Over the last century organisations have invested billions integrating systems theory into their standard operating processes to ensure the delivery of projects are controlled and delivered without omission.
Despite this, actual project outcomes almost always vary from the original plan. It seems no matter how much planning, engineering, blood, sweat and tears a team injects during the Planning Phase there will always be that one oversight just waiting to rear its ugly head. Equally, give two teams an identical complex project to deliver in identical conditions and you can be assured the overall delivery process and outcome of each will be anything but identical; variations in schedule, quality, cost and safety are always certain. So why is it that billions of industry investment in the systemisation of project delivery has failed to yield predictable results? Chaos theory may offer us answers and help explain why variations in project delivery can occur for no apparent reason.
Chaos theory was devised in 1961 when Edward Lorenz attempted to model the earths weather but found that the smallest change equivalent to one millionth of a decimal point made his predictions useless. He called this result the Butterfly Effect whereby a butterfly flaps its wings in Melbourne and a year later a thunderstorm appears over Newcastle. He proved that small changes in initial differences can result in vast changes in the final outcome.
As project managers it is important that chaos is recognised as an invisible stakeholder in all our projects. Anticipating randomised glitches in classical science and planning for the unknown is the responsibility of every good project manager. By planning for chaos, we give rise to order. Ensuring the project team is prepared to influence decisions and behaviour when chaos arises is the best strategy for delivering successful project outcomes. For complex delivery a Project Chaos Plan (PCP) must be developed to establish the framework for managing speculation. The PCP aims to maximise the effectiveness of the project team by:
- identifying current and future uncertainties
- developing plausible scenarios
- prioritising uncertainties based on plausible scenarios
- delivering and communicating strategies and tactics to ensure project managers successfully deliver the required outcomes.