The management of complex projects

manage complex projects

Complex projects represent a great undertaking for a Project Manager.

It means coping with a variety of tasks, having different people to manage and with which to communicate and having multiple goals to achieve.

How can a project manager reach the goal with so many factors in the game? Let’s seeit in this article.

What makes a project complex?

It is important to understand that there is a difference between a complex project and a difficult project.

A complex project is not necessarily difficult. Conversely, projects can be difficult due to cost or performance, but this does not automatically mean that they are complex.

Complexity refers to projects that include ambiguity or uncertainty and are therefore surrounded by unpredictability.

There are a variety of factors that cause the complexity of the project, for example:

  • Technology: The technical content of a project can cause complexity. This could depend on the technology used or the development of the software.
  • Cost and budget: The project may have to face problems such as not attracting enough capital to achieve the goals or have problems in directing the funds towards the right aspects of the project.
  • Program: Complexity can come from the time of the project.
  • Very different political stakeholders: Projects can bring together different stakeholders, which can be a problem, especially if politics is involved. Different political interests can increase complexity, since the project must handle different requirements and expectations.
  • Legal: Even legal issues related to a project can increase complexity. Sometimes the legal complexity can be linked to the political one.
  • Social: This may be due to the fact that the members of the group come from different social contexts or it can be the case when the project works within a specific social context.

It is therefore necessary, first and foremost, to identify why a given project can be considered complex and then proceed to address it.

The essential skills needed to manage complex projects

 The management of a complex project requires different capacities, including:

  • Adaptability
  • Cooperation
  • Communication
  • Competence
  • Leadership

A project is constantly evolving and project managers must evolve with it. It is not always possible to think that there are “white or black” solutions.

The time will come when the project manager will be forced to adapt his management style based on the change in the situation.

The communication is probably the most important project management skill. It is essential that PMs effectively convey and manage vision, ideas, goals, and problems.

Moreover, project managers must also produce and display reports, also using disruptive technologies and presentations that are informative and clear.

Communication is closely linked to collaboration. A project manager must be willing to collaborate with the project team. Working with others in order to achieve goals is important for any type of project, especially if it is complex.

Competence and Leadership to manage complex projects

Finally, competence and leadership go hand in hand. Leadership consists of guiding, directing, and motivating the team to do its best and make the members understand how their tasks contribute to the overall vision. Leadership develops with experience, through practical and real work.

Having these essential skills is the key to identifying what makes a project complex and managing it.

So let’s see in practice how to manage a complex project.
complex projects

Manage complex projects: Document regularly

Project can be divided into perfectly manageable mini-projects, but without clear documentation on the single tasks and how they relate to the whole, the project remains unclear.

Clear and up-to-date documentation is the answer to this problem.

This allows the project manager to define everyone’s roles and their results and ensures that the overview is clear to all team members.

The project manager has the task of documenting everything and regularly sending the project status to the team and to the stakeholders – as agreed.

Managing complex projects: Continuously clarify goals

If you do not understand the “why” behind the project, it is very difficult to succeed.

When a project manager delegates without clearly defined goals, the team will fail. It is therefore important that team members understand their role and the tasks that they have to perform.

Clarifying the goals regularly also ensures that the project remains aligned with the initial plan.

Managing complex projects: Make everything more visible

 During a complex project, the team is often confused by the details and it becomes problematic to continue when it is saturated by too much information.

To create greater visibility within a project, a good practice is to adopt a project management tool that works for the project manager, the team, and the stakeholders.

This tool will allow all project users to stay informed and clearly see the status of the project and what is happening, using this tool as a unique source of information.

Managing complex projects: Be flexible

A constant in complex projects is the continous changing and for this, a project manager must be able to adapt and be flexible.

It is therefore important to ensure that processes are set up in such a manner to allow the team to remain agile and respond to changing requests.

The project manager adds value by making things more efficient and effective and / or reducing risks, precisely thanks to his ability to adapt.

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