Archive for April, 2010

Ideas, like water, can become solidified too soon.

Nearly every firm claims to value collaboration, but differing amounts of interactive wall space speak louder than words about how people really work together. For example, the presence of one or two rickety flip charts (RFCs) in the corner of a meeting space says that thinking tends to occur in isolation and solutions are solidified before they are given wider exposure. Ideas in these RFC cultures tend to be owned by individuals and defended; the notion of emergent design would be out of place. Instead, wall-to-wall whiteboards invite participation while ideas are still in a liquid state.

-Sharon VanderKaay

Generations of architectural project managers have diligently applied tools and techniques that achieved some remarkable results, yet failed to meet budget, schedule and other targets. Traditionally, it was safe to assume that imposing tighter controls within a more mechanistic system was the best way to prevent these failures. Now there is growing awareness of the perils of pretending your real project exists in a closed, predictable, static environment.

Last year the world-renowned Project Management Institute presented their Book of the Year award to Managing Complex Projects, A New Model. Author Kathleen B. Hass recognizes that large projects have inherent dynamic qualities that we must work with – rather than attempt to fight against. “As projects get bigger and more complex, we tend to ‘do more of the same’ applying ever greater degrees of rigor in the way of methods, reviews and tests, resulting in higher costs, and not necessarily returning value,” says Hass. “What we do is explore the nature of complexity theory as it applies to projects.”

In other words, experienced project managers are realizing that the stakes are too high for us to rely on false assumptions and old mindsets to maximize project success. Below is a chart that captures our understanding of how complexity theory applies to large design and construction projects.

This is a huge topic that requires ongoing analysis. However it may be of interest to construction project managers that, nearly ten years ago, a group of leading software developers gathered to write an Agile Manifesto that identified what really matters in terms of rapid, results-driven software project delivery. Maybe a group of design and construction project managers will one day write a manifesto aimed at removing similar barriers.

Sharon VanderKaay




  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We are a Toronto-based firm of architects who see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow Partnership Architects’ built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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