In the previous article of this on-going series, we discussed some of the primary challenges faced by the business analyst when attempting to deliver results in the midst of a chaotic environment. Most, if not all, businesses operate within a chaotic environment, to some extent at least. Some are chaotic by design, while others breed elements of chaos unconsciously. Chaos, by its very nature, is impossible to control. Thus, we have examined strategies that may serve the business analyst in navigating their own Wonderland, just like Alice. In Episode Five, we contrasted linear and non-linear systems, studied the internal and external chaos that may impact projects, and strove to understand how the analyst can overcome these difficulties to deliver results in Wonderland.
Throughout the series thus far, we have utilized the analogy of Wonderland to highlight various examples of organizational chaos that may confront the analyst. Moving forward with this article, we will seek to define and understand chaos, paying particular attention to its manifestation and impact within contemporary life and organizational scenarios.
Chaos is unpredictable behavior portrayed by systems. At certain times systems exist in chaos and produce energy in an unpredictable way. While the system’s chaotic behavior may seem unplanned at first, chaotic systems can be explained using mathematical formulations (Chaos Theory, 2010). Moreover, teams and individuals’ behavior may lead to an unpredictable outcome that either favors the system or leads to greater consequences.
The causes of chaos are unpredictable behaviors that arise from individuals, teams, or systems. Behaviors portrayed by the mentioned three components affect how an organization is able to handle challenges and problems. By allowing individuals and teams to portray their own behaviors in the working environment, different components of an organization may either work properly or experience failure. In the subsequent sections, we will elaborate on some mechanisms that trigger chaos in an organizational context.
1. Dysfunctional teams
Teamwork promotes good decisions, increased output, and higher levels of commitment. However, in some cases, teams are unable to work together. Individuals begin to merely tolerate and bear with one another rather than appreciating the diversity in the team. In such teams, members rarely bring their differences to the table but usually complain about them in private. A team grows in stages: First is the forming phase, then storming, followed by norming, and finally storming, Hossenlopp (2010). Most teams are stuck at storming and hence become dysfunctional. Such teams are surrounded by unclear priorities and lack properly defined roles. Most of the time the team experiences crisis, which lasts until the team comes to a common consensus.
Dysfunctional teams create a chaotic environment that highly disregards the esteemed nature of project management. This is because most team members don’t get along as expected, deadlines are missed, and customers turn out to be irritated and unsupportive. In a chaotic environment, project success is uncertain despite spending significant resources. One example of a dysfunctional group can be found in the third chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice and her animal companions must determine the best way to dry off after escaping the sea of tears. Faced with a challenge to the collective, the group would be best served to convene and decide upon a singular course of action. Of course, things are rarely so simple in Wonderland. Following an unhelpful lecture from the Mouse regarding William the Conqueror, a Dodo leads the animals to an entirely illogical solution: a caucus race. The caucus race embodies the chaos arising from a dysfunctional group as the animals resort to running manically in a circle. The lack of cohesion within the group results in a lack of progress toward the shared goal.
Team cohesion is the degree to which individual team members seek to contribute to the group’s continued functioning. Cohesiveness develops with time through collaboration and sharing among group members as well as by accommodating members’ personalities. Research has shown that a strong, cohesive team is highly productive. For successful achievement of project milestones, building a cohesive team comprised of diverse individuals in support of a specific project is associated with superior delivery of projected results.
2. Erratic behavior
Erratic behavior refers to irregular ways of behaving. The effects of behavior can lead to missing the project deadline, working beyond the budget, and failure. Senior management and sponsors have a direct impact on how the project functions. Therefore, any irregular behavior has a direct impact on the project, particularly on time of completion, funding problems, and quality of work produced. People’s behavior is a key contributor of project success or failure. Structured or disciplined processes follow the same conditions as projects, and unexpected behavior will always affect them.
