Navigating complexity in pursuit of project success

Mogens Frank Mikkelsen

Publikation: Bog / Antologi / Rapport / Ph.D.-afhandlingPh.d.-afhandling


The ability to handle project complexity is increasingly important in project management. There has been much research on project complexity over the last two decades. The body of knowledge is overwhelming and the literature review identified five different ideal types of research on project complexity. Despite calls for additional research helping practitioners, only a few scholars have taken on the challenge of developing prescriptive knowledge of project complexity management. The majority of project management research is descriptive and takes a post-mortem approach to projects, while practitioners instead use an ex-ante approach to project complexity. The ex-ante approach is rare in the research literature. Of the found literature, all deployed an inside view, where the project is seen from the perspective of the management. The current study investigated the perceived project complexity and engagement of the stakeholder to provide an outside view as supplemental information for the navigation of project complexity. A challenge like this requires the involvement of practitioners; therefore this project was conducted as engaged scholarship using the methodology of Action Design Research (ADR). ADR is an intermediate research approach that stands between Action Research and Design Science Research. As a starting point for the ADR project, a large Danish-language survey was conducted to investigate the perceived complexity of projects. One important finding is that the perception of project complexity seems to be influenced by the perceiver’s role in the project. This is a novel insight in the research of project complexity. One inference derived from this finding is that multiple stakeholders need to give input in order to assess the complexity of a given project and to obtain a comprehensive view of the perceived project complexity. Secondly, this insight questions the importance of finding the right dimensions (and weights) of project complexity when the aim is to help the practitioner. Adding to this, this insight has been used as a design principle for an information system providing affordance to the management of project complexity.
During workshops with project managers, the research developed a dashboard for the navigation of project complexity, called the “Complexity Navigation Window” (CNW). The CNW was implemented as a prototype of a Decision Support System (DSS) on an existing IT platform to support the project manager in navigating project complexity. The chief design principle was the concept of an ‘outside view’ on projects as a supplement to the ‘inside view’ that project management of is often limited to. The DSS was co-designed, implemented, and evaluated in a large Danish recipient organization. The evaluation of the information system indicates that the developed information system is relevant for project managers. The main affordance is the provision of early warnings of unpredictable events deriving from complexity. The findings also indicate the presence of delusional optimism among the project managers in the assessment of project complexity, hence demonstrating the importance of having an outside view of the project. The participating stakeholders were more enthusiastic than expected; however, the research findings indicated surprisingly high resistance to change among the project managers, even though they had participated in co-designing the artifact. Only one in four actualized the affordance of the information systems. After the evaluation of the developed DSS, the recipient organization decided to scale up its use. This decision is a good indication of the success of the ADR project.
More research is needed to examine the affordance of the designed information system in more detail. Further, it is recommended to investigate the potential cross-fertilization of ADR and theories on organizational change. The project also theorized the lived experience of project complexity. This theory also provides many opportunities for additional research as it is far from fully developed.
ForlagIT-Universitetet i København
Antal sider231
ISBN (Trykt)978-87-7949-061-1
StatusUdgivet - 2021


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