Its no surprise ‘complex’ projects are becoming prevalent in Australian and global project management.  Navigating sophisticated technology, broadening (and vocal) stakeholder groups, and long project-delivery timelines can ‘shift’ requirements and challenge the ability of project managers and sponsors to deliver on project outcomes.

This is a challenge we have committed our resources and expertise to solving. For over 9 years, Helmsman has conducted research into project performance and complexity based on thousands of Australian projects, supported by $1.2M in funding from the Australian Research Council, and with broad industry participation.

“The key (and surprising) take-out: ‘Size’ and ‘Cost’ are not the key drivers of success (or failure).”

Project complexity impacts project success.

Our research has determined three key findings:

  1. There is a correlation between project complexity and project performance; and project performance is highly variable across organisations.
  2. Different organisations exhibit different complexity thresholds, where successful performance rapidly drops off. This is what we call the ‘Complexity Cliff’.
  3. Complexity can be measured. Statistical analysis of complexity characteristics established an objective method for assessing complexity. Just like the Richter scale measures earthquake intensity, project managers can now measure project complexity. This can be easily done with our Project Performance Diagnostic.
Where does complexity fit?

If you want to conquer complexity there are 3 drivers that can be managed. Complexity is only one of these. The other two are the competency of individual project players and project controls.  However, to establish your competency and controls needs, complexity must be understood first.

“The crucial first step: Understand the complexity of your project, and what is driving complexity.”

Our research found that complexity is driven by five broad influences:

  1. Contextual influences – The complexity of the leadership and political environment the project faces.
  2. Social influences – How deep the impact will be on the audiences affected by the change, how large and diverse these audiences are, and how difficult it will for them to understand and deal with the issues.
  3. Ambiguity – The amount of uncertainty inherent in the project and the extent to which this needs to be clarified and defined.
  4. Technical influences – The intricacy required of the solution. This includes the maturity of technical solutions and the underlying complexity of the technology.
  5. Project Management – The delivery methods required to execute the project.

With an objective understanding of what’s driving complexity in your project, you’re able then to plan to reduce complexity, and establish the right controls and capabilities to ensure a successful outcome.

For the first time, Helmsman is offering Project Managers and Sponsors access to the analysis and insights of this ground breaking and highly practical research. You can learn more on how to manage complexity and increase the likelihood of project success.

Helmsman/s Project Performance Diagnostic


Complexity Conquered is Helmsman’s blog, focusing on understanding and managing significant and complex projects.


Helmsman are the experts in complex asset performance.  Our leading edge research into complex project management, carried out by the Helmsman Institute, identifies precisely what makes major projects and programs succeed or fail. From this, we have developed a suite of invaluable tools and services to assist our clients achieve performance outcomes in complex projects.