Complexity

Innovative projects are deceptively difficult because they are deceptively complex.

 Original ideas are like jigsaw puzzles where all the pieces lie in a pile on the table.  They are much more complex than a traditional project where many, even most, of the parts are already locked in place.   Like partially assembled jigsaw puzzle, the complexity of traditional project falls exponentially as pieces are taken from the table.  In contrast, innovation’s complexity grows exponentially as new elements are added and interconnected with one another.   

Innovation’ complexity is deeply imbedded in its fundamental nature:    

Lots of Moving Parts – Because innovations seek to do something new that will generate competitive advantage, innovations have many moving parts that must interact in precise concert with each other.   With each new moving part the innovative project experiences an exponential growth in complexity.  

Multidisciplinary  Challenges–  Meaningful innovation crosses boundaries.  It integrates different knowledge domains (business, technology) and bridges organizational silos.   Problems and their solutions demand multidisciplinary skills and insights.  Specialists, a traditional standby for simplifying problems, are often too narrowly focused to deal with the complex multi-disciplinary challenges present in innovation.    

Unsolved Problems – Cross enterprise change creates unprecedented problems, ones that have no existing solution.   Some of these can be deeply challenging and require a fundamental re-thinking of how things are done.   There is no “gathering answers” for these issues.  Original solutions must be invented by the team.

This matters more than most people realize.  Complexity makes things harder … much harder.   This is why much of traditional project management is focused on reducing complexity  It becomes more demanding to understand what is happening and solutions must be more creative.  

Is far more difficult to keep everything aligned and moving forward.   Innovative teams need to be “smarter” in ways that are different from traditional project teams.  There will be few opportunities to simply execute familiar tasks. They will need to think deeply and creatively far more often.  They must actively embrace interconnected and tricky problems and apply ingenious solutions throughout the life of their project.  

Takeaway

Expect Innovation to be far more complex than traditional projects.   

Good Reads

??? Seven Degrees of Separation

Brainstorming Questions

  • Do we understand how interactions and connections in the project make it more difficult to design, manage, and execute?
  • Who is responsible for managing the interaction of different parts?
  • Do we have people on staff that can integrate multiple knowledge domains?
  • Are we equipped to bring groups of different people together to solve a problem?
  • Is there time allotted to solve complex problems?
  • Do sponsors and project leaders understand the implications of greater complexity on schedule, resources, and solution design?

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