Making complex projects more predictable and profitable

19 Mar 2018

By Laurie Bowman

Complex projects are characterised by a huge variety of inputs and this creates a challenging environment in which to make decisions.

Two white arrow, one long and twisted and one shorter and straightened out, against a pale blue backgroundAs human beings, we are naturally biased and often go on "gut feel". This is fine if you are being chased by a lion, but in the complex world of project management, where there are multiple sources of data, the right course of action is not always so obvious.

This is where technology can play an invaluable role by tracking and measuring the key things that are important to the organisation, namely, its strategic purpose and cultural values. Putting these guiding principles at the heart of every significant decision made will prevent random bias and keep the compass pointing firmly in the direction of overall goals.

To do so effectively, there are a number of elements to consider:

Measure what matters
This means setting out and measuring the key strategic benefits of the project and the organisational values in terms of internal behaviours. If the main objective is to improve safety, for example, then leading indicators of safety need to be tracked and evaluated throughout the execution of the project. Continually tracking the strategic purpose of the project in this way will help to shape the decision-making process.

Make it safe to fail
Complex projects often operate in uncertain environments so it is even more important to create a culture where failure is allowed. Teams working in these situations need to innovate, experiment and try new things, but this will only happen successfully if they feel safe and supported – even when things go wrong.

Use virtual models to analyse scenarios
Take advantage of the advanced technology available today. Whether using 3D modelling or Monte Carlo risk analysis, organisations can look at any number of virtual scenarios before committing to an actual decision. This offers a great opportunity to identify areas for improvements without making the investment up front. It's simply a question of doing the analysis first and then choosing which way to go.

Mix up the team
Put together a diverse team to boost creative thinking. By actively bringing in new faces, organisations can avoid falling into the old way of doing things, stop "group thinking" and inspire better brainstorming outcomes. It's always a good idea to mix up the group dynamics; young people may bring in new tech that others may never have dreamt of and experienced voices will help to broaden the options available and strengthen the decision-making process.

Educate and influence
Despite the availability of unbelievably powerful technology to help analyse performance, a major obstacle to fully realising its potential is human behaviour. There can be an underlying mistrust of these types of tools, so helping people to understand the benefits and feel comfortable with the high level of transparency is essential.

For training and further information, see the following courses on offer at DDLS:


Laurie Bowman
Principal, Project Planning and Control Trainer, and Coach

Laurie Bowman