As readers of this blog and our published papers would know I have a passing interest in complexity theory and its application to project management. This seems to be an expanding area of interest world wide.

Last night I was at the PMI Canberra Chapter presenting a summary of my paper ‘Scheduling in the Age of Complexity’ [download the paper] – another good reception for the ideas but more importantly several people in the audience were involved in parallel lines of enquiry. Possibly of most interest is the ideas of Graham Durant-Law see his blog at

Another interesting development is a new publication from PMI, Exploring the Complexity of Projects written by Svetlana Cicmil, Terry Cooke-Davies, Lynn Crawford and Kurt Richardson [see:] A quick skim suggests this is a comprehensive round up of the current state of complexity theory in project management. More on this once I have had a chance to read it.

What is gratifying is seeing the confusion created by the so called ‘College of Complex Project Managers’ and Prof. David Dombkins receding rapidly into obscurity. Rather than the confusion caused by the ‘college’ treating large complicated programs of work as a synonym for complexity theory (as Dombkins did in the original College manifesto); thought leaders world wide seem to be:

The work on understanding complexity in project management has a long way to go and will undoubtedly be the subject of future blogs. Your contribution to the discussion will be welcome.

12 responses to “Complexity

  1. I agree to the points mentioned in the post.What i think is that in this digital age with increase in technologies the complexities have also summed up but one more part of the fact is that there are so many products out there today where you can easily manage your products in some really simple ways that it can help reduce various complexities to high percentages. Like in our company we used basecamp ( for project management purposes and it changed the email email games we used to play. Though we find out some even better product named Proofhub Proofhub ( provided the same or you can say better services at a cheaper and effective price. Now we see that various complexities we used to face have almost vanished to a high extent. I realy thank these products to make project management such an easy task.
    And yea thanx for the post

  2. Great blog – I’ll have to check out some of those complexity papers you mentioned. It’s good to see that people are making progress as they wrestle with issues of complexity in programs & projects.

    You might get a kick out of a little project I did a while back, titled The Simplicity Cycle. I describe it as a visual exploration of the relationship between complexity, goodness and time. I should admit I use the term “complexity” in a somewhat different sense than the scientific “complexity theory” use of the word.

    You can download the PDF version for free here:

  3. Professor Dr David H Dombkins

    The comments on complexity shown the typical person trapped in the past trying to protect their position.

    Complex project management is now accepted broadly. unfortunately, many, with similar limitations to the comment on complexity, are capitalising on complexity to rebadge and market their old wares in a new wrapping.

    I would refer readers the the National Institute of Public Administration September 2008 report on the FAA Next en project which uses the Complex P standard as a benchmark in developing recommendations.

    Unfortunately, it has become obvious that the complex P is well beyond the competences on many of those (especially academics and trainers). I feel that the future of complex PM will move more towards business schools, and strategy, and away from traditional PM.

    • Dear David,

      Thank you for the post. Unfortunately in your rush to protect your commercial interests in this area you have obviously not bothered to read any of my publications on complexity.

      To correct a few of your misconceptions:

      1. I believe complexity is a central issue in the evolutions of project management and have presented a number of papers on the topic several are mentioned in the blog. My original paper is A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management from 2007.

      2. Unlike your published views on ‘complexity’ that fail to distinguish complexity from large and/or complicated and seem to mash the concepts of complexity with program management ; I definitely prefer the views expressed by people such as Svetlana Cicmil, Terry Cooke-Davies, Lynn Crawford and Kurt Richardson referenced in the post.

      3. The fundamental flaws in the reasoning underpinning the College of Complex Project Managers manifesto are documented in the writings of Jon Whitty. Probably best summarised in And then came Complex Project Management (revised). International Journal of Project Management, 27 (3) 304-310.

      A real understanding of complexity is central to the development of project management, at all levels and is as important in the management of a small IT project as the construction of a trans-continental pipeline. Unfortunately the simplistic and elitist approach documented by the College of Complex Project Managers (eg, equating complexity to a rules based game such as chess) don’t help.

      As documented in Scheduling in the Age of Complexity there are fundamental differences between projects and programs and multiple dimensions to both including size, technical difficulty, the degree of certainty in the work and the level of complexity (primarily relationships).

      Thank you for your contribution.


  4. Pavel Barseghyan

    Dear Pat,
    I just finished reading your paper A Simple View of ‘Complexity’ in Project Management. It can serve as a good guide for developing new mathematical approaches to the complexity problem.

    One comment on the estimation of communications. The estimate of the number of communications (N x (N-1))/2 where N = the number of team members is overassessment.
    In this regard see my paper “Quantitative Analysis of Team Size and its Hierarchical Structure”. You can find it here:

    In this paper I derive a differential equation that can describe an arbitrary massively interconnected system including social networks.


