Project Complexity And Uncertainty

This project categorization matrix, originally thought up by project management professor Eddie Obeng, is a useful framework to put projects in. It is especially useful in agreeing on project success criteria with your project sponsor for projects that are not just factory projects with well-defined approach but with well-defined objectives.

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The project management professor Eddie Obeng classifies the diverse landscape of projects into 4 basic project types. Any project fits into his 2*2 matrix, depending on how clear you can answer these two questions:

  1. Are you clear about what to do (the outcome to be achieved)?
  2. Do you know how to do it (processes, methods, experience)?

Both the project sponsor and the project team need to understand the type of project and agree to configure the project management processes appropriately and equally important, the project success criteria.

If both know what is to be done and how to do it and are well understood by all key stakeholders, it is a ´painting by numbers´ project, which can be fully defined, estimated and planned. Success criteria should be time, costs and quality. A simple software installation or construction project which has been carried out before in other locations are examples of this type of projects.

For ´going on a Quest´ projects, the objective is clear but the way to achieve the objective is uncertain. In the end, success or failure is clear cut. the objective has been achieved (or not). The challenge is optimizing the project process to continuing progress. Many software development projects are quests requiring creative solutions to identified problems to achieve the desired objective. The success measures should be the benefits provided by the solution(s) given.

Traditional project management is not sufficient for ´Making a Movie´ projects where tools and techniques are well known but the final outcome is uncertain. Example of those projects are making a movie where it is hard to predict the verdict by the public and whether it will be a blockbuster or not. Success criteria here will be the level of innovation or creativity achieved.

‘Lost in the Fog’ projects are more like agile development – a journey towards a desired new state. Ambiguity and uncertainty are high and traditional measures of success such as on-time and on-budget are almost meaningless. Project success is better measured by obtained Outcome, stakeholder satisfaction and level of risks to the organization.

The Project Execution Strategy should be decided in the early phases of the project. Sometimes the optimal execution approach is apparent, as when one project variable is a key constraint. In other cases, it might not be quite so simple to decide. This is where a feasibility study should contain enough information for the project owner and the project manager to determine on which execution strategy is best for the project. If the project owner cannot make the decision, these templates can also be used to represent the execution strategy recommendations to management.

Don´t ever start a project without considering your execution strategy and while you are at it, remember to note down your decisions on this slide and then communicate the strategy to your stakeholders. Your project will already be on for a much better start!

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