Did you know that the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz (born in 1780) had to face the same challenges as today’s project managers? Both deal with an understanding of complex systems and come up with comparable conclusions.
Plan meets reality
Before taking you on a guided tour to military theory with this blog, I must emphasize that I certainly do not want to compare modern project management with war. It is only my intention to illustrate that complexity and uncertainty in a project are not a modern phenomenon. The German term “Friktion” (transl. into English as: “friction/attrition”) plays a central role here. In 1832 General Carl von Clausewitz described the phenomenon as a term that comprises the differences of the real war with a war on paper . He was inspired by the physical term from the field of mechanics where the meaning of “Friktion” is translated as “Reibung” (transl. into English as “abrasion”). Von Clausewith transfers “Friktion” into all occurring difficulties, which differentiate the intended from the real plan. According to von Clausewitz’s point of view, unpredictable incidents occur. Also, when it comes to the organization and management of human beings, it must be considered that a group consists of individuals underlying their own friction. The longer any enterprise involving a number of people continues , the “Friktion” grows, since a rising number of unpredictable incidents (e.g. coincidents) can have an effect on the planning.
If we look at his theory from the 19th century, we will recognise similarities to the project management of the 21st century. A project in its implementation differs from the original theoretical planning on paper due to the influence of unpredictable factors.
What can we do against that? For von Clausewitz it is obvious that a good general must accept all uncertainties and has to take advantage of them. These considerations are already part of some existing project methods. In the Agile Manifesto, the basis for Scrum, one of the four principles is called: “Responding to change over following a plan.”
The project management methodology Prince2 (Projects in Controled Environments) entails comparable approaches as well. Two of the seven basic principles are: Continued business justification and tailoring to the environment. Now it is our turn to use and live them in our project management environment. Project management makes no sense, if not applied.
In my daily business as a project consultant or agile coach, I often come upon static project plans. These static plans must frequently be strictly observed, although the surrounding conditions change. No Doubt: planning is necessary and important. But there has to be a basic acceptance for adaption to changes. This is the only way to react and to control the changing requirements with the flexibility needed. Let us use methods from the planning-oriented project management and stipulate a basic concept on paper. But let us not engrave it in stone and at least develop a detailed plan incrementally. Question the old and try the new to obtain agility within your organisation. How about using the procedure of the User Story Mapping instead of the usual Gantt Chart to develop your project plan?
Today, agility is just as important as it was during the time of von Clausewitz. We can assume that it will be essential for managing projects. In agile project management, uncertainty is accepted as part of the planning process. This is one of many reasons why methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban and XP are more successful – after having evaluated the Agile Status Quo – than planning-oriented project management. But before you start to replace the old framework with something new, always take a look at your organisation. Take an inventory of your methods and decide what might be reasonable and worth to maintain. Planning-oriented project management is not completely bad, and Scrum and Co. are not entirely useful.
Hybrid Project Management might be a solution
Why only agile OR plan-oriented project management, if we can have both? Be demanding and combine both worlds. Hybrid Project Management is the catchword. Use agile values as a basis for each project and use a suitable method. Accept the friction and create your own individual system. Like the Prussian General von Clausewitz and a modern project manager, the GPM deals with the topic “complexity and uncertainty” and presented the new certification “additional certificate” hybrid+” during the annual PM Forum in Nuremberg in 2016. It is one of the targets of this additional certificate to convey an understanding of complex systems and to encourage a regulation through an iterative approach in order to reduce uncertainties. With hybrid+ the GPM helps to push the development of project management. The certification enables projects managers with a wide classic project management know-how to integrate and use agile methods.
What is the story behind hybrid project management? TEAMWILLE is an authorised GPM training partner and offers a qualification training in hybrid project management. In our training sessions, you will be provided with relevant content and, therefore, be perfectly prepared for obtaining the additional certificate hybrid+. Please use the following link to find more information about the qualification training for Hybrid Project Management.
You want to learn more about Agile Project Management? The following blog article provides you with an introduction into working with an agile approach: Scrum is not the solution. The solution is always with us!
 „Friktion ist der einzige Begriff, welcher dem ziemlich allgemein entspricht, was den wirklichen Krieg von dem auf dem Papier unterscheidet.“ (Roughly translates into English as: ‘Friction is the only concept that captures the differences between actual war and war on paper.’)  Carl von Clausewitz (1832): Vom Kriege, ed. by Werner Hahlweg (Bonn:Ferdinand Dümmlers Verlag, 19th edition, Bonn 1991).