PPP79: Project Managers Should Embrace the “Butterfly Effect”

“Can a decision early in the project cause disaster in the later stages?”. For may that have lead projects or been on project teams the answer to this opening question is “Yes”. But why start with this question out of the gate here and what does it have to do with this “Butterfly Effect”? I posed this question as a play on the original that asks, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”. This statement was coined by Edward Lorenz who is known as the Father of Chaos Theory. in this statement Lorenz summarizes the thought that once small action in one place can have massive impact in another. through more of his work Lorenz also shows that now matter how scientific or predictable we try to be, we cannot ever fully predict nature or certain outcomes. I find parallel to Lorenz’s work with projects in that no matter how much planning we put into the project or program, we cannot control or predict every possible outcome.

Another great analogy and explanation to Chaos Theory comes from Jeff Goldblum’s characterDr. Ian Malcolm in the first Jurassic Park movie. In an early scene Goldblum’s character explains the unpredictability by placing a drop of water on Laura Dern’s hand and noting that we can’t predict which way the drop will fall off. But can we be aware that water will fall off and have a napkin on hand to clean up the mess?

I believe so and my $.02 is if we embrace this Butterfly Effect we can try to lessen the variable we can control to help reduce the negative impact of the ones we cannot. In ‘PPP79: Project Managers Should Embrace the “Butterfly Effect”‘, I share six key areas I feel Project Managers and project leaders can focus on to lessen the chaos that is inevitable within any project or program.

A preview of the focus areas for this episode:

  • Approval process: Who is the project really for? Why do we want to do this? is this…
  • Project kickoff: Set the project tone and share “Who’s who?”. Do we have the right players? Are we…
  • Resource appropriately: Do we have the right team? Is the team motivated? How much…
  • Building and testing: Are we following a standard? Which standard is best for this project? Who gets to…
  • Going live: Did we create a ‘Go-Live Action Plan’? Have we accounted for fatigue, stress and…
  • Handoff to operations: Who takes over? Falling out of love with the project/program. Is the…

Hear more details about the key areas I believe will help projects prepare for a downstream tornado of issues that in some ways are uncontrollable during the lifetime of projects, but also areas we can help lead our teams to reduce the impact of if we put in the time up front.

LISTEN HERE – PPP79: Project Managers Should Embrace the Butterfly Effect

Thank you for reading and listening to the show.

Stay safe, wash your hands and Godspeed,


Kevin Pannell, PMP | Creator & Host, ‘People, Process, Progress’ | Connect and subscribe at https://linktr.ee/peopleprocessprogress

#thebutterflyeffect #chaostheory #edwardlorenz #jeffgoldblum #jurassicpark #projectmanagement #programmanagement #leadership


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