Effective Employee Engagement to Decrease Projects Complexity


Lessons from Organizational Economics

David Tain, MSc., PMP

Alberta, Canada

The success of a project depends on the ability of the Project Manager to coordinate and integrate activities for the effective achievement of established goals. However, this success is permanently hindered by the complexity, naturally derived from the specific attributes of the project and the business environment. Analogous to the development of any economic activity, complexity represents the project externalities resulting from the organization of resources and activities along with the uncertainty to the completion of the different tasks.

One of the main contributors to complexity lays in the interactions of human resources, and the specific and temporary nature of projects exacerbated by the challenges to engage personnel and integrate activities, especially when changes emerge and quick adaptation is required. Project Managers, as leaders of these temporary organizations, are expected to effectively engage project personnel for the accomplishment of project activities. It is possible therefore to draw some concepts from Organizational Theory and Economics in an attempt to address complexity associated with the human resources, seeking a set of ideas that assist Project Managers in the adequate orchestration of activities.

Complexity and the Elements of Effective Engagement

The term “complexity” has been widely used in management literature to describe obstacles that hinder the achievement of objectives. Unfortunately, the loose use of this term, far from clarifying, adds a level of subjectivity that is a source of confusion (and anxiety) to the reader. For this reason, it is prudent to briefly examine the attributes of complexity in projects in terms that are tangible and useful for the advancement of our topic.

According to Professor Terry Williams, a prominent scholar in the field of Management Science and Operations Research, complexity in projects can be defined as a function of two major themes: 1- Structural complexity, defined by the number of elements involved in the project and the interactions among them and 2- Uncertainty, materialized in the level of clarity of project objectives and the methods used to achieve these objectives. This definition is in full correspondence with the recent PMI global Standard “Navigating Complexity” that explains complexity as a function of human behaviour, system behaviour (interactions and dynamics) and ambiguity (uncertainty and emergence).

A reflection on this definition allows inferring that it is imperative that the Project Manager understands human behaviour on a large scale to ensure effectiveness in the achievement of the planned objectives since, in essence, they are only possible through the aggregated contribution of the employees. Unfortunately, a simple examination of traditional concepts that describe human motivations (1) is not the best start point for setting strategies for engagement: as human actors it is natural to expect that stakeholders prioritize the satisfaction of their own needs over the achievement of the project or company goals. These rationales have been the cornerstone of theoretical frameworks that explain the tensions that emerge between organization and employee’s goals, including the well-known principal-agent problem.

In spite of these arguments, there are numerous examples of organizations that, fuelled with employees’ efforts, dedication and pride, overcome these conflicts predicted by traditional theories, progressively strengthening their positions in the market, ultimately resulting in the enhancement of their competitive edge. What have these “different organizations” done to maximize employee cooperation? What drives these employees to “work harder” towards the organizational objectives besides a monetary compensation? An appealing perspective to answer these questions was proposed by the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon, founded on the most essential component of a firm: the Organizational Strategy.


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About the Author

David Tain, PMP

Alberta, Canada



Venezuela flag

David Tain
, MSc., PMP is a Project Management Professional with an international career in the management and execution of major oil and gas projects. His managerial experience has a major focus in projects execution, Strategic Organization, negotiation and the study of human behavior in the project environment. He currently works as a Facilities Development Lead for a JV formed by ConocoPhillips and Total E&P in the development of a major Oil sands asset in Alberta, Canada.

David obtained his Civil Engineering degree from Santa Maria University in Caracas, Venezuela in 2001. He completed a Master Certificate in Project Management from Villanova University in 2009, a MSc. in International Management (Oil and Gas concentration) at the University of Liverpool, UK and the Strategic Decision and Risk Management Program at Stanford University in 2016. David received his PMP® certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in April 2009 and has been engaged in Project Management activities for over 16 years in the Development and Execution of Oil and Gas Major projects in South America (Venezuela) and in Canada, both in EPC and in the owner operator sectors.

A member of the Canadian Heavy Oil Association, the Strategic Management Society and the International Association of Energy Economics, he is fluent in English, French and Spanish. David can be contacted at [email protected].