While complex projects are becoming a more recognized part of the language of project management, it seems to me that, where once only a few projects were called complex, now virtually every project undertaken is described by someone as complex.
I hear it in home building, where someone will describe building a house a complex, I hear it in infrastructure where their projects are frequently described as complex and I hear it in the resources sector, defense, healthcare, IT and virtually everywhere else, yet in reality, genuine project complexity is relatively rare and what seems complex to a novice project manager or the casual observer is frequently seen by more seasoned projects professionals as simple or at the worst, complicated.
Then, along side those who see complexity everywhere are “complexity deniers”, those within the project management profession who believe there is no such thing as a complex project and that, in the words of a colleague of mine, they simply need to “do project management harder”.
Apparently project complexity, like beauty, really does seem to be in the eyes of the beholder…
Are complex projects really everywhere?
In recent years, as research and experience around complexity has evolved, there has been a growing recognition that many projects in the simple and complicated categories don’t become complex as they get bigger, they just grow larger while retaining many of their same characteristics of simplicity or complication. In the mean time, other projects, regardless of size, are considered complex for reasons other than their scale.
Does size really matter when judging complexity?
While it can be easy to assume that a small project is simple or at worst complicated and to similarly assume that a large project is therefore complex, this is generally not a realistic correlation. Examples of this could be that building a very long, wide road may be expensive, labor intensive and take a long time when compared to deploying an IT system to replace a paper based hospital system, but the IT project is far more likely to be considered complex than the road project. This is due to the the degree of task interactions, unpredictability and involvement of multiple disciplines, disparate stakeholders and influencers in the make up of the project.
Where do virtual teams fit in project complexity?
For many projects, a virtual team is a logical extension of their co-located predecessors. These project virtual teams largely comprise personnel with the same skill sets working on the same project tasks, more or less at the same point on the schedule as they would had they been in one place. But, hidden behind this “appearance of similarity” are the messy human and locational nuances of personalities, corporate politics, language and culture differences, time shifts due to locations on the planet and local customs and practices that all turn a “simple” project into a complicated or complex one.
Managing the integration of a virtual team into a project environment brings multiple additional challenges not traditionally seen, not in the familiar experiential environment of many project managers and alien to the participants themselves, all of which adds considerably to the risk profile of the project and compounds into a more complex project delivery environment. Simple projects become complicated, and complicated project become complex with the addition of these new human interfaces.
Over the next few articles and podcasts I will be discussing some of the ways virtual teams impact project complexity in more detail, so please do stay tuned in for upcoming articles.
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Have you any thoughts on complex projects and virtual teams you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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