Not a member of ICCPM?  Join Now!

Complexity Assessment Tool

There are many organisations around the world who deliver complex project or programs. Often the level of complexity is not well understood. This understanding is important as it informs training, resourcing, investment requirements, project manager appointment levels, and the type of support that is required.

If complex projects or programs are to be successfully planned and managed, it is extremely important to understand the Complexity Assessment (essentially an additional component of a pre-project risk identification phase) at the earliest stages of the project lifecycle; on-going assessments maintain the currency of the analysis throughout, and are especially important when there are changes in team structures and composition, outcomes or external environments.

This project worked with industry and government to develop an internationally recognised complexity assessment tool to support organisational investment decision making.

This research project is now complete.


Research Lead: Reverend Michael Cavanagh


Findings in brief:

  • There is a fundamental difference between 'complicated’ and ‘complex’ projects, and this needs to be reflected in the management approach adopted.
  • Performing an assessment exercise is actually more important than the result obtained – it prompts an awareness of the difference between complicated and complex projects.
  • The Assessment should be based on three complexity indicators: Organisational, Leader & Team competence; Project-specific complexity drivers; and ‘Gut feel’ – the intangible wisdom derived from experience.
  • Credibility has to be established – there is a degree of cynicism around anything that appears to be a new fad to sell consultancy.
  • The Assessment must be shown to add value; it must not be unduly onerous or resource intensive; and above all, it must be compliant with existing lifecycle management guidelines.
  • There are a number of existing assessment approaches, some of which actually measure the degree of complication rather than complexity. Others, while addressing the real issue, are quite comprehensive and difficult to justify unless there is an awareness of what ‘complexity’ actually is. Early lifecycle assessment can help with the justification of a more in-depth exercise, but it must be regarded as triage – and resist the temptation to be too detailed.



  • Publication of the eBook ‘Project Complexity Assessment’ in April 2013.
  • An updated version of the existing PCA tool, allowing for self-assessment, will be made available once completed.



Key Partners