Govern Complex Projects for Success

Increase the success of complex programs and projects by establishing mechanisms for system-wide review and feedback. Find and manage hidden and emergent sources of risk, particularly in multi-enterprise undertakings. 

Objective:To deliver complex projects effectively and efficiently. (We’re tempted to add here ‘and rest on the seventh day’).

The challenge: Many people do not understand what a ‘complex project’ is or how to deal with them. The complexity arises from the inherent complexity of multiple objectives, tasks and parties involved and from how these collectively interact (or are allowed to interact) with each other and respond to stimuli and changes.

For example, assume that the sponsor of a major project with multiple stakeholders changes the scope or the specification of a part of the project. This can, and frequently does set off a chain of events which can unleash chaos. To make matters worse, the sponsor may not have a choice (for example, a change of government and policy), almost certainly won’t appreciate the impact of a ‘minor and necessary change’ and is in a position to hold the contracting agencies accountable for lost time, cost overruns and so on. 

We need to get to grips with what stimulates, influences and ‘stirs up’ complex systems. A crude analogy might be how the price of petrol or the lack of petrol influences the behaviour of motorists. For example, the threat or even the perceived threat of shortages or prices rise will see queues forming at petrol (gas) stations in a heartbeat.

Key Points to Understand

•   Traditional project risk methods are not effective in controlling complex, interconnected, dynamic and unpredictable risks        inherent in complex projects. They tend to rely on predicting and controlling specific scenarios using physical means.
•    Sources of risk in integrated, inter-connected, dynamic complex projects are outcomes of the project system’s behaviour        itself. Therefore, we need to look at how we can influence that behaviour. Human factors are crucial- leadership,                      communication, and decision making.                 
•    It is possible to control this unpredictability by paying attention how systems are set up, feedback loops and 

•    It is also possible to see if where and how the system as a whole is vulnerable to a descent into chaos and deal with that.

Useful contacts

International Centre for Complex Project Management – 
(Note: Dr Barber teaches at the Centre)