The last year showcased how even well-established systems can fall in a moment due to unforeseen circumstances. And even how one person’s food preferences can break down the world’s economy for an uncountable period. Companies across the globe were critically endangered.
Then came the chaos, and software development companies were no exception to this. Organizations, teams, and people were forced to choose: give up or start a long way of change management.
What Chaos Itself Is, and Where Are Its Roots
First, let’s define what chaos is in its general meaning.
Chaos is an unpredictable or random behavior of one element, bringing undesirable disorganization to the whole system. Simply put, where the smallest part starts working wrong, the entire system is likely to break down.
Chaos has three key elements:
- extreme sensitivity to initial conditions;
- non-proportional cause and effect,
In its turn, the Chaos Theory suggests that every slightest change can have a significant irreversible effect.
In the context of organizations, Chaos Theory implies that when trying to apply simple causal laws to a business environment with a vast number of intersections and departments, especially technology ones in software development, it may result in non-linear changes across the company.
How and When Chaos Begins within an Organization and a Project
Let’s not deny that both organizations and projects are prone to chaos, so it’s essential to keep in mind some principles that will help you spot the slightest deviations.
Chaotic Organization and Steps to Mitigate the Consequences
Thoughtful company management should never forget the following about its organization:
- Organizations tend to be chaotic due to a feedback loop;
- Organizations transform into chaotic ones unnoticed;
- In a state of chaos, minor transformations may result in significant, unpredictable changes;
- In this state, a new, “strange” organization can be built at any level;
- The same action causes a different result in different organizations in different periods;
- The organization is always in one of three conditions: stable, moving in periodically stable (the edge of chaos), and chaos;
- The more significant number of feedback participants and time spans between the feedback and the action, the greater is the probability of chaos in the organization.
So what are the general steps to hold it on?
- Make small steps and take short-term decisions to transform non-linear changes into linear ones.
- Supervise activities at all levels of the company and within all the processes.
- Be aware of any inconsistencies or process disruptions. In case of any, change your actions immediately according to predicted results.
Seems to be simple, right? But the greatest trick is that all these actions require maximum engagement, awareness, a track record of all activities across the company, and a proactively reactive mindset.
Project in the Flame of Chaos and General Approach to Keep It on the Edge
How do we spot a chaotic project?
Basically, a chaotic project is where a plan is changed all the time, but any single renewed program isn’t executed.
Here are some other distinct features to be aware of:
- Any project is vulnerable to chaos;
- The more departments and participants a project includes and the longer it is, the more it’s subject to chaos;
- The project is always either stable or in chaos;
- Changes in over two variables force a project from stable to chaos;
- The results of changes across the chaotic project are totally unpredictable;
- In the chaos, the same actions in the same or other projects result in different consequences.
In the context of handling the project in a state of chaos, the following framework is one of the most effective:
- Eliminate feedback reliances with advanced project planning. Estimate the project and then divide it into stages, and then – into consistent and independent actions. Pause the project as soon as something goes wrong. Fix failures at the previous step as a particle of the next one.
- Eliminate non-linear changes with control of all small tasks within short time slots and change the direction at once if required. Arrange weekly meetings and have a precise action plan for each step before taking it — shape models for questionable events in advance.
- Detect the first signs of consequence violation right at their occurrence. Monitor the actual activities at all levels in all processes. React immediately to a particular issue instead of relying on the entire project report.
- Build a fast and transparent communication system and track its performance consistently. Use it as an internal information system for your partners, stakeholders, and team members.
- Identify to stakeholders and team members what results you expect of a project to produce. Encourage all the process actors and recognize their achievements.
Chaos management for a project is similar to that for an organization, but the main idea differs: we take a deep, pace-by-pace dive in a project, while organizational one requires a broad scope.
Strategies to Restrain the Chaos
Well, we discussed general methods to apply. Now let’s go down to actionable strategies to hold the chaos.
According to PM BOK, Project Management is the application of skills, knowledge, tools, and techniques to meet the project requirements. Put it simply, it’s a process necessary to guide a project or a team from the initial to the final stage. It includes 5 main stages: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Tracking, and Closure.
Although Project Management is no rocket science and has well-documented guidelines with specific timelines, focusing on technical systems and handling processes within to match the project requirements, something may go wrong at any time.
In Any Uncertain Situation, Use Scrum
Scrum is one of the most widespread techniques, primarily suitable for complex projects with constantly changing requirements and workflow. The framework suggests that your team works in fixed-length intervals, or Sprints, that involves the Sprint planning stage, Sprint review, and daily standup meetings.
