What is Complexity?


Whilst there is no universally accepted definition for Complex Project Management, at the point of ICCPM’s establishment it was agreed between its founding organisations that complex projects are those that:

  • Are characterised 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.


Across the globe, awareness is emerging of the urgent need for improved delivery of projects that are complex. Research indicates that traditional, linear project management tools and techniques, while still necessary, are often insufficient to manage the complexities of 21st century projects. But what are the elements deemed to be causing this disruption?

  • Details – number of variables and interfaces

  • Ambiguity – lack of awareness of events and causality

  • Uncertainty – inability to pre-evaluate actions

  • Unpredictability – the inability to know what will happen

  • Dynamics – rapid rate of change

  • Social structure – numbers and types of interactions

  • Interrelationships – many interdependencies and interconnections exist

Whilst not all projects are complex, all projects have a life-cycle and most projects will experience a period of complexity during their lifetime.

Remington and Pollack suggest 4 different types of complexity in projects and organisational initiatives. ICCPM includes a 5th which is Socio-Cultural Complexity.