How complex is software

Complicated vs. complex: the human factor in project management

Classic, agile or hybrid project management - what do I choose in a project? The Stacey matrix (based on the organizational theorist Ralph D. Stacey) can, for example, provide a decision-making aid. A catalog of criteria is used to assess how well a project is already understood - with regard to the requirements on the one hand and the solution approach on the other. Are the requirements clear or are you moving into a new, as yet unknown market? Are you using a well-known technology or a new one that you have no experience with?

Simple, complicated, chaotic?

Along these two axes, the Stacey matrix divides a project into the categories simple, complicated, complex and chaotic. According to the so-called Cynefin framework, simple systems are so clearly arranged that they can be understood immediately. Complicated systems, on the other hand, are difficult to understand. With expert knowledge, however, it is possible to understand and predict their cause-and-effect relationships in advance.

Complex systems are also determined by clear causalities, but show so many interactions that even experts can no longer adequately analyze them in advance. The connections can only be recognized and understood in retrospect. A system is called chaotic if there are no longer any clear effects and one and the same cause can produce completely different effects.

A small example illustrates this:
For a meteorologist, for example, a weather forecast for the next hour may be easy, one for the next day complicated. A forecast for next week, on the other hand, is likely to be a complex problem, while the forecast for a day of the next year is certainly a chaotic one.

As long as project plans are simple or complicated, they can be mastered well with a waterfall-like, predefined process depending on expertise. However, the further you tend towards complexity, the more an agile, flexible approach with many feedback loops and the possibility of trial and error is recommended. I think it's a plausible approach that, by the way, can be applied not only to entire projects, but also selectively to individual areas in a project.

The social dimension

But maybe this approach isn't quite enough. We talked about requirements and possible solutions, but not yet about the people who work together on the project. Isn't their organizational and social interaction simple, complicated or complex or even chaotic? And doesn't this factor have just as great an impact on the success of the project? In my opinion, it is precisely here that one has to speak of unpredictability, i.e. complexity

A well-rehearsed team that has been working together for years can certainly be classified as easy. But people tend to forget that in a newly put together team or in a new collaboration between different departments with different interests, there can be hardly foreseeable dynamics. Here, agile methods with their focus on result-oriented communication can be the key to mastering the project.

Perhaps one should add a third dimension of “social interaction” to the two axes “requirements” and “solution approach” in order to complete the decision-making model and lay the foundation for project success.

Author Udo LeischnerPosted on Categories Agile Methods, Practice