The Complexity Elephant

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Many of you will be familiar with the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” The response is, “One bite at a time.” It’s an old saying, but a very true one when used as a metaphor for complex challenges.

I often feel it is the way a project manager has to live when managing a large and complex project—helping the team focus on getting through its work one piece at a time, and not being overwhelmed by the enormity of all the work that has to be done (or the size of the challenges ahead). It’s a proven approach, which of course is why the saying remains popular—and it is very effective at keeping team members focused.

But what about the project manager? The adage is great for the project team, but can the PM afford to ignore the elephant and just focus on the next “bite-sized” piece of work? I don’t think so, and that’s what I want to explore in this article because it can be an enormous challenge (elephant sized, even).

The project manager still needs to have enough understanding of the detailed elements to be able to support the team—while being able to grasp all the variables of the larger initiative to be able to understand how things are progressing against the goals.

Perhaps most important of all, he or she needs to be able to connect those two extremes to ensure the impact of macro-…

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