Project management approaches for dynamic environments

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These projects are challenged by the rapid introduction of new unknowns as they progress. One might say they are more akin to stacking worms than stacking bricks. The difficulties posed by these projects are identified and the literature is reviewed for suitable approaches. 2008 Elsevier Ltd and MAMA. All rights reserved. Key. Fords: Project management; Dynamic 1. Introduction This paper sets out to investigate the nature of projects conducted in fast changing environments.

Examples and theory are used to illustrate the nature and challenges of this category.

Suitable management approaches are identified under the allowing headings: Planning, Experimentation, Lifestyle, Controls, Culture, Communication, and Leadership style. 2. The dynamic project category The paper closes with recommendations for further research. In this paper, control is taken to mean the mechanisms through which resources are managed to achieve objectives and is different to the MAMBO technique’ which is strictly focused on bringing activities in line with a plan.

The term dynamic is taken to mean characterized by constant change .

The business environment is changing at an increasing pace . Retell and Ziegfeld went so far as to say we are in the midst of a technology explosion. They argued that 90% of our technical knowledge has been generated in he last 55 years, and that technical knowledge will continue to increase exponentially. Perrine and Tipping  reported “the pace of technology is accelerating raising the stakes and risks for managing innovation, and requiring early warning and shorter response time”.

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They argue that this is distinct from projects conducted in well understood environments which are suited to ‘instructions’, and distinct from ‘selections’ where the most fruitful initiative is chosen after a pool of trials. Turner and Cochran  espouse the ‘goals and methods matrix’ that describes four different types of project according to how well defined the methods and goals are. Projects can have poorly defined oils (fire’) or poorly defined methods (Water’), or both (aid).

Sheehan and Weidman describe a type of project that involves high levels of uncertainty, using technologies together for the first time. They call these ‘high tech’ . They also describe a type of project that actually creates new technologies, called ‘super high tech’. Sheehan describes how ‘low technology’ projects are typically performed in construction, production and utilities, and high technology projects in the computer, aerospace and electronics industries. He offers building and bridge construction as examples f low technology projects.

The key difference to Sheehan is the level of development work involved, in that low technology projects have little, and high technology projects have considerable levels and usually require prototyping. Sheehan and Weidman argue that another key difference is the number of design cycles. In low technology projects they say there is typically only one cycle with a freeze before development, and with high technology there are at least two, typically three cycles. Operational work Coif  suggests that ‘projects’ be placed on a spectrum of ‘newness’ from operational to project.

The idea has been adapted in Fig.  to illustrate the sliding scale of unknowns that applies to projects. Unknowns in this sense refer to any aspect of the project, including the methods to achieve it, the objective, and the environment it has to operate in. The guide to the project management body of knowledge (MAMBO) describes ‘progressive elaboration’, where planning is developed in greater detail as the project progresses. Using progressive elaboration to fill knowledge gaps, it might be possible to move a project to the left in Fig. thereby achieving the objective in a more predictable fashion.

However, paid changes in the environment, including tools and methods, and attempts to innovate, act to push the project to the right, increasing unknowns. The two forces Of exploration and change act against each other continuously throughout the project. The challenge is to conduct exploration at a greater rate than the emergence of environmental change. It is also important to ensure that the amount of change created by the exploration and implementation is not counterproductive overall. An example of Project A in Fig. 1 might be a production line where there only variable is the color required.

Project B might e a house construction where there are more unknowns at the start but most are resolved in the early stages. Project C might be a software development project for a new business. The clients business processes, and the technologies used in the project, change during the course of execution, thereby affecting the methods used and goals. Projects conducted in environments with higher levels of dynamism may be more likely to pose some of the attributes of Shiner’s high technology or super high technology categories with uncertainty at the start, but also include even more challenging high levels of change along the way.

In dynamic project environments, significant proportions of the methods and goals are changed by external forces out of the project’s control. The effort to resolve unknowns at the start of the project is severely challenged by the introduction of additional unknowns along the way, because what is learned can become obsolete in less time Dynamic project Classic project Knows unknowns Progressive Elaboration/Exploration Environmental Changes & Innovation Fig. The race to resolve project unknowns. The dynamic project category Work type Description Established controls. Operational’ processes. Lower levels of unknowns Requires the creation of new controls, usually a project plan, for a significantly new body of work, usually only carried out once. May have high levels of unknowns at the start but most resolved early, and few new unknowns arise during execution Requires the creation of new controls that are changed regularly during execution. Has high levels of unknowns at the start and a high rate of new unknowns throughout. Must resolve the unknowns at a faster rate than they appear, and in time for completion Classic project Dynamic than it takes to learn.

Materials, methods and goals are always moving, making projects more akin to stacking arms than stacking bricks. Table 1 attempts to describe the difference between operational work, classic project work, and projects with a strong dynamic dimension. The rate of resolving unknowns is especially critical on these projects. As soon as one engages in adjustment of scope to suit an uncontrollable environment one runs the risk of ‘resolution lag. The rate at which unknowns are resolved must not only be sufficient to deal with those that existed at the start, but also those that appear during execution.

For instance, assuming linear production and resolution of unknowns, the resolution rate must at least be equal to the appearance rate, plus enough to resolve unknowns that existed at the start (I. E. Number at start divided by the duration). The appearance rate will be quite high in a highly dynamic environment. Furthermore, unknowns may appear in inconvenient bursts, and certainly after planning is ‘complete’. Therefore, the rate of unknown resolution is a particular hazard for projects conducted in dynamic environments. Illustration Two examples are provided to help illustrate the challenges of projects conducted in dynamic environments.

