Modern programs and projects are increasingly complex. Even simple projects can experience periods of complexity, and failing to recognise and deal with complexity can be costly.
Complexity can be introduced by multiple interconnected stakeholders, uncertain technology development, and changing internal and external influences. In this context, traditional project management practices alone are insufficient. To increase project success, professionals need a complimentary skillset to identify complexity early and respond effectively.
The ADF will invest nearly $200 billion in capability over the decade to FY 2025-26. This investment includes the procurement of next generation aircraft, submarines, and armoured vehicles, and space and cyber capabilities. It also includes expanding sovereign capability through greater collaboration between Defence, industry and academia. The scale, uncertainty, interdependency and emergent nature of this acquisition program represents a high level of complexity. It is essential that Defence personnel, and the companies in their supply chain, have the skills to manage complex projects.
In the 2018 Pulse of the Profession Report, Success in Disruptive Times, the Project Management Institute (PMI), estimated that “9.9 per cent of every dollar is wasted due to poor project performance”. The good news is that this figure has been reduced from 13.5 per cent since 2013. This reduction is attributed to increased awareness of the importance of project management and increased investment in project management capability and training. The bad news is that this loss increases as projects become more complex.
In the 2018 Defence Industry Skills Survey, 39.1 per cent of respondents identified skills shortages in program management. In the same way that a technical workforce consists of a range of specialties and degrees of expertise, the project management workforce is equally nuanced. The Defence Industry Skills Survey captured the broad project management shortage within defence industry but the shortage is greater for experienced project and program managers skilled in dealing with complexity.
Recent Defence investment has concentrated on STEM skills. This is an important investment. Yet many of these scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians also deliver projects with little or no training in project management, let alone complex project management. This is especially relevant to SMEs and start-ups. Project outcomes will be improved if Defence and defence industry have a common understanding of how to manage complexity. The ability to effectively manage risk and opportunity in complex projects, and contracting in complex projects will improve project performance and outcomes for all partners.
Note: The International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) is a not-for-profit peak body established in 2007, with support from the Department of Defence, to build capability in the management of complex projects and improve project outcomes across all sectors. Follow them on LinkedIn.