Adaptive Project Management

The problem

In major construction and capital-intensive projects, most of the work is done by third parties under commercial contract agreements. According to a McKinsey report, more than 90% of megaprojects face cost overruns and delays. To turn around the poor track record, construction executives are under tremendous pressure to keep the promises made to project owners and investors. Margins are thin and construction often starts with limited design and costing. Adversarial relationships with contractors are common due to juxtaposed profit-generating practices and conflicting safety motives. There should be no surprise that project leaders and managers feel overburdened and have sleepless nights worrying about problems.

The Stratflow Insight

In our experience, project managers and teams are often overloaded with information and decisions that do not help with delivering the desired result. Stratflow has had three fundamental insights that enable us to outperform all competitors.
1) Major projects are planned, scheduled, and costed assuming reasonably stable, predictable conditions. However, little preparation can be done about unforeseen and unexpected problems due to uncertainty and complexity.
2) Project execution speed is governed by only a few constraints.
3) These constraints can be difficult to identify and manage since they shift and information (bad news) does not travel well to where the authority lies to make adjustments.

By embracing the best of the Theory of Constraints (management science) and the Cynefin Framework (complexity science), we have assembled a ‘light touch’ approach. The process informs Project Managers and teams in near real-time where constraints are and monitors if the fixes are working.
We do not require people to change their systems or structure for our intervention to work. We just enable them to make dramatically better decisions much faster.

What we do

Adaptive Project Management is agnostic to the type of PM methodology, software, and tools being used. A major concern is the flow of information on project status. Crucial information about what is not working (bottlenecks) is not available in any of the reporting systems typically used.
Construction executives are often the last to know that a project has fallen off the rails. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. This should not be surprising since it’s natural for middle level PMs and teams to demonstrate competency, especially if tied to financial incentives. What we do is help them by providing a real-time Dashboard allowing them to detect early signs of pending problems, identify potential reasons, and implement correction actions.
The primary advantage of this is that it allows management to identify the few bottlenecks in the project and to track the effectiveness of adjustments managers make here, but it also has a significant positive impact on risk and specifically safety performance. The “Three Bottle Flow” video on YouTube ( demonstrates the TOC principles.
The source of information about bottlenecks comes from the very people who have first-hand awareness of the delays and frustrations. Humans are natural storytellers. What we do is enable them to enter their front-line experiences 24/7/365.
We use a software service from Cognitive Edge called SenseMaker®. Its pattern recognition capability can convert narratives into data to generate the Dashboard’s 2D contour maps. These maps reveal deeper meaning and context thereby making visible what traditional surveys and opinions do not.”

A real time dashboard

The 2D contour map below shows the monitoring of safety and productivity on a Dashboard. In this example. there are many events in the “X” area when workers had to bend the safety rules to get some work done. This might be the early detection of a pending failure and warrants immediate attention. By clicking on the dots, narratives can be read to pinpoint where this is happening.
Besides being high risk, the low job completion rate may reveal a bottleneck. Data can be sliced and diced in SenseMaker® to further verify a potential bottleneck.
Another benefit of a Dashboard map is prompting a desired direction. In this example, the green area is where quality work is getting done within the safety rules. The intervention question asked is: “What constraints might be adapted so that we get fewer stories here (red) and more stories there (green)?”
As new narratives are entered; map contour lines automatically change. This means intervention improvements can be observed in real time.
Narratives maps are a welcomed addition to any project Dashboard to gauge progress. Since narratives describe what people do, essentially it is a dynamic representation of the project culture.

Adaptive Project Management stages

The following stages are modular and can be run independently, but we recommend that they are done in sequence for the best reward to risk outcome.

Adaptive Project Management in action: $800m light rail project brought back on track

During 2018 a large construction company battled with a light rail project that was running over time and budget. Senior executives were especially worried about rising level of near misses and safety risk. After a series of narrative sessions with frontline management, supervisors, engineering, and contractors, the author helped them to analyse the patterns involved and to identify the bottlenecks preventing the smooth flow of work. In collaboration with a Safety consultancy we represented this information as a flow chart with the leverage points (areas of focus) highlighted. This provided the common vision around which all participants could align and coordinate effort. Within a few months this project returned to the schedule, costs were in control again, and safety improved dramatically.