  5. Professor Dr David H Dombkins

    Your arrogance is only outdone by your ignorance

    If you had bothered to actually read something you would understand that I was the person who separated complicated from complex.

    Secondly my work on complexity goes back to 1990. A little before you 2007 paper.

    The work you speak to on complexity is simplistic and foolish. Like many of those you speak of, they have never actually managed a complex project.

    Real leadership in complexity exists outside of the traditional PM world.

    It is clear that complexity will flourish as a discipline, but not within the limitations of traditional PM

    • You rude response David is published for the sole reason our policy is to encourage open debate.

      With respect to your exaggerated claims:

      The reputation of industry leaders such as Dr Terry Cooke-Davies slighted in your post are beyond reproach. Your attack is as unwarranted as it is inaccurate.

      The ‘college of complex project management’ documentation written by you totally fails to differentiate programs from projects – I prefer the consensus view documented and published by OGC, PMI, The Programme Management Specific Interest Group (ProgM), the Major Projects Association and others to yours. Major project are different to programs and each need different management skills.

      The ‘college of complex project management’ documentation written by you equates complexity with chess – you may find this valid, no other reputable authority on complexity does.

      Other flaws in the reasoning underpinning the College of Complex Project Managers documentation are defined in the writings of Jon Whitty. Probably best summarised in And then came Complex Project Management (revised). International Journal of Project Management, 27 (3) 304-310.

      No one other than you seems to thing complexity is a project management innovation – it was developed mathematicians from as early as the 1880s and will no doubt continue to flourish in many areas of academic and scientific interest. The value complexity brings to project management is offering insights to improve practice at all levels.

      The consensus of opinion seems to be solidly of the view complexity is a dimension of EVERY project – not just the big complicated projects that you and your elitist college are interested in. Fortunately real research and innovation on this topic are occurring in a range of places.

  6. Professor Dr David H Dombkins

    Yes, real research is being carried out, but not by those trapped within the mathematical/ certainty model that you are clearly bounded by.

    As we see in all scientific revolutions, the old guard initially resist change and then try to rebadge the old ideas.

    There is a sound understanding of complexity developing, but no with any researchers/ practitioners that you know.

    • Perhaps when you have finished insulting people David, you may take the trouble to read some of the authorities I find interesting such as Lorenz, Langdon, Stacey, Cimil and N.N. Taleb. As far as I can read, none of these believe complexity is the equivalent of a rules based game such as chess. Based in the material you wrote for the College of Complex Project Managers, you obviously do. My belief, based on their research is that all projects are complex (not just big ones) the only question is the degree of complexity.

      Most of the papers I have written in the last several years have been looking at resolving on a practical level the fundamental dilemma of managing in a predictable way an unpredictable future (Teleb’s ‘Black Swans). Not from the elitist mega program perspective proposed by your college, but from a practical project management perspective.

      The question I have been asking is given predicting the future accurately is nearly impossible, what value is there in traditional ‘control’ tools such as schedules? They clearly don’t control anything. My tentative conclusion (based on the ideas in CRPR) is the value lies in the tools ability to influence future decisions of the project actors and therefore influence the future direction of a project. How this equates to ‘mathematical/ certainty models’ I have no idea, my suggestion is the tools only value are as sophisticated communication media.

      On a slightly different topic, I note you style yourself as ‘Professor’ I was wondering which University you currently hold a professorial chair at? It must be doing some very interesting research to allow you to dismiss the current works in complexity theory in such a cavalier and aggressive manner.

  7. Dr David Dombkins

    I was in Washington Dc last week with twenty leading figures in Complex Pm and systems f Systems. (none of the members of PMI or so called academic leaders / consultants).

    It was refresshing to meet with people who lead complex programs (confused with project in your world). The so called research you talk to is inconsequential.

    Complex programs are outside of the world of traditional project (program) managers.

    The world in complex PM has thankfully moved beyond the academic insecurity and self interest of consultants

    Stay posted and you might actually learn something

    • Dear David,

      If you insist on continuing with the insulting and demining tone in your posts, they will be rejected in future.

      In terms of your assertions you are completely wrong: The only confusion I have seen re the critical difference between managing projects and programs was in the now defunct ‘College of complex project managers’ manifesto. PMI, OGC, and just about everyone else, including me is fully aware of the differences.

      I presume the meeting in Washington was focused on setting up your new ‘Complex Program Institute’ mentioned in last weeks Financial Review. If so I wish you every success, hopefully it will not be as insular and elitist as the defunct College you established.

      However, in terms of real leading edge research in complexity, as it applies to both projects and programs of all shapes and sizes, probably the most influential forum will be the 2010 PMI Research conference in Washington next year; typically these events attract 200 to 300 researchers and as many interested practitioners. To have a paper accepted for penetration though, you do need to have original work and be associated with a credible University.


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