Complexity, Complex Adaptive Systems, and Project Management – a quick peek

There are many definitions of Complexity Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), and Project Management, and I’m about to create some more. My interest in these ideas is in their practical application to help people in organisations achieve common objectives efficiently and effectively. For me, Project Management is defined as the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities, within the constraints of scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources, and risk (etc.), to create a unique, product, service, or result. (PMI, 2008). Complexity Theory and Complex Adaptive Systems do not enjoy singular definitions with widespread agreement. This is to be expected, just as the definition of Project Management above is based on the Project Management Institute‘s (PMI), and is not universal. For the purposes of this post, my lay description (by no means a definition) of Complexity is that of a system or a system of nested systems, where each system contains interactive and interdependent agents where no amount of research, examination, or theory allows anyone to completely understand the system, control the system, and much less predict anything about the system in detail and with high levels of confidence. And a Complex Adaptive System, is a complex system, that given the right starting conditions, resources, and boundaries, can adapt to its environment. “Rather than focusing at the macro ‘strategic’ level of the organisational system, complexity theory suggests that the most powerful processes of change occur at the micro level, where relationships, interactions, small experiments, and simple rules shape emerging patterns. Everything in an organisation is interconnected, so large-scale change occurs through an integration of changes that affect the smallest parts. Organisation change emerges from evolution of individuals and small groups.” (Olson & Eoyang, 2001, p. xxxiii) Another way of looking at Complexity and Complex Adaptive Systems is to look at what they are not. Armed with technology and science, it is tempting for us to believe or assume that the universe and all its contents behave with clockwork precision. Newton’s clockwork universe is only a useful approximation of reality and only when systems are closed, the rate of change is low, interdependencies are low, variability is low, and certainty is high. History and experience attest that such constraints only describe a small subset of systems and scenarios. Enough by way of shallow-end introduction, I want to share two videos. The first is by David Snowden, of Cognitive Edge...

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