Welcome to the November 2017 PMWJ

Complexities, Size Matters, the Death of Simple Project Management, and… Welcome to the November edition of the PM World Journal

By David L. Pells

Managing Editor

Addison, Texas, USA


Welcome to the November 2017 edition of the PM World Journal (PMWJ), the 64th uninterrupted monthly edition.  This edition contains 26 original articles, papers and other works by 28 different authors in 16 different countries.  News articles about projects and project management around the world are also included. Since the primary mission of this journal is to support the global sharing of knowledge, please share this month’s edition with others in your network, wherever in the world they may be.

For the past year I have used this opportunity to discuss important trends or issues that I see as journal editor.  This month, I want to discuss complexity, not in depth but from my perspective.  Increasing complexity in programs and projects has been a major topic in project management for the last ten years. It has been the subject of many papers and conferences, and is now mentioned by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in various standards and white papers.  Nevertheless, I think there are still some doubters that complexity is anything new, perhaps especially in the project controls field where estimators, planners, schedulers and earned value management professionals have been working on complex programs and projects in aerospace, defense, energy and other industries for decades.

Complexity itself, however, is not a simple topic.  It has many dimensions, changes and increases with the size and nature of a project, and has led to new perspectives on the nature of project management.  This in turn is leading to some fundamental changes in the project management field.

Complexities – some dimensions and perspectives

Consider complexity related to a few major topics in PMI’s PMBOK Guide and most other standards, guides and books on project management – just for single projects.

Scope management complexities – Project scope management has long been associated with complexity.  Yes, technical complexity is real and has been an important aspect of scope management for decades, in some industries more than others.  But today there are two trends magnifying the complexity: rapid rates of change in most technologies, and the increasing amount of information technology (IT) on nearly every project.  Since IT is one of the most rapidly changing technologies in the world, these two trends alone can multiply complexity on many projects. Longer term planning is more difficult.  And supply chains, contracts and organizational relationships can be affected, all in turn affecting scope. Complexity is also compounded by the digitalization of projects.  Every element of a project, including tasks, materials, components, software, suppliers, resources, designs, responsibilities and everything else has a digital record.  Every project of any size creates massive databases that must be managed; every project now includes IT, database administration and cybersecurity both as additional scope and resource requirements.  And these digital records and databases must be planned, administered and managed, either by specialized experts or by project team members. It can all get complicated in a hurry.

Contracting and procurement complexities – Most projects involve contracts, and procurement of materials, equipment, services or other resources.  Large organizations have procurement departments to deal with contracts, procurement processes and supplier relations.  But every project manager is responsible for identifying and planning the contracts and purchases needed for her or his project.  How many of you prepare your own contract documents, or read every line in those prepared by your contacts department. Now consider the entire supply chain for a project, the contracts and legal issues involved, and the potential impact on your project if issues arise.  And then consider international supply chains, different laws and regulations in different countries or jurisdictions, translation issues, disputes and claims by sub-contractors or suppliers (anywhere in the supply chain).  What could possibly go wrong?

Leadership, human factors complexities – One of the primary topics in the PM field for decades, leadership of teams may be the most important aspect of successful project or programme management.  But combine leadership with  psychology, emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, virtual teams, multiple generations, multiple primary languages, multiple work schedules and time zones, multiple organizations and organizational relationships, multiple personal and group communication issues, etc.  And how do such complexities need to be addressed in different locations and cultures, on cross-border projects, with truly complex mixtures of teams and human resources. You get the picture.

Stakeholder complexities – It seems difficult enough sometimes dealing with a single stakeholder. Today, projects stakeholders are generally defined as any person or organization that can have a negative or positive impact on the progress or outcome of a project.  Typical project stakeholders include senior management, customers (internal or external), employees, contractors and suppliers, regulators and often the general public or external groups.  Effective stakeholder engagement generally requires a project manager to identify key stakeholders, determine (and understand) both their interests and potential impact on the projects, and plan an appropriate engagement strategy for each.  And engagement means more than one-way communication; it can include meetings, discussions, media relations, legal and political considerations, and often executive actions. For large (or even many small) public projects, and certainly any involving public services, stakeholder engagement can be complicated, time consuming and important. For many project teams, this process is neither easy nor much fun.

Logic, interfaces, schedule complexities – We are all familiar with critical path planning, project logic, activity networks and resultant project schedules. Complexities and unintended consequences can arise from many aspects of planning and scheduling, including the experience, knowledge and capabilities of project planners, capabilities and capacities of software systems and tools, planning assumptions, information available, external factors and other issues.  Perhaps the biggest issue related to schedule complexity (and risk) however is related to coupling in project networks and potential perturbations. Bob Prieto addresses these complexities and risks in detail in his latest paper [1].  He describes nine categories of couplings: control, co-dependent, assumption, constraint, external, stakeholder, message, temporal and uncoupling. According to Prieto, “The greater the coupling between activities, the greater the complexity and the likelihood of propagating disruptions…” [1] These are significant complexity measures (issues) that are almost entirely overlooked in most projects, in my opinion. The underlying complexities and risks associated with second and third order coupling is often completely unknown.


To read entire paper, click here


About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL



David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.net) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national nuclear security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and Russian Project Management Association.  Since 2010 he is an honorary member of the Project Management Association of Nepal.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (since 2012).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at [email protected]

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/