Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Communication as the lifeblood of complex projects

From Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #2(b): the Apollo programme, the Tory train wreck, and advice to spads starting work today by Dominic Cummings. Worth reading and following his links. He is focusing on the principles behind effective management of complex projects.

This is my edit of his summary - gives a sense of the material.
Organisation-wide orientation. Everybody in a large organisation must understand as much about the goals and plans as possible.

Integration. There must be an overall approach in which the most important elements fit together, including in policy, management, and communications. Failures in complex projects, from renovating your house to designing a new welfare system, often occur at interfaces between parts.

Extreme transparency and communication, horizontally as well as hierarchically. More, richer, deeper communication so that ‘all of us understand what was going on throughout the program.

‘Configuration management’. There must be a process whereby huge efforts go into the initial design of a complex system then there is a process whereby changes are made in a disciplined way such that a) interdependencies are tested where possible by relevant people before a change is agreed and b) then everybody relevant knows about the change. This ties together design, engineering, management, scheduling, cost, contracts, and allows the coordination of interdisciplinary teams. Test, learn, communicate results, change where needed, communicate

Physical and information structures should reinforce open communication.

Long-term budgets. Long-term budgets save money.

You need a complex mix of centralisation and decentralisation. While overall vision, goals, and strategy usually comes from the top, it is vital that extreme decentralisation dominates operationally so that decisions are fast and unbureaucratic. Information must be shared centrally and horizontally across the organisation — it is not either/or. Big complex projects must empower people throughout the network and cannot rely on issuing orders through a hierarchy.

Extreme focus on errors. Schriever had ‘Black Saturdays’ and Mueller had similar meetings focused not on ‘reporting progress’ but making clear the problems. Simple as it sounds this is very unusual.

Spending on redundancy to improve resilience.

Important knowledge is discovered but then the innovation is standardised and codified so it can be easily learned and used by others.

Systems management means lots of process and documentation but at its best it is fluid and purposeful — it is not process for ass-covering.

Saving time saves money.

The ‘systems’ approach is inherently interdisciplinary ‘because its function is to integrate the specialized separate pieces of a complex of apparatus and people — the system — into a harmonious ensemble that optimally achieves the desired end’ (Ramo).

The ‘matrix management’ system allowed coordination across different departments and different projects.

People and ideas were more important than technology.

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