Custom vs. the Standard Stereotype
The challenge in engineering complex projects is to break the mold of the institution. As the DBM would suggest, all of the rules, regulations, policies and procedures rightfully developed for corporate production, are often not transferable to the custom experience. As such, application of these constraints and pandering to the corporate watchdogs in this regard can subvert project opportunity. For this reason, project offices tend to operate incognito outside the corporate mainstream.
Dynamic Complexity vs. the Detail Complexity Stereotype
It is important to draw the distinction between two types of complexity that we humans confront in our lives. There are "Detail Complexity" and "Dynamic Complexity."
Peter Senge in his book "the Fifth discipline" put it this way. Detail Complexity is "the complexity in which there are many variables". According to Senge, "The reason that sophisticated tools of forecasting and business analysis, as well as elegant strategic plans, usually fail to produce dramatic breakthroughs in managing a business they are all designed to handle the sort of complexity in which there are many variables: detail complexity."
The second type of complexity is dynamic, "situations where cause and effect are subtle and where the effects over time of interventions are not obvious. Conventional forecasting, planning and analysis methods are not equipped to deal with dynamic complexity. The real leverage in most management situations lies in understanding dynamic complexity, not detail complexity."
This makes three points firstly that both detail complexity and dynamic complexity pose challenges for our management requirements, secondly, they are distinct in nature, and thirdly, our tendency is to embrace frameworks associated with detail complexity while not favoring consideration of dynamic complexity.
Now, provided we could pretend-away dynamic complexity, this wouldn't be so bad. A well laid out plan and a carton of pixie dust and away we go. This is where Sociolytic management preference may be outweighing our duty to reality.
In this context, the classical project management archetype is a detail complexity reductionism. It is, in essence, a charter that fixes an objective with the selected project manager, he or she then manages a construction. The application of a Work Breakdown Structure allows us to reduce detail complexity into as fine a granularity as the project manager cares to have. Baselines are formed in a methodology that is set in place and the factors of the construction are marshaled through a rigid methodology to achieve the objective. A bit like a meat grinder, the faster you turn the quicker your building comes into focus. Further information on this archetype is provided as the Level 2 archetype in chapter 5.
Returning to Mencken, "for every complex question there is a simple answer, and it's wrong", applying a tool designed to sort through a detail complexity in circumstances of dynamic complexity is a wrong.
3. Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline The art & practice of the learning organization, Doubleday, 1990.