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Complex Project Management – What’s All the Fuss About?

whatsallthefuss1Complex Project Management (CPM) is the “next new thing” in our quest to achieve stronger project performance. Successful projects not only deliver on time, on budget, and with the full scope of features and functions. In addition, they deliver the expected benefits in terms of contributions to the bottom line of businesses. And projects today are complex, very complex. Our conventional project management tools and techniques alone are not adequate to successfully manage highly complex projects.

In my book, Complex Project Management, A New Model, published last year, I presented a new project complexity model, developed as an outgrowth of significant research on topics such as complexity science, project risk management, project sizing and estimating, and project outcomes. The purpose of the model is to diagnose the complexity profile of projects, determine the complexity dimensions that are present on projects, and then examine management approaches to manage the complexities.

Initial Project Complexity Model

Version 1 of the model presented in the text looked like this: Exhibit 1 – Project Complexity Model, Version 1.

Exhibit 1 – Project Complexity Model, Version 1.

Validation of the Project Complexity Model

After an effort to validate the model with about forty (40) IT project managers, it was clear that the model was not yet comprehensive or complete. In addition, it did not appear to have effective discriminating criteria to correctly determine the project profile, resulting in almost every project being diagnosed as “highly complex” when clearly many were only moderately complex.

As a result, a new version of the model is emerging. At this point in the evolution of the model, it looks something like Exhibit 2 – Project Complexity Model, version 2. The key differences between the two versions of the model include:

  • The addition of a fourth project profile, Highly Complex Program or “Megaproject”
  • Rewording and tightening the verbiage that describes the criteria used to diagnose a project’s complexity for each complexity dimension.

Exhibit 2 – Project Complexity Model, Version 2.

The Significance of Version 2 of the Project Complexity Model

To use the model, members of the core leadership team of projects (the project manager, business analyst, business visionary, solution architect, lead developer, change management expert) collaborate to select the appropriate cell that most accurately describes the project for each complexity dimension. Then, the following formula is applied.

Try using the model to diagnose the complexity of your current project. In future articles, we will present strategies to manage the complexity dimensions that are often present on highly complex projects or programs.

Exhibit 3

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Kathleen Hass is the president of Kathleen Hass and Associates, Inc., a consulting practice specializing in the business analysis, project management, and strategy execution. Ms. Hass is a prominent presenter at industry conferences, author and lecturer. Her expertise includes IT strategic planning, implementing and managing PMOs and BACOEs, facilitating portfolio management, leading technology and software-intensive projects, executive coaching, building and leading strategic project teams, and managing large complex programs.

Ms. Hass has over 25 years experience providing professional services to Federal agencies, the intelligence community, and various Fortune 500 companies. Certification include: SEI CMMI appraiser, Baldrige National Quality Program examiner, Zenger-Miller facilitator, and Project Management Institute Project Management Professional. Ms. Hass serves as Director at Large International Institute of Business Analysis. She has authored numerous white papers and articles on leading edge PM/BA practices, the renowned series entitled, Business Analysis Essential Library, a compilation of six titles on critical BA practices. Her book, Complex Project Management, A New Model, was selected to receive the 2009 PMI David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award to honor the best project management literature published in the last calendar year. Kathleen Hass, PMP, Senior Practice Consultant, can be reached at 303.663.8655 Email: [email protected] Website:

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