26 PM NETWORK AUGUST 2016 WWW.PMI.ORG
Getting It Done PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN ACTION
How mindfulness, rather than
rule-based project management,
can benefit certain projects.
By Elmar Kutsch and Neil Turner
Project management frameworks are often thought to be universal—they can be applied in any type of proj- ect, and success can be expected as long as project managers comply
with rules, processes and routines. This rule-based
approach is certainly efficient—but is it truly universal? For projects in a highly uncertain environment,
mindfulness may be a better alternative.
The traditional—and often espoused—way to
manage uncertainty and complexity in projects is
to strengthen an organization’s rule-based capabilities. The belief is that repeatable packages of rules,
processes and routines help to reduce human
variation as a cause of failure. These frameworks
aim to design potential adversity out of a project
and draw on the expertise and experience of project managers who came before.
This practice often makes sense. Such an “auto-
pilot” approach means project managers can
rapidly respond to difficulties because solutions to
potential problems are decided before they even
arise. However, we have to face the fact that in
complex projects, we cannot always fully predict
how events will unfold. Traditional probabilistic
risk management, for example, oversimplifies the
past by breaking it down into separate elements of
risks. It also aims to analyze what we know from
past experience, not necessarily what we do not
know about the future. As a result, it may create an
illusion of control, undermining our preparedness
for what we cannot predict.
Mindfulness offers an alternative route to managing complexity and uncertainty. Mindfulness seeks to
tap into flexibilities within the human mind to create
options where historically informed rules, procedures
and routines find their limits. The approach involves
questioning before taking action, resisting the
temptation to assume we have control, not relying
on predefined actions, innovating and improvising.
Mindfulness allows project managers to creatively
generate options to deal with uncertainty, rather
than selecting from a set of past-informed options
that may not fit the problem at hand.