The Scrum model has 3 key participant roles:
- A Product Owner (usually a customer or other stakeholder) participates in all development stages, declares the global vision, and provides feedback.
- A Scrum Master is responsible for the project process management, eliminating stoppers, and guiding a team through all meetings and other events.
- A Scrum Team is usually a software team with high-level collaboration skills focused on achieving a common goal.
In the context of sequences, Scrum works as following:
- Stakeholders’ requirements are shaped into the project backlog.
- Project backlog is divided into Sprint backlogs.
- Sprints usually last for 2 to 4 weeks, with daily meetings (what was done, what remains to be done, and what the stoppers are)
- Sprint results are transformed into potentially shippable product features.
- The Product Owner is embodied to change the requirements before each Sprint.
- The Sprint Team has the guarantees that the requirements won’t be changed during the current Sprint.
The Scrum framework is highly believed to be framework handling and leveraging the chaos for beneficial purposes for the project, software requirements, workflow, and the team. Encouraging Courage, Commitment, Focus, Respect, and Openness, Scrum makes chaos constructive and collaborative.
What does it mean?
Change Management is a set of approaches and instruments to handle changes within teams and companies to obtain the necessary business outcomes. Change Management allows for detailed-structured methods, implementing highly trackable and repeatable processes.
The Change Management process includes 3 key stages: Change Planning, Change Managing, and Change Reinforcing.
Change Management doesn’t only focus on the processes but broadens its scope on the people and their performance inside those processes.
Satir Model for Emotions Tracking
This framework is great to showcase for two reasons: first, it already includes the chaos as one of the stages inside; second, it tracks the emotions that employees feel during the change, and therefore, measures and handles their impact on the general performance.
Satir Model consists of 5 stages: Late Status Quo, Resistance, Chaos, Integration, and New Status Quo.
Now, let’s take a detailed overview of the Chaos stage and the processes inside it.
Here, Chaos is described as the lowest point of team productivity since the change starts to have a complete emotional impact on a team’s performance. The greatest support must be provided here as this emotional feeling must be addressed. Keep in mind that no matter the size of the changes, the impact on the employees’ productivity will be negative.
So the steps inside Satir’s Chaos stage are the following:
- Set up and run the stage 3 meeting with employees significantly affected by the changes.
- Listen, gather, and document the feedback and answer the questions arising during the meeting.
- Observe the classic chaos behavior patterns, such as random, looking for stability at any cost, attempts to go back to previous behavior patterns, and looking for drastic alternative options.
- Based on observations on the most affected employees, create a support system with an assigned mentor to guide employees through the chaos stage.
- Keep measuring KPIs and planning the team members’ performance against time, ensuring the support system works.
- Sum up all the stage results to pass them to the next one, which is Integration.
Combine and Conquer: the Integrated Approach
Both Project management and Change management are excellent at their scopes. Still, there’s a growing trend of applying both in the same organization and even team, which is combining them to handle the chaotic condition.
Such a Hybrid, or Integrated approach brings greater efficiency for each team member, a project, and the organization as a whole. Also, it mitigates risks for arising issues across the organization or the project. And finally, it improves communication and expertise across the teams.
So how to stick to the integrated approach?
- Keep your goals in line with the expected final business objectives so that you could avoid misunderstanding between project and change management teams.
- Combine agile project management methodologies with structured processes based on clear goals and milestones.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities in change management and project teams to increase efficiency and avoid delays due to miscommunication.
How to Make It Work with the Team
As we see it, being a chaotic project or a company, surviving and even thriving and is possible. Small steps and model scenario approaches will transform the organization into a more adaptive, creative, and resilient one.
However, you shouldn’t mistake it with chaos as a leadership style, having a mind of your own; otherwise, you’ll fail as a leader.
So how do you interact with employees to guide them through dark times?
- Refocus on the bigger picture and larger purpose. In uncertain times like the current one, especially when your organization finds itself in chaos, the team members should remember what they serve. It will encourage them to go on.
- Look for new directions and adjust your plan. Relying on your team’s strong trust that you’ve already built, convey to them the new strategy and how it keeps in line with your fundamental goal. It will help them not to get lost in an unstable environment.
- Explain the reason for the changes. Clarifying the reasoning behind any change and binding it into the company’s mission will help your team understand the implementation of the changes.
Have you already undergone the chaos? Or are you in the process?