A Grand Challenge is not a Project

I have been using this platform to discuss Grand Challenges– big, bold initiatives that take on some of society’s wickedest problems. A Grand Challenge is NOT a project. While there are similarities, this issue of Visionary Talk focuses on the differences between a Grand Challenge and other projects and initiatives.

Watch the video above or read the text below to learn how Grand Challenges differ from projects in:

  • Handling ambiguity
  • Designing supporting events
  • Mapping milestones and achievements
  • Contingency planning
  • Sharing information

Projects, like grand challenges, can be big, bold, and complicated. Think about the process of assembling a 747 airplane – super complicated. But with experience, we have determined clear milestones, identified common problems, defined a finite solution set, and know when the build is complete and how it should look.

Grand challenges are different in complexity. They are opportunistic, and their achievements are valued on the ability to create forward momentum. There can be an infinite set of possible solutions, and predicting the results is difficult.

In a project, hierarchical, hub and spoke style, information dissemination meets most communication needs. But a Grand Challenge requires building an ecosystem that includes many organization leaders talking to each other in various conversations, all leading toward a common agenda.

A roadmap approach of clearly defined goals and methods drives the events supporting a complicated project. As my colleague Dale Cyr says, Grand Challenges use a compass approach. Driven by a common agenda, you know where you’re headed, but how to get there leaves a lot to be defined.

Projects don’t have a lot of tolerance for ambiguity. Methods, timelines, and goals drive them. Grand Challenges, on the other hand, run on passion and rely on inspiration and dedication to a common agenda to achieve its objectives.

Remember, a Grand Challenge is not a project and should not be handled as such. Significant differences exist in treating ambiguity, designing supporting events, mapping milestones and achievements, contingency planning, and sharing information.

If you’re planning a Grand Challenge, you’ll find my videos on planning and design, execution, and the critical elements of success helpful. Please email me for additional information or to schedule a call. I love learning about new initiatives in the works.

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