Project Management

Big Bang Delivery is Dead

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ASSERTION: The era of the big bang transformation and delivery is dead. Rapid, hybrid solution delivery is ascendant and necessary.

- Do you agree or disagree?


Given the rapid pace of technology and business disruption, most organizations are investing heavily just to keep up with the changes. What differentiates the leaders from the laggards in addressing this disruption is how they organize their business to execute against strategy.

We can no longer use the model of monolithic programs that go on for 2-3 years. Organizations find that what they set out to do or solve at the beginning is not what they will finish doing.

In the current business environment, traditional delivery models are now looking too rigid and organizations are locked into investments that often miss the mark. Leading organizations are using rapid delivery cycles that mobilize a project very quickly, aiming to release the product into market or to customers with minimum investment.


- How does role of the Project Manager change with this trend?

- How does the role of the PMO change?

- Does the approach to portfolio management need to adjust?


Posted on: June 12, 2019 06:39 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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While I agree that program managers should deliver benefits early and often, and should be fast and flexible. Circumstances often constrain the project to the point that there is no realistic alternative to structured delivery.

The rhetoric of being in times of change and disruption are over-hyped. While there is always evidence to show that "times, they are a-changing," there is a valid argument that our current economic, social, and political environment are not any more dynamic than, say, the period 1880-1920.


Some projects will always be big bang (large bridge?), some will be small to moderate bang (new house?), some will be incremental (software feature releases?).

I'd also say that projects are *always* structured but we're now/becoming more open to different ways of structuring the project (agile, hybrid, waterfall etc - choose your preferred terminology). Greg noted flexibility and that is perhaps where we're more open to different approaches.

@Greg/Ashleigh - I heard a great quote last month from Stefano Stetti:

"Not all environments are VUCA. There are 'normal' environments."

Indeed, there is a bit of hype to change, disruption, etc. and some projects (infrastructure, architecture, and similar) will always be delivered in a large, structured, longer-term manner.

The insight here is that our profession needs to be more open to flexible approaches. It is our duty to help guide our organizational leadership to understand and apply the new models to execution of strategy.

@Bruce: What was the context for the Stefano Stetti quote? I used Google and couldn't find anything except for in some now-gone Twitter feed.

All environments have - to some degree or another - the presence of VUCA. The statement implies that normal and VUCA are opposites. That is nonsense if that is what Stetti meant (but I can't evaluate his rhetoric without the context for the statement).

I've been a strong proponent for more thoughtful approaches to project and program delivery. There are some powerful methods available, but one of the biggest hindrances is that many project managers are linear thinkers wedded to the idea of there being best practices. The neglect of ambiguity (the A in VUCA) is a basic feature of human nature and project managers are very typical of that particular cognitive bias.

Very interesting article, thanks for sharing

'Dead' is a strong word. The times have always been changing. The younger generation has always been thought of as lazy by the older generation, and the older generation has always been blamed for the problems the younger generation is facing. There's a lot of hype and hyperbole used to sell ideas, and it works, in part, because feelings seem to win over facts, most of the time, and generational/institutional knowledge seems to go the way of Lessons Learned - it gets stored somewhere and forgotten.

It's been true, for while, that big bang approaches aren't always the best way to go. It's kind of like crime statistics and the media - people felt safer when the main crimes they knew about were the crimes in their own neighborhood. Now, people have access to information on global crime rates, and some crimes are given a lot more attention than others, blowing them out of proportion in order to drive an agenda. It's also kind of like car seat companies lobbying for laws that require kids to be in car seats until they reach a specific age, weight, and/or height. Who is really benefiting from the change?

All that being said, YES, companies do need to look at their objectives and determine the best way to accomplish them, whether that be big bang or incrementally/iteratively adding value. It's almost always better to add value quickly, but quickly is a relative term, and sometimes the quick wins aren't where your time is best spent. And who says a monolithic program can't change? It should adapt to a changing environment, but that doesn't mean the program failed or should end.

Does the role of the project manager need to change? Generally speaking of project managers as a group, no. Individually, if a project manager is locked into one way of doing things, then yes, absolutely, regardless of what that one way is. In 16 years as a project manager, I've heard of command and control projects, but never been on one. My role has always involved adapting to circumstances, culture, etc... We were doing iterative work and breaking large projects into smaller pieces before we knew Scrum existed or had heard of Agile. Project Managers need to understand the nature of the work to be done and the culture of the people they are working with in order to be successful. This doesn't change.

How does the PMO need to change? Which type of PMO are you talking about? There are companies where the PMO plays a consultative role, has influence with the decision-makers, and is able to quickly adapt to changing times. This is great, but the PMO can't make this happen on its own. In most companies, the leadership culture needs to change and be adaptable for the PMO to play a stronger role.

Does the approach to portfolio management need to adjust? Probably. When you consider that a lot of companies either aren't doing it, or aren't doing it well, there is a lot of room for improvement.

It's easy to speak of these things as needing to be a certain way, in a PMI-related forum, but a lot of companies don't see the connections between project, program, and portfolio management the same way PMI presents it. There are still companies that don't know the difference between a PM and a BA.

Times are changing, and some companies need to change more than others, but a lot more change is needed before big bang approaches will never be needed again, if at all. Consider building a space shuttle. You can build the parts incrementally and develop the software iteratively, but you can't launch it, or realize value from all of the work, until everything is done. I used to work in corporate events. We could break up all the planning and preparation into smaller pieces, but it all came together in one big bang.

The software world is evolving to where even large ERP systems are becoming less reliant on big bang approaches, but there's still a little bit of a cycle taking place between monolithic and distributed systems. Twenty years ago we had ASPs, today we have the Cloud. Maybe they're not exactly the same, but the saying that "Everything old is new again," doesn't just apply to fashion.

Fundamentally, the intent should be to use the approach that aligns with the need. Garnering trust, influence, and buy-in through past experiences and rationale for delivery with a cadence to satisfy the business justification as efficiently as possible in the bounds of business readiness. The right tool for the right job with education and awareness.

In my opinion it is based on the type of the project, although the world is moving towards more incremental delivery, there are instances where big bang may be still the best
Does the role of the project manager change ? For me basics remain the same, adaptability and flexibility gains paramount importance now.

I agree that rapid, hybrid solution delivery is the common sense approach in most environments. I disagree that it is the archrival of highly structured or big-bang approaches. For a couple of decades, I’ve used iterative approaches within structured methods such as Prince2 in enterprise projects. I then encase the project in PMBok process groups to top it off.

Now, if you state that the world of "true big-bang" (meaning no tolerance for change) is dead, then I would agree. I have worked North American, European and Asian projects and nowhere have I seen where "changed is not managed to and expected". There is nothing wrong with highly structured projects that "build in" and/or "manage to" iterative change. The larger issue in the realm of delivery approach for me, is "Risk Tolerance" and "Interpretation and Response to Risk".

I recognize and appreciate that these are "challenge-based" statements that you are making. I’m just a little burned-out on the “all or nothing” positioning that often occurs on this subject. Great Post!

Big Bang Delivery, might not be a solution for a large number of project. We are in a context we realize is more and move VUCA, that require regular adjustment.

How do you define "Big Bang Delivery"?

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