Chapter 4The Whole Solution

When does a project become so big that it becomes a program? This is a question that has been posed to us on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, we do not have a good answer for this question as we view things a bit differently. Our experience is that it's not about whether a project should be restructured as a program because of its size, but rather because of the level of complexity that is involved.

Richard Cook, the deputy project manager of the Mars Science Laboratory at NASA, knows something about complexity. Before overseeing the operations of the Mars Exploration Rover, Cook was the manager of the Mars Pathfinder Mission and before that conducted trajectory designs on the Magellan Project. After years of working with complexity, he concluded that the word complexity “is frequently thrown around as a sort of synonym for ‘difficult.”1 Cook noted correctly, “Complexity is the quality of being intricately combined,” and he distinguished complexity from difficulty based on “the number of interconnected elements that are tied together either technically or programmatically.”

It is this perspective of interconnectedness and interdependence among parts that, for us, is the primary determining factor if a project should be structured and managed as a program. The goal is to manage the amount of complexity that develops from the introduction of interdependencies. For decades, people working to create and deliver complex solutions in industries such ...

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