Measuring Project Complexity and Its Impact

RT-305 Topic Summary
RT 305


Research Summary 305-1 provides an overview of how Research Team 305 (RT-305) worked to define, measure, and suggest management strategies for project complexity. Through a structured research process of working to understand the problem, a literature review, development of a research approach including an extensive survey and subject matter expert workshop, and tool development, RT-305 developed the Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Process, which is outlined in Implementation Resource 305-2. By completing the PCAM Process, project teams are able to assess what is contributing to the complexity of the project, measure project complexity, and identify strategies to manage complexity in order to increase the likelihood of success and predictable project outcomes.

After developing a definition of complexity, RT-305 identified 40 complexity attributes, and for each attribute the team established a definition, set of measures, and possible management strategies. RT-305 established 92 complexity indicators to measure those 40 attribute, then developed a survey that explored each attribute in greater depth. The team deployed the survey to CII membership companies. Responses included a mixture of high- and low-complexity projects. The analysis of survey data identified that 37 indicators of complexity (out of the 92) were statistically significant in differentiating low-complexity projects from high complexity projects. The 37 indicators represent 23 complexity attributes within 11 categories of project complexity. Out of the 37 complexity indicators, only three complexity indicators correlated directly to cost performance and one complexity indicator significantly correlated to schedule performance. This suggests that the complexity indicators influence other project elements requiring further study and analysis.

RT-305 further advanced the research by developing the strategies for managing the complexity indicators. This was accomplished through a subject matter expert workshop. The workshop verified the identified complexity indicators and asked the subject matter experts to document possible management strategies for the complexity indicators.

To enable industry use of this knowledge, during the final phase of the research, RT-305 developed the PCAM Process. The PCAM Process is intended to be completed by a project team at least once during project development, however, multiple times may be beneficial to assess changing complexity typical of the nature of a complex project. Each iteration of the PCAM Process deepens a team’s understanding of the complexity of the project, a graphical representation of the level of impact of the complexity indicators, and a list of strategies to help manage the contributing complexity attributes.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : List of Significant Complexity Indicators

RT-305 initially identified 40 complexity attributes and 92 indicators, and then tested them in a survey with indicator questions. The purpose of survey data was to determine which complexity measures were significant in differentiating between low- and high-complexity projects. The team received from 44 projects in all, with 14 responses for low-complexity projects and 30 responses for high-complexity projects. The data analysis resulted in 23 attributes and 37 complexity indicators, grouped into 11 categories that are significant in differentiating low complexity projects from high complexity projects. These complexity indicators are summarized in Table 1 of the research summary (Table 1, RS 305-1). The project complexity attributes and their indicators should be assessed uniquely for those indicators that are considered the most relevant to the specific conditions and influences describing a project’s complexity.

Reference: (RS305-1)

2 : PCAM Tool

RT-305 developed the Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Tool as part of its work. The PCAM Tool is an Excel-based spreadsheet that provides a user-friendly instrument to help project teams assess and manage a variety of complexity attributes.

Each of the 37 indicators associated with the 23 attributes are used to score the indicator’s contribution to the project complexity profile. A project team can use the PCAM Tool to assess the current level of project complexity at any particular point or phase in the project life-cycle. The details of the PCAM Tool use can be found in the implementation resource (IR 305-2). The PCAM Tool also graphically displays indicators to show where a project team should focus their attention to manage a project specific set of complexity attributes to control the drivers of complexity. The value of the research is a tool with outputs that helps less experienced project teams identify blind spots and implement strategies to deal with project complexity. Figure 9 illustrates an example of graphical outputs of the PCAM Tool.

The PCAM process includes three steps:
     Step 1 – Project Complexity Attribute Selector (PCAS) Tool
     Step 2 – Project Complexity Assessment and Management (PCAM) Tool Application
     Step 3 – Project Complexity Strategies to Manage Key Project Complexity Indicators

The high-level purpose of the PCAM process and tool is to identify key project complexity indicators, assess their potential impacts on a project, and design a plan to manage the potential impacts of the complexity indicators. The PCAM process and tool are designed to be flexible enough to deploy in many different ways and at multiple stages of project development and delivery. RT-305 divided the recommended PCAM process uses into four categories and identified the CII project phases in which these categories may belong. The project timeline shown in Figure 13 indicates possible uses of the process relative to the CII Front End Planning (FEP) and Project Execution gates with the following categories and phases as reference points.

Reference: (IR305-2)

3 : Project Complexity Management Strategy

RT-305 developed management strategies to address each of the 37 complexity indicators. The management strategies help project teams using the PCAM Tool implement strategies and methods to reduce the likelihood that the associated complexity attributes will cause poor project performance. The details of project complexity management strategies can be found in the research report (RR305-11).
Reference: (RR305-11)

Key Performance Indicators

Research Publications

A Guide to Assessing and Managing Project Complexity - IR305-2

Publication Date: 05/2017 Type: Implementation Resource Pages: 72 Status: Tool

A New Approach to Assessing and Measuring Project Complexity - RS305-1

Publication Date: 02/2017 Type: Research Summary Pages: 24 Status: Supporting Product

Measuring Project Complexity and Its Impact - RR305-11

Publication Date: 03/2016 Type: Research Report Pages: 518 Status: Reference