Erratic behavior is found everywhere in Wonderland, with Alice often appearing to be the only sane character in the novel. Perhaps the main instigator of chaos in Wonderland is the White Rabbit. Through his manic behavior, he leads Alice farther down the rabbit hole and conjures up chaotic situations, however unintentional his guidance may be.
Erratic behavior is usually detrimental and normally affects the completion of projects. Erratic behaviors come when least expected and involve individuals such as a senior manager or a project sponsor. Erratic behaviors are rarely taken into consideration when a project’s risks are identified and analyzed, but when they occur, they have profound effects on project execution.
3. Undisciplined work environment
Although complete chaos may be undesirable to a business, certain companies prefer to work within less restrictive parameters, allowing for a certain degree of indiscipline. With this approach, a certain degree of adaptability is afforded to the business. This allows for fluid reactions to any issues that may arise, but it can also lead to uncertainty, miscommunication, and, ultimately, chaos.
Implementing a highly disciplined project in an undisciplined environment affects the adaptability nature of the project, resulting in a clash. Disciplined methodology is assumed to be the right choice of project management practices. However, such a disciplined method is less likely to deal with the undisciplined environment that it operates within. Therefore, such projects end up being carried out in an undisciplined way. Most of the time a shift or combination of discipline and undisciplined methods will cause a clash in terms of adaptability, emerging issues, scheduling activities, and numerous uncertainties. Any attempt to force a disciplined structure upon an environment that usually leans toward an undisciplined workflow can be disastrous and lead to clashes of opinion. This can be observed in chapter seven of Alice: “The Mad Tea Party.” As Alice seeks to impose her own sense of logic and structure upon the free-wheeling group, it becomes clear that she only manages to antagonize her peers further, leading to a complete breakdown in communication and a total lack of results for Alice, the Wonderland analyst.
4. Random events
The reaction of the project to some of the random events can create a chaotic atmosphere. This is because the project environment rapidly changes, driven by factors that are beyond the control of the management team. Plans founded on strategic tasks and disciplines do not seem to work in a non-linear environment and unpredictable project reality. The management’s plans can be challenged by the unpredictable turnout of events throughout the project lifecycle.
Random occurrences are, by nature, extremely difficult to prepare for. Throughout her time in Wonderland, Alice is bombarded by these kinds of random events, all of which serve to disorient her. A memorable example of an unplanned interference occurs in the early stages of the novel, when Alice’s own tears flood the hallway and result in yet another chaotic environment for our heroine.
Unpredictability in project management results in poor management outcomes, unclear project direction, and high uncertainty about the future. Uncertainty and ambiguity in project management is contributed to by changing stakeholder needs, economic factors, market forces, and a dynamic environment. Projects are not always equipped to handle unpredictable outcomes. In addition, it is not easy to thrive in unpredictable situations; it takes experience, patience, and vigilance, which most team members are missing. Without such characteristics, project unpredictability will always fluctuate the projects beyond the expected deliverables.
The purpose of this series has been to examine the content of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the hope that we can uncover some important lessons for the modern business analyst. The chaos faced by the analyst is akin to that which confronts Alice throughout her journey down the rabbit hole, and through our examination of some of the main challenges presented to Alice, we have highlighted many important strategies that may be undertaken by the analyst to navigate his/her own business Wonderland.
This article, Episode Six, is the last in the series, and though we have covered many aspects of organizational chaos under the guise of our Wonderland analogy, it is important to note that we have only scratched the surface. The impact and implication of organizational chaos as it relates to business analysis, project management, and structural systems are largely uncharted territory. Indeed, after exploring just a small part of this uncharted area of research, it has become notable that the world of the business analyst is often every bit as chaotic as that of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.
1. Chaos Theory, Modeling, Simulation and Applications (2010). Selected Papers from the 3rd Chaotic Modeling and Simulation International Conference (CHAOS2010). Chania, Crete, Greece, 1 – 4 June 2010
2. Hossenlopp, R. (2010). Organizational project management: Linking strategy and projects. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.
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.