it might be modified to reduce waste, risk and in the process increase productivity and profit. As you might surmise, it is connected to the built environment.

I was reviewing some thoughts and notes with one of the team members last evening and the topic of  light-weight project management tools came up. If you aren't familiar with the term you probably have heard about Agile and Lean methods. They are the two leading PM methods classified as light-weight methods. Each has their own areas of application, one does not substitute for the other and there are dialects within each of these major classes. On the Agile side are two major dialects called Scrum and eXtreme Project Management (XPM). Scrum being the oldest and eXtreme being younger and having Doug DeCarlo as it's creator and proponent. Scrum came out of a skunkworks kind of environment and is almost totally focused on software development where Mr. DeCarlo's methods are used largely in the software world there is a growing interest and adoption of his simpler more transferable concepts in other domains.

I've used much of the XPM theory and practice in successfully transforming architectural practices since they largely mimic the same kinds of design processes that software development follows. I've found that the Agile methods and especially XPM fits the fast paced and unknown environment of architectural design much more cleanly than the more structured Lean methods and vastly better than traditional straight-line, cause/effect planning.

If you look at the nature of the practice of architecture and planning they are built on the premise of introducing change into a largely unknown universe of implications by trying to bring some kind of order out of a cauldron of chaos. A wicked or at least complex problem to say the least. XPM is built for these quantum thinking projects where the advocate of solution is to embrace change not superimpose a preconception of solutions used in the past.

XPM focuses on a people-centric process rather than an event or product centered process used in traditional PM. This change in focus and embracing change rather than shunning or trying to control change makes XPM a natural planning method for complex projects. Now people at the center of the work and change control the project rather than a removed and largely disinterested management structure. Focus now is on how to deliver real usable, valuable results, not reports and events at milestones. To be sure this requires commitment from all the involved stakeholders from owners, users, planners, technicians and quality control. No single entity controls all the work, rather a distributed work method is used to create value at the time it is needed.

Obviously, this planning method does not work for all types of projects. Work that is well know and is largely repeatable does not benefit from these methods. Lean or even traditional management would be a far better management framework. Even the scale of a project will often help decide when to use which methods. But when you have a wicked, complex, fast moving, change-prone environment, then look very hard at Agile methods, especially the dialect called XPM.

I'll be writing more about XPM in the future and how you can take Doug's ideas and move them into the domain of the Built Environment very easily. For now, I'd recommend you take a quick look at the resources below as an introduction.


The Essential Elements, Doug DeCarlo

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