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Project Manager : Project Manager Apr May 2014
18 Project Manager •COVER STORY Know your enemy A solid understanding of wicked problems, starting with Rittel and Webber's 1973 analysis of them, can prepare project managers somewhat. Rittel and Webber believe wicked problems are de ned by 10 characteristics: • Wicked problems have no defnitive formulation. For mulating the problem and the solution is essentially the same task. Each attempt at creating a solution changes your understanding of the problem. • Wicked problems have no stopping rule. Since you can’t defne the problem in any single way, it's di cult to tell when it is resolved. e problem-solving process ends when resources are depleted, stakeholders lose interest or political realities change. • Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good- or-bad. Since there are no unambiguous criteria for deciding if the problem is resolved, getting all stakeholders to agree that a resolution is 'good enough' can be a challenge, but getting to a 'good enough' resolution may be the best we can do. • Tere is no immediate or ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. Since there is no singular description of a wicked problem, and since the very act of intervention has at least the potential to change that which we deem to be 'the problem', there is no one way to test the success of the proposed resolution. • Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences. Solutions to such problems generate waves of consequences and it's impossible to know, in advance and completely, how these waves will eventually play out. • Wicked problems don’t have a well-described set of potential solutions. Various stakeholders have di ering views of acceptable solutions. It's a matter of judgment as to when enough potential solutions have emerged and which should be pursued. • Each wicked problem is essentially unique. Tere are no 'classes' of solutions that can be applied, a priori, to a speci c case. "Part of the art of dealing with wicked problems is the art of not knowing too early what type of solution to apply." • Each wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem. A wicked problem is a set of interlocking issues and constraints that change over time, embedded in a dynamic social context. But, more importantly, each proposed resolution of a particular description of 'a problem' should be expected to generate its own set of unique problems. • Te causes of a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. ere are many stakeholders who will have various and changing ideas about what might be a problem, what might be causing it and how to resolve it. ere is no way to sort these di erent explanations into sets of correct/incorrect. • Te planner (designer) has no right to be wrong. Scientists are expected to formulate hypotheses, which may or may not be supportable by evidence. Designers don't have such a luxury; they are expected to get things right. Yet, there will always be some condition under which planners will be w rong. Softly, softly Once a project manager recognises that he or she is dealing with one or more wicked problems, according to former Senior Lecturer in Project Management at the University of Adelaide Andrew Finegan, they can address wicked problems through projects with: • e xtensive consultation • management of confict • acceptance that simple trade- oﬀs may not be feasible • new partnerships negotiated and new sustainable practices developed A soft, people-based approach can provide both str ucture and a collaborative response to wicked problems. “Soft systems thinking should be used to support the di erent levels and phases of knowledge management,” Finegan e xplains. By using Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in the early stages of projects, practitioners will be helping the various stakeholders to achieve a common understanding of the problem at hand. SSM should be used in tandem with stakeholder analysis – investigating individuals' viewpoints and whether they relate to organisational realities. "It's thought that stakeholder analysis is particularly useful for tur ning wicked problems into problems that can be solved,” says Finegan. Bredillet himself used SSM for a project beset with wicked problems, when he was in charge of creating a Governmental Portfolio Management Oﬃce (PMO) to outline and maintain standards for project management for a West African country, working directly with the President's o ce. " e overall purpose was to manage, in a coordinated way, all the projects and programs funded by more than 30 main development agencies and international development banks. is was a typical e xample of a wicked project, with political issues, power str uggles, corr uption, bribes and so on," he explains. " e PMO was supposed to bring transparency and clarify responsibility and accountability for ministries. It was also meant to o er a sound governance str ucture vis-à-vis its various stakeholders – country, agencies, banks and citizens.”
Project Manager Feb Mar 2014