Posts Tagged ‘Control’

Control, Complexity and Authority

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Humans have a need to feel that they are in control. Control is a profound need. When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the evidence of inadequate control.

From an evolutionary standpoint, if we are in control of our environment, we stand a far better chance of survival. Our subconscious mind thus releases certain chemicals when faced with danger. The only time we will feel a sense of control is when we understand how things work and we can predict what will happen.

So how much control can you expect in different situations?

In financial markets, you expect a 1-4% return if you want to stay in control and take a small risk. But if you want higher returns, you must be prepared to take more risks. When you take more risks, you lose control at the same time.

The higher the stakes are and the more pressure you feel, the more sense of control you will need. If you have more responsibility than authority, this can frustrate you.  You feel the need for more control, and this in turn creates stress.

Running a complex project means that you’re aiming for more than 1-4%, and are willing to take a larger risk. To demand that someone be in control only creates stress. To gain more control and to be able to plan far into the future are only possible when you take more risks. To think that you can stick to a pre-drawn map that does not take into account the fact of control creates frustration and friction. The feeling of control in complex projects comes from breaking down all activities into smaller segments and making detailed short term plans.  Don’t expect long term planning to work.

What’s my conclusion on the question, why is it difficult to plan for success in software development?

Reaching Maximum Business Value


When work is more of an exploratory journey, your work is to solve problems you don’t yet understand by creating a solution that you also don’t yet understand. At the same time, you should communicate with people in a language you haven’t yet learned. Because of these “unknowns”, the work is complex and there is a lot of noise. The noise interferes with your information in such a way that you can’t distinguish the message from the noise.

In this situation traditional plan-driven processes that try to predict the future will only give you a false feeling of control. To control this situation you will not be producing the best solution since you will steer to your perception of what the customer wanted in the beginning of the project.

During the journey, however, the customer got wiser so that the original goal is no longer good. The customer now wants the benefits of the knowledge he acquired during the journey. By organizing work in different ways, you are actually getting more business-oriented and you’re lowering the risk.


Predicting Complexity Leads to Guilt and Guilt Lead to Apathy

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Predicting Complexity Leads to Guilt

When you work as a project manager you are expected to be in control. To control and review things, you must be able to predict things. To be able to predict things you need a plan.

The most common planning and control tools are GANT and PERT diagrams. But for a PERT diagram to work, it needs to be accurate and must rest on the assumption that it’s predictable.

How is this possible in a complex and complicated world? These types of tools give the project manager a sense of control. With this tool the project manager can control the holy trinity of scope, cost and schedule. Every real project manager has full control of these parameters; otherwise, he would be a fake.

But what happens when the project manager starts to experience the noise? A feeling of being out of control takes over. The second effect is that he feels guilty and asks, “With the information and resources I had, did I do my best? I’m not in control and I should be. How and why did this project fail? Is there any way to save my reputation when this project fails?”


When doubt and guilt get hold of a project manager, he does not focus on making the best software; instead he focuses on regaining control. No process or methodology is a crystal ball where in you can look into the future, only because he made an initial plan.

It may sound like I dislike GANT and PERT diagrams. Not at all! They can be very useful, but if they are your sole foundations and tools for organizing and controlling your project, I’d say you could develop an ulcer!

Guilt may Lead to Apathy

When a project manager’s work is based on a reliable process that produces predictable results and the manager feels that he did everything by the book (which must be right), he starts to wonder if the team followed the process.

Maybe the developers didn’t follow the process or aren’t doing what they are supposes to.  This can lead guilt, doubt and blame to spread within the organization. When people feel they are trying hard and doing their best and still fail to live up to their own expectations, they will eventually stop trying to do their best.

If I am confronted with failure even when I do my best, it’s best to just mind my own business. Why care about things that I haven’t been assigned to work on, and get blamed for things failing?

When this happens, things could be overlooked. They fall through and apathy takes over. To control this situation, the project manager has micro manage everything. The traditionally defined software development process is broken. It’s not a predictable tool that leads to repeatable results.

Let’s stop fooling ourselves, software development isn’t civil engineering. We don’t have 10% construction that leads to a 90% predictable production. When projects are complex and noisy, no process can be defined in advance to obtain a repeatable result. The solutions must be an adaptive and empirical process control.

Predicting Complexity Leads to Guilt

When you work as a project manager you are expected to be in control. To control and review things, you must be able to predict things. To be able to predict things you need a plan.

The most common planning and control tools are GANT and PERT diagrams. But for a PERT diagram to work, it needs to be accurate and must rest on the assumption that it’s predictable.

How is this possible in a complex and complicated world? These types of tools give the project manager a sense of control. With this tool the project manager can control the holy trinity of scope, cost and schedule. Every real project manager has full control of these parameters; otherwise, he would be a fake.

But what happens when the project manager starts to experience the noise? A feeling of being out of control takes over. The second effect is that he feels guilty and asks, “With the information and resources I had, did I do my best? I’m not in control and I should be. How and why did this project fail? Is there any way to save my reputation when this project fails?”

When doubt and guilt get hold of a project manager, he does not focus on making the best software; instead he focuses on regaining control. No process or methodology is a crystal ball where in you can look into the future, only because he made an initial plan.

It may sound like I dislike GANT and PERT diagrams. Not at all! They can be very useful, but if they are your sole foundations and tools for organizing and controlling your project, I’d say you could develop an ulcer!

Guilt may Lead to Apathy

When a project manager’s work is based on a reliable process that produces predictable results and the manager feels that he did everything by the book (which must be right), he starts to wonder if the team followed the process.

Maybe the developers didn’t follow the process or aren’t doing what they are supposes to.  This can lead guilt, doubt and blame to spread within the organization. When people feel they are trying hard and doing their best and still fail to live up to their own expectations, they will eventually stop trying to do their best.

If I am confronted with failure even when I do my best, it’s best to just mind my own business. Why care about things that I haven’t been assigned to work on, and get blamed for things failing?

When this happens, things could be overlooked. They fall through and apathy takes over. To control this situation, the project manager has micro manage everything. The traditionally defined software development process is broken. It’s not a predictable tool that leads to repeatable results.

Let’s stop fooling ourselves, software development isn’t civil engineering. We don’t have 10% construction that leads to a 90% predictable production. When projects are complex and noisy, no process can be defined in advance to obtain a repeatable result. The solutions must be an adaptive and empirical process control.