Applying systems thinking and action research to improve a problematic situation on a large project.
Lang, Harold Allen.
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Formal project management methodologies and processes play a vital role in organisations that run large complex projects and programmes. Is it possible that these methodologies and processes can end up defeating the purpose for which they are introduced? Can these methodologies actually cause projects to fail by becoming the focus of attention? If so, what can be done to reverse this bizarre situation? This study intends to give some insights into these complex questions. Methodologies that are not usually used in such environments are applied to a particular messy situation on a project in an attempt to bring about some relief. The events took place in a conservative, rapidly changing and highly politicised organisation that had embarked on a programme comprising many large interdependent projects that needed to be implemented in an aggressive time frame. A particular large and complex project was running into trouble due to, in no small measure, the strict enforcement of onerous project management procedures. The project team was becoming demoralised and very stressed, which aggravated the situation further. Project managers usually adopt a "hard" approach to making changes. The aim of this research is to see whether using a "softer" approach in the environment described above could alleviate the situation. In this study, systems thinking and action research form the core of the multi-methodological approach to understanding the problem situation and identifying appropriate interventions to bring about improvements. Given the culture of the organisation concerned, will the application of these methodologies improve the situation by bringing the project back on track and improve staff morale? Other concepts that play a role in this study include complexity theory and the learning organisation that are deemed essential to the understanding of the holistic picture. 111 "This we know. The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and the daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." (Chief Seattle)