Thriving at the Edge of Chaos: Managing Projects as Complex Adaptive Systems

1st Edition

Jonathan Sapir

Productivity Press
December 3, 2019 Forthcoming
Reference - 232 Pages - 10 B/W Illustrations
ISBN 9780367404642 - CAT# 331590

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Complexity in business is a fast-growing problem. Inflexibility, and the inability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances are chronic inhibitors to the success of every organization. In this increasingly dynamic and unpredictable world, workers must respond to constant change and deal with an environment full of exceptions. These problems are becoming more critical as companies face tougher competition, expand globally, increase outsourcing, and need to cope with an increasingly chaotic world. The organization pays for this complexity in delayed time-to-market, slow customer response, and decreased productivity. For many organizations, the way in which processes and projects (work management) are managed is a fundamental factor in how well they can prosper in today’s marketplace. By improving efficiency, driving productivity and reducing costs, organizations can increase throughput, improve service and bring new products to market faster. Unfortunately, the current solutions available to companies for managing work in this environment have limited capacity to meet these challenges effectively and are unlikely to have the kind of impact they need. Tweaking the currently work environment may provide some minimal gains, but to have a real impact requires a change in mindset. Every kind of management is based on an accepted worldview, or paradigm. We just operate under that paradigm and try to optimize it by, for example, sending more people to training, or hiring better project managers. These things may give you a small boost in production, but they are not going to be game changers for your organization. At some point we cannot get better within the paradigm anymore. This is when we are given a choice: we can either accept that we have reached the end of the line and stay within that paradigm. Or we can shift the paradigm. There’s nothing physical or expensive about paradigm change. Uber is a perfect example of a company that understood the impact of shifting paradigms. New business models like Uber show us that the most efficient operations behave like complex adaptive systems (CAS) where self-managing participants, following a set of simple rules, organize themselves to solve incredibly complex problems. Instead of trying to function like a “well-oiled machine” where things “work like clockwork”, an organization needs to function more like a living organism that is alive and constantly changing. It fully embraces characteristics of a CAS. CAS thinking is a way of challenging taken for granted assumptions about how people, organizations, and systems interact. Viewing an organization as a complex adaptive system drives a new philosophy of work management. So, to get the quantum leap improvement in work production that an organization is looking for, they need to question the underlying assumptions that support the paradigm and replace them with something that is more likely to give them the results they want. This requires killing the sacred cows upon which traditional process and project management is based, and indeed, by establishing a different mindset or worldview – by shifting paradigms. This book exposes the assumptions underlying the accepted paradigm of work management, describes the common practices that are based on those assumptions, analyzes why these practices are unhelpful and even harmful, and proposes an alternative, sometimes seemingly counter intuitive approaches to work management. By the end of the book, the reader will have a completely new perspective on the way work can be managed in their organization, and how they can quickly start reaping the benefits provided by a work management methodology and supporting toolset that is more in tune with today’s business demands, and turns complexity into a competitive advantage.


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