Two subunits Of a single parent organization were selected on the basis that they had contrasting levels of dynamism. Both sub units had a mix of project types, but each appeared to have a higher proportion of one type. One sub unit had a higher proportion of projects utilizing the ‘instructions’ approach and the other more utilizing the ‘learning approach. In this paper one will be referred to as the ‘static environment’ and the other as the ‘dynamic environment’, as a means to represent the relative levels of dynamism in each.

Following is a description of challenges encountered by the higher levels of change in the dynamic environment. Product lifespan: the average mean time to failure (MITT) was three to four years compared to several cascades in the static environment. This meant that in a 357 given year one third of the products had to be replaced. There was very little that could be called ‘operational’. At any given point more than half of the environment was either being replaced or being planned for replacement. This also presented the sign efficient risk that materials would expire before the fall product was fully operational.

Rate of introduction of new materials: most materials had only become available in the last three or four years, and were completely unknown less than a decade previously. By contrast most materials used in the static environment had been well understood for several decades, centuries, or even millennium, and the implementation methods were well understood and tuned. Difficulty finding and managing skilled labor: change led to a perpetually low level of knowledge about the properties of new materials, and how they should be implemented (methods), and therefore difficulty finding qualified resources.

A sign efficient amount of study and certification was required to stay qualified in using an endless stream of new materials. It was regarded as almost impossible to Stay qualified and perform effectively as a manager at the same time. Staff promoted to management had to quickly decide teens giving up their qualifications or giving up good management. If they chose to be an effective manager, they had to do so without completely understanding the work their staff performed. This made it more difficult to manage, understand issues, and gauge performance.

Level of integration with customer industry: while some organizations can execute relatively vanilla products for a range of contrasting clients, projects in the dynamic environment required significant customization and understanding of the client business. Changing goals: because customers were also operating in an environment of uncertainty and change, their acquirement also had a tendency to change rapidly. Affect on planning: in the dynamic environment new events that compromised plans arose rapidly throughout project delivery.

The quantity of change made detailed plans difficult to maintain. In the time it took to adjust the plan, additional changes would occur. Analysis and decision making had to be conducted more rapidly than the emergence of new changes. Plans with excessive detail were found to be misleading and abandoned in favor Of a higher level or rolling wave approach. Even in the static environment, there could be too many unknowns at the start to be solved by the deadline, so the rapid introduction of new unknowns in the dynamic environment was doubly challenging.

Morale: in the dynamic environment, well before a product or service was produced, thoughts had turned to the next generation, making the current goal seem less valuable or important. This made it difficult to maintain quality focus, or celebrate end points for reward and recognition. This in turn affected job satisfaction, 358 S. Collier, C. MS. Warren / International Journal of Project Management 27 morale and motivation. Lower product quality meant that deployed products required regular changes to continue their usefulness, and reliability. By comparison the visible achievement of a building lasts decades after it is complete.

Levels of interdependence: projects were often intertwined with other projects and an existing dynamic environment. A change in one project had significant impact on other projects. The highly integrated nature of the environment, combined with high rates of change, made forward planning very challenging. Dependency on business units with much lower levels of dynamism who therefore may not respond as quickly, or understand the challenges being faced. Reduced business compatibility when an organization alls too far behind best practice, and find it difficult to recruit staff familiar with their environment.

Sometimes technology used on a previous project simply does not exist any more, and new ones have to be used; low material life-spans (low MATT) and life-cycles (period before manufacture ceases permanently). This means that most materials, and therefore products, have to be replaced within three to four years, with a next generation material/product. Next generation materials/products usually have differing properties to the original, and this has a flow on affect to dependent products. While standards may be used extensively, omen variations in properties are deemed necessary to achieve improvements. . Project management approaches for dynamic environ meets An industry with a strong public safety requirement may be attracted to the ‘make static’ approach. This requirement can help justify funds to test and implement strategies, and this can mitigate the reliability disadvantages of early adoption; consider the medical and the aircraft construction industries as examples. Conversely the IT industry cannot easily leverage public safety to justify costs, so it trades reliability for faster delivery, of new functionality, at lower costs.

Jones argues that technology product lifestyles are now measured in months, compared to the car industry in years (about five), and in construction “change in product technology is very limited and products such as steel girders and electrical cable may remain in the mature stage indefinitely”‘ Although the ‘make static’ approach has merits, it also has limitations, and so other approaches are a necessary part of the mix. The intention here is to review literature to provide a broad overview of approaches that might be used to better deal with dynamic environments. Approaches were broken down as follows:

Environment manipulation – making dynamic static. Planning approaches for dynamic environments. Scope control for dynamic environments. Controlled experimentation. Lifestyle strategies. Management controls: input, behavior and output, diagnostic, belief, interactive and boundary. Culture and communication for dynamic environments. Categorization. Leaders IP style. Environment manipulation – make dynamic static The most obvious approach to deal with the challenges of a dynamic environment is to attempt to make it more static by resisting change. This could be achieved by: freezing objective and design.

Rejecting change requests; reducing or delaying adoption of new (esp.. Unproven) technologies or techniques; extending the life of existing systems. In highly dynamic environments the benefits of the ‘make static’ approach are countered by challenges such as: lost opportunity and productivity though delayed implementation of new approaches, materials or business objectives, that provide significant benefits, despite the challenges; reduced business competitiveness, especially when competing organizations offer, or make use of, new systems which are often more effective; Planning approaches for dynamic environments

Project management, as defined by the bodies of knowledge, is focused mostly on a “management-as-planning’ view of control and appears to be an appropriate approach for projects with clear goals and methods. However, Slake and Howell argue that for speedy projects, “traditional project management is simply counterproductive; it creates self-inflicted problems that seriously undermine performance”. The problem is that events arise at faster rates than is practical to re-plan Attempting detailed long term planning for these projects can waste time and resources, and lead to false expectations.

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Project management approaches for dynamic environments
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