Orgs Must Take on Innovation and Complexity — Or Else

By Cyndee Miller, senior editor, PM Network

Organizations tend to look to the past to predict the future — yet that’s not the best path to innovation, said author James Burke, Tuesday’s keynote speaker at PMI® Global Congress 2014 — EMEA. “Conformity is essential to security in the present moment,” he said. “But unless an organization updates that paradigm, it won’t be able to process change.”
To cultivate innovation, organizations must learn to think relationally and connectively across business units. And armed with transferrable skills and knowledge, projects practitioners can serve as that valuable connection. “Innovation surges in the connective space between specialist silos,” he said. “The goal is to foster broad-view generalists rather than narrow-view specialists.”
Organizations should also be leveraging big data. “‘Data exhaust’ can be used for predictive analytics,” Mr. Burke said, “and also helps people break out of the box.”
Innovation isn’t the only thing that has organizations scrambling. Complexity can also threaten an organization’s competitive edge — and the projects and programs it undertakes.
“Complexity deals with a lot of unknown unknowns — things you can’t predict,” said Dave Gunner, PMP, PfMP, at HP, a PMI Global Executive Council member organization. “You don’t know when one thing will lead to something else.”
Complexity means different things to different people, said Mr. Gunner, chair of PMI’s Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide core committee and moderator at a congress panel on the topic. But the three main elements are: ambiguity, human behavior and systems behavior.
The predominant characteristic depends on the type of project or program you’re running, said Fadi Samara, PMP, of C4 Advanced Solutions. When he worked at a startup, it was more about the systems. But the people factor often takes center stage when working on a project with multicultural teams.
And beware: Sometimes it’s the project practitioners themselves. “Don’t be a victim of self-inflicted complexity,” said Sam Alkhatib, PMP, of Cupertino Electric. “Don’t do things like micromanaging, focusing on narrow projects, creating the impression you’re advancing projects while in reality, you’re digging into holes. Unnecessary layers of management, confused accountability and confused communication makes complexity worse.”
Mr. Samara said the biggest issue is oversimplification. “People underestimate complex projects due to lack of experience,” he said.
So what does it take? More than 80 percent of respondents to the PMI Pulse of the Profession® survey ranked leadership as the most important skill to deal with project complexity. The panelists agreed: “Leadership is what makes project manager successful,” said Mr. Samara. “It gets resources to do things for you, helps you facilitate problems through relationships and allows you to navigate to a solution.”
How does your organization foster innovation and navigate complexity? For more congress takeaways, read the recap of the first day or check out@PMIcongress.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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