Different Strokes for Different Folks

What kind a projects do we have? IBM has a simple model to distinguish between 4 different types of projects, the Cynefin model:

  1. Simple: standard projects, we know what to do, just do them
  2. Complicated: Some analysis is required, but we know we can do it. Typically projects with more steps and people involved. We need a good plan for execution and alignment
  3. Complex: this becomes more tricky, often we do not know the end. Examples are research projects or an IT system for a client who is still learning what it is they need. It works with defining a hypothesis and then testing the hypothesis. Based on the outcome we determine the next steps. Very open, difficult to plan ahead of time.
  4. Chaotic: No idea what this will look like. As if we have a startup with a brilliant new idea and we don’t even know if it will work. Often, the only thing you can do is to lock up your best people and wait for white smoke.


Can you recognize this? According to IBM the majority of projects is complicated or simple. That helps, but it is sill safe to guess that a significant part of the problems in PM comes from using the wrong PM method for the wrong type of project. How does that work then? 

  1. Simple: A Kanban board or a prioritized action list is typically enough here. All other things are overhead. Important, watch out how these projects can cause severe disturbance in more complicated projects...
  2. Complicated: A good plan, fast help when things do not work, no fixed task start times, stable prioritization of activities. Important to focus on the integration points! Critical Chain PM is here the "Current Best Practice".
  3. Complex: An iterative approach, for example SCRUM, with short well defined sprints with retrospectives and reshuffling of priorities based on the outcome. An open end while “we don’t know what we don’t know”
  4. Chaotic: Set aside, good people, let them figure it out, every method will be overhead here. When the project gets out of the chaos, then check if the remainder is complex, complicated or simple and facilitate accordingly...

Most toolsets have been designed for one of the above type of projects. Most companies I’ve seen have a mix. But there are tools designed to cover the full suite of approaches! For example Velocity Project Management (http://www.velocityforprojects.com/) from Sweden. Because:

Different Strokes

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