Learn to identify the complexity of your project

[fa icon="calendar"] May 24/2018 / by Michelle Cabiya

Projects can have different levels of complexity. Depending on the level of uncertainty and ambiguity of the project objectives, you can establish whether or not you have a complex project on your hands.

Let’s start by defining what a complex project is:

According to the Australian Government's Defence Material Organization (DMO) complex projects are those that are characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity, dynamic interfaces, and significant political or external influences; and/or usually run over a period which exceeds the technology cycle time of the technologies involved; and/or can be defined by effect, but not by solution (Hass, Lindbergh, 2010).

Project Complexity

Not being able to identify the complexity of a project can cause a tremendous harm on the project itself. The general consensus within the PM community is that project failure is usually caused by one of these 4 reasons:

  1. There is poor project management
  2. Lack of clear understanding of the project objectives
  3. Poor stakeholder management
  4. Lack of proper identification of project complexity

Understanding your projects complexity dimensions can help project managers select the appropriate management techniques. Furthermore, it can also help them design and build business solutions that are highly adaptive to the complex environments they live in.



Small independent project

Project Management - Small independent project

  • Duration: less than 3 months
  • Investment: less than $250 k
  • Team members: 3 to 4
  • One business unit
  • Clear problem 


Moderately complex project

Project Management - Moderately complex project-1

  • Duration: from 3 to 6 months
  • Investment: between $250k and $750k
  • Team members: 4 to 10
  • More than one business unit
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Some problem ambiguity
  • Clear requirements


Highly complex project

Project Management - Highly complex project

  • Duration: more than 6 months
  • Investment: more than $750 k
  • Team members: more than 10 team
  • Aggressive schedule
  • Complex team structure
  • Unclear problem
  • Undefined requirements
  • Unproven technology
  • Large-scale organizational change


More complex program projects

Project Management - More complex program

  • Group of related projects of varying complexity






Each project is unique, and has its own level of complexity. Project managers should always be conscious of what levels of complexity and uncertainty they are working with because implementing PM methodologies that don’t fit well with their projects could have detrimental consequences on the overall success of the project.


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Topics: Project management

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