Hybrid Methods for High-Tech Spaces

Carleton is an Associate Director Portfolio Management in Queensland, Australia.

Do agile or lean methods work better than traditional structured project management in a new technology environment? The answer is, it depends.

New technology projects can take any number of forms—anything from implementing artificial intelligence solutions to clean energy to building a new type of nuclear reactor. A key identifying feature of these projects is that there is no well-defined outcome at the start. Phrases such as “first of its kind” or “never been done before” are often used.

This article is based on my experiences working on projects such as an ocean energy project, a hi-tech desalination plant and an early implementation of computer-based structured reasoning. Each project used an approach that was hybridized by the project management team in an attempt to deal with the inherent uncertainty.

Complex, new technology projects are always risky, but not all projects carry equal risk. Think of the level of risk as occupying a sliding scale. At one end are projects with known and quantifiable risks. At the other are projects loaded with unknown unknowns, which as Donald Rumsfeld famously opined are the difficult ones.

Those projects at the extreme end of the risk spectrum frequently suffer from what the International Centre for Complex Project Management refers to as a “conspiracy of optimism.” The expectation …

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