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Project Manager : Project Manager Apr May 2014
22 Project Manager When projects or programs are made up of wicked problem components, they are known as wicked projects. Andrew Finegan, a former Senior Lecturer in Project Management at the University of Adelaide, says that wicked projects inherently "do not respond well to the structured and rigorous processes and tools associated with the standard project management techniques." Not only are they difficult to solve, wicked problems are complex because of how difficult they are to define. Explaining the exact nature of the issue can be part of the problem. Professor Christophe Bredillet, Director of Project Management Academy at the Queensland University of Technology, believes that wicked problems are steeped in political and societal issues, involving multiple stakeholders with divergent interests. This means that wicked projects can often concern behavioural complexity and, when they do, Finegan says they "cannot be solved -- only contained -- resulting in wicked projects." Examples of wicked projects, according to Bredillet, are those embedded in VUCA context -- reflecting on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of situations. These include: • International development projects • Social and ethical issues such as marriage equality or immigration policy • Social reform systems such as Obamacare • Major infrastructure, for example the Channel Tunnel • Environmental issues like climate change • Any organisational change, including mergers or acquisitions of companies such as a major acquisition in the Defence sector Wicked projects are inherently complex; there are no simple options for successfully resolving them, so the tools used need to be all-inclusive and analytical of an organisation and its stakeholders. Systems thinking -- a process of understanding how systems influence and impact one another -- can be very helpful for practitioners up against a wicked project. Two texts that shed light on systems thinking are Michael C. Jackson's Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers and Remington and Pollack's Tools for Complex Projects. "These texts also determine different types of complexities and what methodologies are suitable for dealing with them," Stephen Hayes, CEO of the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM), says. WICKED PROJECTS • Finegan, Andrew. 'Making Sense of Wicked Problems'. Proceedings of the XXIV FIG International Congress. Sydney, NSW (2010): pp.1-15. • Jackson, Michael C. Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers. Wiley: 2003. • Remington, Kaye and Julien Pollack. Tools for Complex Projects. Gower Publishing: 2007. • Rittel, Horst WJ and Melvin M Webber. 'Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.' Policy Sciences 4 (1973): 155-169. • Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Random House: 2007. FURTHER READING Bredillet agrees, explaining that Jackson switches a functionalist paradigm for Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) as a way of constructively dealing with wicked projects. SSM is an excellent tool for wicked problems, as it encourages practitioners to take a holistic view of the organisation and its people, analysing different viewpoints and perspectives to facilitate learning and change. Methods associated with systems thinking such as polarity management, which is a set of principles to deal with ongoing, chronic issues that are unavoidable and unsolvable, can also be used. "Often the answer is not either centralisation or decentralisation; instead, we need to take a systemic view of an issue," says Hayes, explaining why polarity management might come to bear on a wicked project. ••• •COVER STORY
Project Manager Feb Mar 2014