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A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management

"In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

Keywords: Complexity, Communications, Project Office, Stakeholders.

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A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management  [P070]

Complexity theory* helps understand the social behaviours of teams and networks of people involved in and around a project.  The ideas apply equally to small in-house projects as to large complicated projects.  In this regard, ‘complexity’ is not a synonym for ‘complicated’ or ‘large’.

This paper briefly examines the underlaying ideas and philosophies that have created ‘modern project management’ together with some emerging ideas such as projects being ‘temporary knowledge organisations’ (TKOs). [ See also: The Origins of Modern Project Management ]

It also traces the development of ‘Complexity Theory’ from its origins in Chaos Theory to the ideas of ‘Complex Responsive Processes of Relating’ (CRPR) and seeks to link the ideas within two other strands of research; ‘Social Networks’ and ‘Temporary Knowledge Organisations’, to Complexity Theory.

From this theoretical framework the true nature of a ‘project’ is described from the perspective of the ‘knowledge workers’ or ‘actors’ engaged in the creation, execution, delivery and closure of the project. Then two critical aspects of project management practice will be re-evaluated from a ‘complexity’ perspective:
The paper concludes by developing a range of practical suggestions for improving the effectiveness of both communication practice and risk management practice within projects based on an understanding of ‘complexity theory’ applied to the project environment.

Author: Patrick Weaver

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*Complexity & chaos.....

Chaos theorists are interested in the relationship between apparently ordered systems and their underlaying instability (Pluo's orbit appears neatly ordered but is in fact chaotic and will eventually change dramatically).

Complexity theorists are interested in the underlaying rules that govern apparently chaotic behaviours. Shoals of fish and swarms of ants behave the way they do based on a set of very precise rules.

Chaordic systems exhibit a degree of predictability at their higher levels but are completely unpredictable at the detail level. Examples include the weather and projects.

Some complicated systems are stable and predictable, others are inherently complex. When focusing on systems, complexity is not a synonym for complicated.
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