Project Complexity is Really About Your Project's Risks


One of my students emailed me recently, asking about how to assess project complexity. He said, “I think it would be pretty neat and also quite useful if you could define a project as say a .60 Apollos or what have you… I don't imagine it would be at all easy to come up with the measurement though…

It would be cool. And, I think complexity is relative to each organization–especially its project culture and the people. Remember the Project Pyramid? The parts that make complexity difficult to assess are in the two areas hardest to measure: People and the abilities, and work environment.

So when I think about project complexity, I think about the complexity in this environment. And I think about what these people can do. Those two risks are impossible to measure, and have a huge impact on perceived project complexity. Add in short schedules, large feature sets, and a low tolerance for defects, and you've got an even more “complex” project.

I've had good results talking about project risks rather than project complexity. That way I can explain the whole picture, rather than lump everything together as “complex.” And, maybe we can make some tradeoffs 🙂

2 thoughts on “Project Complexity is Really About Your Project's Risks”

  1. Complexity often implies lack of understanding, what is complex to one person may be crystal clear to another. I agree that risk assessment can make this visible where it can be measured and addressed. However, I have done many risk assessments for clients and reviewed many others. I have yet to see a risk that explicitly adresses either the abilities of the people or the impact of their environment, a risk that says “we/they may not know how to do this.” And remember, your environment is always invisible to you.

  2. I am intrigued by the different possibilities of describing a project by use of the word complexity… in my work it refers to complexity science… and therefore I would think of how the players in a project team would, by bringing diversity to it, even while attempting to meet some project objective, also create novelty, spontaneity and messiness along the way that could either help or hinder the organisation and/or the actual project in progress… project complexity in this sense could lead to new opportunities and unexpected results…

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