Every organization has some degree of “chaotic” culture. Some of them breed chaos and unconsciously operate in chaos. Project management is designed to operate with structure. However, reality has always contained a dose of “Wonderland” as well. Projects find themselves at odds with the environment that they operate within when the underlying organizational culture tends to be chaotic and less disciplinary and operates randomly. Project management methodologies and execution processes’ logic and convention are contradicted by the chaotic, shape-shifting setting of “Wonderland.” This conflict threatens a successful outcome for a project. The uncertainty that projects are confronted with throughout the execution process can be fatal. Chaos, by its very nature, is impossible to control completely, and so projects struggle to deliver as they fail to manage the conflict they find themselves in with the organization’s way of life.
This series uses Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to illustrate the analogy of chaos within an organizational context. The first four articles use some of Wonderland’s characteristics to illustrate the clash of the business analyst’s sense of logic against the madness of the illogical, shape-shifting backdrop of Wonderland.
Previously in this series:
“Alice in Wonderland”: Meet Wonderland’s Stakeholders, Episode 4
“Alice in Wonderland”: Lessons to Learn From the “Mad Tea Party”! Episode 3
When Requirements Elicitation Becomes a “Mad Tea Party”! Episode 2“Alice in Wonderland”: Meet Wonderland’s Stakeholders, Episode 2
“Alice in Wonderland”: Business Analysis in the Midst of Chaos! Episode 1
At this stage of the series, the focus is shifting to the whole delivery process and the correlation between the execution and the culture of chaos.
The stability of the project’s ecosystem fosters a healthy execution of the project. However, instability leads to an atmosphere that strains project execution. Projects’ ecosystems inherit various characteristics from the organization they operate in. These characteristics become protuberant participants in the ecosystem with an influent weight into the faith of its success or failure. As in any ecosystem, when one participant introduces a disturbance to its balance, a disruption is caused in the balance of the whole ecosystem. Organizational culture has a strong influence in IT project execution and outcome.
Linear Versus Non-Linear
Organizations are non-linear systems where minor events can cause grave consequences, while major changes might have little effect or no affect at all on the system. However, traditionally, project management was viewed as a stable and linear process where uncertainty is managed by the identification of risks and risk control. Risk analysis only shows the most probable risk and their consequences, which the organizations then plan their responses for in case they do happen. In reality, the risks that have never occurred and that might have even greater consequences remain unidentified.
The main approach to executing changes in organizations is the planned organization approach. This approach tries to improve organizations through wide participative change moments by looking at operational practices and their effectiveness. The organization’s way of dealing with change is by incrementally focusing on one goal or problem at a time. Change is managed and implemented by “project.” Project management methodologies are linear systems characterized by objectivity and are unfeeling and highly disciplined. On the contrary, humans, both collectively and individually, can be subjective and emotional, and they sometimes prefer to go around the process rather than following it.
The success of a project is significantly dependent on how well it integrates with the organizational way of life. Organizational way of life refers to the values and culture of the organization as well as concepts of management and employee perception. Organizational way of life can be chaotic for various, and sometimes unknown, reasons. A chaotic organizational life usually affects the success of projects as projects may clash with the organization. The clash can be unpredictable, and project management methodologies are not equipped to handle it.
Chaos and Projects
Chaos in a project occurs when the projects are confronted with uncertainty and volatility and there are no renewal plans that can be carried out. Chaos is of two types: internal and external chaos. Internal chaos arises from the project’s own actors, such as stakeholders. On the other hand, external chaos arises from factors beyond the organization’s influence, such as changes in the environment as a result of laws and regulations, late deliveries, and employees’ change of loyalty. In the traditional method, the method of analysis that is utilized is the Work Breakdown System (WBS), and the tool of scheduling used is the network planning technique. When the process breaks down and the activities within it are unknown, these techniques are of no use. In addition, this method of risk analysis only works when the execution of these activities is uninterrupted. It does not work in states of chaos.
Chaos in a project can also arise when project strategies are altered without proper renewal plans to resolve the changes. The causes of chaos are unpredictable behaviors arising from individuals, teams, or systems. Behaviors portrayed by the mentioned three components affect how an organization can handle challenges and problems. By allowing individuals and teams to portray their own behaviors in the working environment, different components of the organization may work properly or they may experience failure.
In the state of chaos, it is usually more important to know how to handle the situation than to know what to do. The causes of chaos are usually people and not the forces of nature. Therefore, the most important thing is to understand the project participants and the culture of the organization.
Delivering in Wonderland
Risk management is always a factor taken into consideration during the planning stage of project implementation. Erratic behaviors come in when least expected and involve individuals such as a senior manager or a project sponsor. It is difficult to handle erratic behaviors or even to classify them as risk factors. Erratic behaviors are rarely taken into consideration, but when they occur, they have profound effects on project execution.
Whether it’s an erratic behavior of a key stakeholder or each time you sought a decision, it ends up as a Mad Hatter Tea Party, where chaos will create events with unpredictable consequences on the project journey to deliver the desired outcome. Managing this unpredictability and the cascading effect of the event is the survival kit that every project needs in Wonderland. In chapter two of Alice, we see the catastrophic impact of Alice’s tears. Grown to a huge size, she floods the hallway, sweeping away a number of animals. Carrying out actions according to her own will, Alice’s behavior impacts those around her. She is only one component, but the behavior of one component can result in chaos.
Alice’s tears event created a chaotic situation with unpredictable consequences. In a project execution context, the actions of Alice’s tears can have an unknown impact on the linear nature of the process. The delivery team needs to act swiftly and implement measures to counter the event’s chaotic impact.
Modern project management methodologies assume that the linear and disciplined nature of a project is not challenged throughout the execution. In Wonderland, projects encounter chaos that the project’s “Risks Register” has not thought off.
Author: Adam Alami, Sr. Business Analyst
Adam Alami is a seasoned IT consultant with over 18 years’ experience. Business Analysis and Project Management is his passion. His experience revolved around major business transformation projects. He is a versatile IT professional. He accumulated a wealth of cross industry experience with Tier 1 businesses in major projects in the areas of Enterprise Transformation, Integration, Migration, and Systems Modernization.
Adam has a passion for research. His research interests are IT Offshoring, Global Project Managements, Banking Technology, Business Analysis, Information Technology and Culture, Enterprise Innovation and Business Solutions.