24 June 2012
This is a concise, easy to read, almost conversational book, which will make you think about how you manage a complex project. The author gives the reader insights not only from his 40 year career, but also some of his hobbies (look out for the comment on building a kit car), and latterly his work on experiential learning.
All that the author asks is that you approach this book with an open mind, he doesn’t expect you to take what he proposes as being the silver bullet for all projects, and he is ready to be challenged should you disagree with anything he says. As he says, it has worked for him in his situation, but you may find yourself in a slightly different place so his approach may not be completely relevant, but it may start you off in the right direction.
The introduction talks you through the challenges of complex projects, and has a great comment about how trying to apply existing industry PM tools to a complex project is the same as shouting louder when a person from another country doesn’t understand English.
You are then taken through what is a complex project and then gives a simple comparison of first and second order project management being akin to learning to play an instrument versus giving a concert virtuoso performance.
The idea of leadership in an uncertain world seemed to speak for itself, if the world was certain then would we need leaders? The section on vision and also the description of risk horizons were well explained, but the ideas of the conspiracy of optimism and improvisational management took a bit more thinking about – remember as the reader we need to keep an open mind....
Outcomes and ethics talks about if we are doing the right things for the right reasons, I must admit that I have come across projects continuing because someone has a love for the technology rather than there being a justifiable business need, but this book looks at how with complex projects other things come into play such as politics and loss of face.
Part II talks to the systems and tools available for second order project management such as experiential learning and appropriate contracting. Initially the thought of “learning” whilst in the middle of a complex project took some getting used to. One would hope a project manager is assigned because he knows what to do, not to learn the job as he goes along, but on closer reading this alludes to doing detailed studies of similar projects, talking with your more experienced colleagues and applying what you’ve learned to what you’re doing to steer the project in the right direction.
Appropriate contracting seems to be a pretty common sense thing to me, no special skills required, just honesty and integrity. The gist of this section seems to be that contracting is more than just about earning or saving money, it’s about earning trust as well.
In conclusion this book is worth a read if you’re facing a new more complex challenge than you are used to or you want to improve the outcomes of your projects. As the author says doing things the same way will produce the same results, so go on be brave, open your mind and try something different.
Duncan Chappell, PMP, President PMI UK Chapter