Six Fresh Eggs

A half dozen new ideas for managing projects in a rapidly changing VUCA world



By David L. Pells

Addison, Texas, USA




Perhaps eggs are not the perfect metaphor for project management. But how many project managers or organizations have “laid an egg” by not working on the right project?  How many have ended up with “egg on their faces” by screwing up a project?  How many project managers have “killed the goose that laid the golden egg” by ignoring a critical stakeholder? With the rate of project failures remaining high, it seems that some fresh ideas are needed.

This paper identifies six new ideas (or fresh perspectives) for project management in a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), as follows: (1) Break large projects into smaller, more manageable projects, migrate to program management and focus on strategy, stakeholders and benefits; (2) Reverse Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) –  analyze the impact of changing conditions and environmental factors on your projects; (3) Stakeholder Intelligence – understand your stakeholders’ changing attitudes and issues over the course of a program or project, how VUCA affects project stakeholders; (4) Benefits Engineering – rather than value engineer scope to meet cost and schedule goals, adjust benefits to maximize value and customer satisfaction; (5) DARPA vs The Hunger Games – harness diversity, new knowledge and team-based innovation to create new solutions; and (6) Strategic Agility – when and how to adapt agility and agile project management.

Maybe some of these ideas will help project managers avoid constantly “walking on eggshells” or getting “goose eggs” from mid-project collisions.

Keywords:       project complexity, program management, reverse EIA, project innovation, agile, strategic agility, stakeholder intelligence, benefits engineering


This paper is a summarized introduction to several topics, each of which deserves more attention and treatment than is possible in these few pages.  The topics and ideas are based on several things – the apparent continuing high rate of project failures; the topic of this conference, i.e. increasing pace of change in the world and the VUCA conditions faced by many projects; a growing body of knowledge associated with program(me) management, including standards and government guidelines in Australia, UK and USA; some brilliant recent papers published in the PM World Journal; and my recent experience working on a major U.S. government program.


A survey published in HBR found that the average IT project overran its budget by 27%. Moreover, at least one in six IT projects turns into a “black swan” with a cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%. In other words, while most IT projects will fall short of their budget targets, a few might overshoot the targets so much as to cause catastrophic organization-wide problems. [1] Annual surveys and studies, white papers and reports by various organizations worldwide seem to indicate that project success and failure rates continue at unsatisfactory levels.  This seems surprising based on the widespread knowledge and use of project management models, standards and tools.  With all the experience that now exists related to projects and PM, what’s going on?  Is it all due to the VUCA world?  What can we do to improve outcomes?  Below are some ideas.


According to Mieritz, “A recent Gartner user survey shows that large IT projects are more likely to fail than small projects… Runaway budget costs are behind one-quarter of project failures for projects with budgets greater than $350,000.  Small is beautiful — or at least small projects are easier to manage and execute. The failure rate of large IT projects with budgets exceeding $1 million was found to be almost 50% higher than for projects with budgets below $350,000. To optimize success, look for ways to limit the size, complexity and duration of individual projects, and ensure funding has been committed…” [2]


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 13th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in May 2019.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Pells, D.L. (2019). Six Fresh Eggs: A half dozen new ideas for managing projects in a rapidly changing VUCA world; presented at the 13th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium, Richardson, Texas, USA in May 2019; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue VIII, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pmwj85-Sep2019-Pells-six-fresh-eggs.pdf



About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL




David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.com) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 40 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); Istituto Italiano di Project management (ISIPM) in Italy; and the Russian Project Management Association.  In 2010 he was awarded an honorary membership by the Project Management Association of Nepal.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (since 2012).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at editor@pmworldjournal.com.

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/