In this episode, David Nimmo shares some strategies to help us overcome common roadblocks to success on complex projects.


After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • Why projects are becoming more complex
  • What to do if you are pressured to create a full design/requirements upfront
  • How to overcome analysis paralysis

Show Notes

The pace of business is moving faster and projects are getting more complex.  With the push for more speed and added complexity, we often find ourselves hitting roadblocks limiting our ability to be successful on projects.  The challenge is to find the right way do things to help business and technology teams to achieve success together.


Roadblock: Big Design Upfront

One common roadblock is the push to have everything to lock all of the details in upfront in order to mitigate risk.  Ironically, identifying all of the details upfront may actually lead to increased risk over more adaptive methods.

Even if we identified everything correctly upfront, by the time the project solution is delivered, the business need, environment, or technology may have changed.  The solution may no longer be fit for purpose.

We need to try to work with more adaptive and flexible approaches, both with requirements and contracts.  Outcome oriented contracts allow the flexibility to adapt the approach while still meeting the goal or expected outcome of the project.

Beyond flexibility in the contract, using the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) can help you deliver the most valuable items early.  Usually 80% of the value can come from 20% of the requirements.  Understanding what that valuable 20% is and focusing on delivering that portion early will allow you to deliver the most valuable capabilities early and then work on the remainder of the deliverables.

Using the 80/20 approach delivers value for the business and allows us to learn and adapt along the way.  Breaking large efforts into phases or iterations allows you to deliver value early and adapt to changes.

To find the critical 20%, it’s often best to use a collaborative approach and understand what’s important to each stakeholder and technology teams.  Having agreement and a common understanding of priorities will provide focus and clarity.


Roadblock: Analysis Paralysis

We often find ourselves in a state of analysis paralysis; continuing research and analysis activities without moving to the next step.  There are several reasons for this including the desire to ensure high quality in the analysis activities.  We don’t want any missing or incorrect requirements, so we work to keep digging and never move to action.

To combat analysis paralysis, use time boxing.  Set a specific time limit (e.g., one month) for analysis work.  This forces focus in analysis activities and means that you will complete what’s critical and delay some non-critical activities.  It also encourages appropriate risk taking.

Nothing important or worthwhile was done without risk.


Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin framework allows you to categorize your project and understand the actions that are appropriate for that category.  Categories include Simple, Complex, Complicated, and Chaotic and the framework includes suggested approaches to address those categories.


Listen to the full episode to hear all of David’s tips and suggestions for overcoming chaos on projects.



Your Homework

Don’t be held back by chaos, complexity, or uncertainty.  Make a decision and take the next step forward.  If you’re unsure which way to go, seek help from peers, mentors, coaches, etc.

Links mentioned in this episode:

David Nimmo

David Nimmo

Executive Consultant & Lead Innovator, NeoViz

David Nimmo has over 20 years’ IT and business consulting experience, about two-thirds of which was with IBM, where he led a community of over 400 Business Analysts in career and skill development. He has spoken to audiences at conferences in Australia and the US on topics including high performance leadership, agile, and innovative project success methodologies.

Chaos to Success

David Nimmo’s book “Chaos to Success!” outlines innovative strategies you can use for creating clarity and progress for complex projects.  The book includes information on several roadblocks you may encounter on your projects and strategies to overcome them.

The book is now available on Amazon.

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