Welcome to the realm of Project Complexity Assessment


About Michael Cavanagh

Michael Cavanagh is a consultant specialising in organisational learning, development and project management. In his 40-year career, Michael Cavanagh has worked as a Programmer, Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Department Head and Consultant in a number of business sectors. In recent years, he has concentrated on the transfer of knowledge and wisdom in an organisational context. This work on experiential learning has led to the focus of his research and consulting activity being the use of systems thinking techniques to perform ‘forensic’ analysis of major project failure and the ways in which lessons can be derived and corrective process improvement implemented, applying these ideas in very large long-term projects. Michael has worked alongside many organisations in Defence, Transportation and Petrochemical sectors across Europe, the USA, Canada and the Middle East. He is a regular speaker at international conferences and in major Business Schools. Michael is also an ordained Anglican priest in the Church of Ireland, responsible for the churches of the Kenmare and Dromod Union, Co. Kerry.

Source: www.routledge.com


Project Complexity Assessment

Projects must be managed using complex project management methods. The misunderstanding of the difference between complicated and complex projects is a major cause of difficulty and failure. Complicated projects are linear, you know what you have to do, there may be a manual and various steps to completion have been captured. Complex projects are anything but linear. You don’t know what you have to do and are surrounded by unpredictability, uncertainty and tigers jumping out at you from behind trees. That’s what this book is about: finding out and assessing the complexity of a project before it starts.

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Second Order Project Management

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got, and if it’s not good enough, you need to do something else. As project complexity increases, so too does the need to do new things. The existing Project Management tools – examples being Earned Value Management, PRINCE2, Lifecycle Management, PMBOK® – are incredibly useful; but they were designed for linear project development in a stable, understood environment. We term them ‘First Order’. Second Order Project Management (PM) goes beyond, addressing the issues of a complex, unstable, uncertain environment with all its associated difficulties. Second Order PM has to address four major issues: the conspiracy of optimism, inappropriate contracting models, the application of methods and tools capable of dealing with complexity, and the need for creative, inspirational, adhocratic leadership. These problems are compounded by the need to convince executive sponsors from different disciplines to invest in the necessary process improvement – this book is designed to help alleviate the frustration that every member of the profession has experienced when trying to gain such approval. Illustrated by interviews with an international group of very senior managers responsible for managing highly complex projects, Michael Cavanagh explains why there is nothing magical, or even complicated, about Second Order PM. The techniques discussed include aspects of System Thinking, Experiential Learning and its application, Ethics and Governance, Stakeholder Relationships, Appropriate Contracting Models, Outcome-driven Management and Leadership Behaviour, all recognised as increasingly necessary in direct proportion to the complexity of the project at hand.

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Other publications and collaborations

Measuring Project Complexity

Deciding on the appropriate project management tools to use – or even if a project might be better outsourced – depends on its complexity. Michael Cavanagh explains how project complexity can be measured, providing data on which to base the decision:

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Designation Organization / Author
Project Management Complexity Evaluation Tool IPMA
PCA Tool ICCPM / M. Cavanagh
APM Project Complexity Assessment Tool APM
PCRA Government of Canada
DECA NAO – UK Government
The Helmsman Complexity Scale The Helmsman Institute
MMU Project complexity assessment matrix Manchester Metropolitan University
IBM Rational Rhapsody – Determining project complexity IBM
Project Complexity Evaluation Gerold Patzak
Project Size and Complexity Calculation Form Template it.toolbox.com / Craig Borysowich
MCD Project Complexity Assessment Tool Mission Critical Development

Author: Sebastian Burgemeister. “Project Complexity”, 2017. www.mcavanagh.com/methods

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Definitions of Project Complexity:

Baccarini (1996) 1 Project complexity consists of many varied interrelated parts and can be operationalized in terms of differentiation and interdependency.
Gidado (1996) 1 Project Complexity is the measure of the difficulty of implementing a planned workflow in relation to the project objectives.
Sbragia (2000) 1 The number of elements in the project, intensity of interactions between elements, and difficulty of cooperation between the functional areas.
Vidal and Marle (2008) 1 Project complexity is the property of a project, which makes it difficult to understand, foresee and keep under control its overall behavior.
Remington, Zolin, and Turner (2008) 1 A complex project demonstrates a number of characteristics to a degree, or level of severity, that makes it difficult to predict project outcomes or manage project.
Vidal et al. (2011) 2 Project complexity is the property of a project which makes it difficult to understand, foresee and keep under control its overall behaviour, even when given reasonably complete information about the project system.

1 Bac Phuong Dao. Dissertation “Exploring and Measuring Project Complexity”. Office of Graduate and Professional Studies of Texas A&M University, 2016. http://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/bitstream/handle/1969.1/158012/DAO-DISSERTATION-2016.pdf, Accessed 31.08.2017

2 Ludovic-Alexandre Vidal, Franck Marle, Jean-Claude Bocquet. “Measuring project complexity using the Analytic Hierarchy Process”. International Journal of Project Management, Elsevier, 2011. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01215358/document, Accessed 18.06.2017

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