Complexity Theory and Project Management


pmwj39-Oct2015-Berndt-BOOKBook Title: Complexity Theory and Project Management
Author:      L. Wanda Curlee and Robert Gordon
Publisher:   John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
List Price:   US$125.00 Format:
Hard Cover, 416 pages
Publication Date: 2011
ISBN:        978-0470545966
Reviewer:   Madison Berndt
Review Date:     October 2015



This book approaches complexity within projects as an opportunity to embrace change in a way that is intended to strengthen organizational capabilities. The underlying assumption that Curlee & Gordon have is that organizations need to incorporate practices that inject complexity into projects as a managed process. Curlee & Gordon propose that this be done at the framework level within PMBOK, as well as at the organizational level through the inclusion of virtual teams on projects.

Curlee & Gordon take the position that PMBOK is a methodology that needs to be modified in order to account for complexity in the modern environment. The book discounts the counter position that PMBOK is a framework that leaves room for other practices and tools to be included. What I enjoyed about the book is that the logical argument for moving away from a linear approach provides a useful description of how complexity within projects needs to be identified and how it drives the need for deviations from certain practices. Because the book’s perspective on PMBOK is similar to the opinion many others have, it’s a great primer for the type of discussion an experienced project/program manager may need to have when coaching a new project manager engaged on a complex project.

Most of the book covers the management of virtual project teams. The impact of virtual teams is viewed through the prism of complexity theory, and in doing so we get to see how the use of virtual teams drives the creation of the core capabilities needed for dealing with emergent complexity. Curlee & Gordon illustrate how making the adjustments to accommodate effective use of virtual team members carries additional value for the organization by providing the opportunity for higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and project execution. Half of the book is focused on the application of complexity theory to project and organizational culture. By relating cultural changes for the organization to project level decisions, the book shows project managers how well managed projects can have a positive impact on team members and influence corporate culture.

Overview of Book’s Structure

The first 15% of “Complexity Theory and Project Management” is devoted to a general overview of complexity theory and how complexity theory is seemingly at odds with PMI’s PMBOK training. Having provided a general description of complexity and an argument for expanding the PMI PMBOK framework to include complexity, Curlee & Gordon focus on elements of complexity evidenced when using virtual project teams and shows the reader how to best use this to benefit the organization.


To read entire Book Review (click here)



About the Reviewer


pmwj39-Oct2015-Berndt-PHOTOMadison Berndt

North Texas, USA




Madison Berndt is a Senior Project Manager located in the Dallas, Texas area focused primarily on enterprise IT infrastructure deployments. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, having earned his Bachelor of Science in Economics in 1989 and Master of Business Administration in 2007. In 2010 he earned the PMP certification. Mr. Berndt can be contacted at [email protected]

Editor’s note: This book review was the result of a partnership between the publisher, PM World and the PMI Dallas Chapter. Authors and publishers provide the books to PM World; books are delivered to the PMI Dallas Chapter, where they are offered free to PMI members to review; book reviews are published in the PM World Journal and PM World Library. PMI Dallas Chapter members can keep the books as well as claim PDUs for PMP recertification when their reviews are published. Chapter members are generally mid-career professionals, the audience for most project management books.

If you are an author or publisher of a project management-related book, and would like the book reviewed through this program, please contact [email protected].