What Is Complexity Management?

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  • Written By: Jan Fletcher
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 25 May 2020
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Complexity management is the strategic application of organizational principles to projects that require a high level of management due to complex features that place the project at higher risk of failure. Due to their complex nature, projects requiring urgency in completion, or that span a lengthy period of time, or encompass a large scale may not behave in predictable ways. Projects presenting unnecessary complexity may supersede traditional management techniques. Complexity management applies strategic tools to circumvent and overcome these challenges.

A standard technique used to manage projects with less complexity include an analysis of time and costs in a particular project. With larger projects, there may be silos present that disguise the true costs. Silos are internal, socially based structures people erect that effectively limit the sharing of information.

People in silos seek self-promotion and protection over corporate vitality, and will therefore keep knowledge within the silo. This limits the information available to managers who oversee the larger aspect of project productivity. In complexity management, project leaders understand that crippling transparency limits vital feedback necessary for managers to optimally run the project.

The complex nature of urgent projects arises from several factors. One factor is the presence of deadlines that carry several psychological effects. At first, there is a sense of urgency that can result in not considering the entire scope of the project before proceeding with tasks, thereby introducing inefficiencies. Confusion may enter the picture as well.

Finally, workers are unable to retain that sense of urgency, and productivity suffers. Lengthy projects can outlast the original strategy. Both internal and external changes seep in over time, diluting efficiencies and demoralizing workers.

Complexity management strategy recognizes that chaos theory may come into play in very large, lengthy projects. The cumulative effects of many small, gradual changes may suddenly result in the emergence of a very large change in workers' behaviors. This is colloquially known as a breaking point.

Specific strategies used in complexity management depend upon the reason for the complexity. In large projects, dividing the project into smaller aspects allows more intensive management, but it also requires the resulting team leadership to stay in close communication with one another. In urgent projects, managers may choose leaders familiar with chaos theory and who understand how to harness its beneficial aspects.

Investment in building strong teams can jumpstart a complex project successfully. Large projects will likely involve a higher number of stakeholders. Strategic management may invest time up front including these stakeholders in the process, as well as easing any cross-cultural issues that may arise, if the project is multinational in its scope.


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