The paradox of fuzziness in complex projects


Is the vagueness in the organizations of many large companies inherent in the complexity of the projects they manage or the consequence of the current abuses in our operating methods, exacerbated by certain cultural traits?

Logic (or common sense) would require clarity in a complex project, misunderstandings can be very expensive. By clarity, I mean in particular that each member of a team understands the role he must play, what is expected of him in terms of services, the hierarchical context of his profession, and the human and material interfaces that it will have to manage within the framework of its activities. The difficulty in achieving this “clarity” increases with the complexity of the project, which is not surprising … We then come to a conflicting situation:

– On the one hand, the rush towards digitization helping, we want to control and quantify everything, which I dealt with in a first blog post published in October 2018 “The dictatorship of determinism in complex projects”, this which can only add a harmful complexity to the intrinsic complexity of major projects.

– On the other hand, in a second blog post published in January 2020 “Decision-making paralysis of managers”, I mentioned the Mexican organizational charts which have become commonplace in most large French companies, even if they seem to be trying hard , competition obliges, to “fluidify” their organizations.

Similarly, when a problem emerges, a process is created to prevent the problem from emerging again, the more complex a project, the more complex its structuring will be in the hope (often in vain, as history shows of all recent major complex projects) to overcome all development risks, as uncertainty is now prohibited, which is moreover totally illusory, even harmful. And since we cannot quantify everything as much (or as well) as we would like, we end up with entanglements of processes and flowcharts whose convoluted side only serves to conceal the deficiencies in precision … Complexity does not mean clarity…

Result: we end up with the paradox that the more complex the projects, the more blurred the organizations … A few years ago, I compared two project organization charts, that of a French company and that of a German company: the first, in addition to its slightly “Mexican” side, was a tree structure that had nothing to envy to the labyrinths of Renaissance gardens (one could speak of artistic blur …), the second was a real grid where the level “N” headed four “N-1”, each “N-1” leading four “N-2” … It is difficult not to see a reflection of cultures: the French vagueness in the face of German rigidity … It goes without saying that neither of these two organizational charts was really well suited to the organization of the project …

During my career, I have seen how the “refractory Gauls” that we are not only have a certain reluctance to any form of framing, but always have difficulty setting up clear (and therefore simple) organizations. : So we have difficulty “finding ourselves” in these organizations, which we necessarily criticize, but basically, are we really suffering, since we are continuing in this direction? (because I would not see us accepting with gaiety of heart an organization of the grid type mentioned above).

It remains to be seen whether our large companies will be able to survive in a context of exacerbated competition, the vagueness obviously not contributing to the effectiveness of a project … (nor the rigidity, moreover: the search for compromise is an exercise in which I had underlined the difficulty in another post on this blog published in August 2020 “The difficult quest for the happy medium in complex projects”).

For the time being, we must believe that the phrase of Cardinal de Retz that François Mitterrand had made his own, “One can only get out of ambiguity at one’s expense”, is not limited to politics: it is not about to lose its topicality in our industry, nor even in our institutions, because the government announcements most of the time ambiguous, often contradictory, and sometimes false, in the current context of health crisis where the decisions give the impression of be taken in “panic mode”, are ultimately only the reflection of a much deeper problem …


Source: UsineNouvelle – Actualités A la une by www.usinenouvelle.com.

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