Document Detail

Title: IR305-2 - A Guide to Assessing and Managing Project Complexity
Publication Date: 5/1/2017
Product Type: Implementation Resource
Status: Tool
Pages: 72
Explains how CII Research Team 305 applied a structured research process to identify 37 indicators of project complexity, deployed the indicators to differentiate between high- and low-complexity projects, and then built a Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Process that helps a team gauge the complexity of its project and develop strategies for managing it. The PCAM Process includes a Microsoft® Excel-based PCAM Tool, which is included with this book.

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“Complexity” is used as a catch-all term throughout the construction industry. Whenever complexity is poorly understood and managed, project failure and uncertainty follow. Through a structured research process, CII Research Team 305 (RT-305) identified 37 indicators of project complexity and built them into a Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Process. By completing this process, project teams can increase their likelihood of achieving predictable project outcomes and project success.

The definition of project complexity varies greatly from person to person and project to project. Each project team needs to develop a common understanding of the complexity of its specific project before it can begin to understand and manage the challenges that complexity can bring to the project process. RT-305 formed a working definition of complexity based on the management of a project, to allow teams to assess what contributes to project complexity, how to measure that complexity, and to identify strategies to manage complexity.

“Project complexity is the degree of interrelatedness between project attributes and interfaces, and their consequential impact on predictability and functionality.”

After developing its definition of complexity, RT-305 identified 40 attributes of complexity by drawing on a review of literature (both about complexity and complexity theory) and team members’ personal experience. The team divided the attributes into 11 categories:

  1. Stakeholder management
  2. Governance
  3. Legal
  4. Fiscal planning
  5. Interfaces
  6. Scope definition
  7. Location
  8. Design and technology
  9. Project resources
  10. Quality
  11. Execution targets

RT-305 developed a survey to explore each attribute in greater depth, then deployed the survey to CII membership companies. Responses included a mixture of high- and low-complexity projects. Based on a statistical analysis of the questions, answers differed between high- and low-complexity projects for 23 attributes. The questions with observed differences were developed into 37 complexity indicators.

During the second phase of the project, a survey was developed that explored each of the attributes in greater depth. The survey was deployed to CII membership companies. Responses included a mixture of high a low complexity projects. Based on a statistical analysis of the questions there was a difference in answers between high and low complexity projects for 23 attributes. The questions with observed differences were developed into complexity indicators, thus addressing the first research hypothesis.

An analysis of two sets of data were used to address the second research hypothesis. There is a relationship between the complexity indicators and project performance. The first set of data from the CII Benchmarking and Metrics, which includes one question on project complexity, demonstrated no relationship between complexity and performance. The data analysis on the RT-305 complexity indicators found that there are three indicators with a relationship to cost performance and one indicator with a relationship to schedule performance.

Armed with these complexity indicators, RT-305 developed the Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Process, which includes the following three steps:

    Step 1 – Project Complexity Attribute and Indicator Identification

    Step 2 – Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Tool Application

    Step 3 – Project Complexity Strategies to Manage Key Project Complexity Indicators

The PCAM Process is intended to be completed by a project team at least once during project development; however, multiple applications may be beneficial to assess the changing complexity typical for a complex project. Each iteration of the PCAM Process builds a team understanding of the complexity of the project, a graphical representation of the level of impact of the complexity indicators, and a list of strategies to help manage the contributing complexity indicators.