Book review: The metis of projects (Part B)

metisI received from Ben Berndt, one of my colleagues, a copy of his PhD thesis The quest to find the metis of projects and a copy of the commercial edition of his thesis The metis of projects. How to remain cognizant of a project’s (social) complexity. I will follow his commercial edition in this review.

The book is divided into two parts. Part A: In search of the metis of projects, and part B: An attempt to touch the metis of projects. See my blog for a review of part A: book review: the metis of projects

Part B, the second half of the book, consists of five chapters. Chapter 5, the first chapter of part B, is the author’s personal and pragmatic attempt to tough the metis of projects.

  • Chapter 6 deals with project X, which he managed in 2010/2011.
  • Chapter 7 deals with project Y, which he managed in 2012/2013.
  • Chapter 8 is about metis mindfulness and the author’s view on approaching project complexity
  • Chapter 9, the last chapter, gives some afterword from the author

In chapter five we get an explanation of the wisdom of crowds. The author explains the concept using the five building blocks of the wisdom of the crowds:

  • Diversity
  • Independence
  • Decentralization
  • Aggregation
  • Incentives

Ending with the question “How many people make a crowd wise?“ He also discusses the concept of group decision-making and group thinking (I had expected a reference to Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale University, who conducted most of the initial research on groupthink, but maybe I missed it). The last part of the chapter is the positioning of this book. Reflecting on project X and acting more consciously on the complexity of project Y, which the author managed at the same time he was working on this thesis.

To analyze project X (chapter 6) and Y (chapter 7) the author started with an environmental scan to evaluate the project management environment using the NTCP framework (Novelty, Technology, Complexity and Pace), the complexity map (Structural, Technical, Directional and temporal complexity) and the Cynefin questionnaire resulting in a classification of Complex/Complicated for project X and Complicated/Complex for project Y. As a next step the author analyzed the interaction and knowledge flows in the project network while assessing the team. For project X he used the Management Drives Color codes to assess the team and he analyzed the knowledge brokerage (knowledge managers, knowledge agents and capacity builders). For project Y the author used the Myers-Briggs personality types to assess the team as well as a DISC assessment based on Marston’s personality theory for one of the teams (Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. As a result he took several actions given the network and social network analysis. At the end of chapter 6 the author described an appreciative inquiry experiment he used to support a management team to create a shared vision about their project portfolio. For project Y, the author used a whole system approach, a World Café experiment that was highly appreciated by all involved. The author also described a Dialogue (Square) session he had with another group within project Y. Chapter 7 ends with a comparison between projects X and Y.

Chapter 8 gives the author’s vision how to approach project complexity. Start with an environmental scan to locate the project. When it’s a simple project use a traditional project management framework. For the complicated/complex/chaotic projects the following steps are to be taken:

  • Perform a network analysis
  • Draft a complexity pre-amble, a complexity adjusted project mandate
  • Write a complex project management plan
  • Create flexibility concerning duration of the project
  • Take prior interventions on team level to stimulate openness, innovation and creativity, thus designing the project management network
  • Perform the initiation stage with participative project management and start with project group sessions on requirements and risk management
  • Execute with on-going participative project management, with a focus on learning using whole- and soft systems methodology, dialogue, and a hybrid project management framework.

The author ends this chapter with an elaboration of the special role of the project manager in a participative project management setting (2nd and 3rd order change) and McClure’s Arc model on group development (Preforming, Unity, Disunity, Conflict/confrontation, Disharmony, Harmony Performing).

The last chapter shows some afterword from the author. His assumption was (and is) that projects use too-linear project management frameworks and his quest was to find and/or develop more complexity-aligned frameworks.

If I look at his vision to approach project complexity, the use of the wisdom of the crowds, the use of network analysis, participative project management, hybrid project management, etc., he really made a point. He gives a lot of food for thinking and I am definitely going to make use of some of his ideas. The thesis was sometimes difficult to read but it was definitely worth it.

To order:
Amazon: The metis of projects


One response to “Book review: The metis of projects (Part B)

  1. Pingback: Article: Acts of leadership in complex projects’ from Ben Berndt « Henny Portman's Blog

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