Stakeholders in complexity

The new CPM is ‘Complex Project Management’ and whilst most of the current project management tools and practices including risk management, scheduling and EVM remain important, they are not sufficient to successfully manage a complex project according to Stephen Hayes, from the Canberra based International Centre for Complex Project Management ICCPM.

ICCPM Ltd was established by Australian, UK and US government bodies and major defence industry corporations, and is now a substantial network of global corporate, government, academic and professional organisations committed to the better management of complex projects across all industry and government sectors focused on improving the success of complex projects.


Whilst all projects have a degree of complexity (see: Project Size and Categorisation) CPM is focused on the major projects undertaken in response to ill-defined and often mutually-incompatible stakeholder requirements and are subject to uncontrollable external influences and almost continuous change.

Successfully managing this type of project needs outcome focused leadership that is capable of developing context specific innovative approaches to issues backed by the tenacity to deliver ‘no matter what’!

The latest report facilitated by ICCPM in conjunction with Global Access Partners and a range of leading public and private sector organisations is entitled “Complex Project Management: Global Perspectives and the Strategic Agenda to 2025” (available from

This report has developed a framework for on-going research into CPM under six broad themes:

  • Delivery leadership – the ability to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Collaboration – working as one team to a mutually agreed goal and equitable reward (including operating the entire supply chain as a single entity).
  • Benefits realisation – understanding and delivering through-life product value.
  • Risk, opportunity and resilience – taking good risk, seizing emergent opportunity, and successfully responding to the unexpected.
  • Culture communication and relationships – maximising the effectiveness of the human asset by understanding and responding to human behavioural need.
  • Sustainability and education – continuous learning, maintaining currency in leadership capability and knowledge transfer across generational boundaries in order to sustain through-life capability.

Against each of these a basic set of policies and actions have been developed to define the future work and research agenda of ICCPM, its partners and academia.  To this end ICCPM is working to develop a permanent, co-ordinated global specialist research agenda for CPM.

With support from the UK Cabinet Office, the Australian Government, universities including QUT and DAU, professional associations including IPMA and APM, and companies such as BAE Systems and Thales (to name but a few) this initiative may prove successful.  Two glaring omissions from the list of supporters though are the AIPM and PMI –maybe this blog will trigger some action.

Certainly the emergence of stakeholders at the centre of complexity means stakeholder management and engagement will be a topic of increasing importance which is only to be encouraged.

Note: The contents of this post are based on the executive summary of the ICCPM – GAP CPM Task Force report:

8 responses to “Stakeholders in complexity

  1. It’s good to see the focus on stakeholders.

    I don’t agree with the characterisation of complexity in “CPM is focused on the major projects undertaken in response to ill-defined and often mutually-incompatible stakeholder requirements and are subject to uncontrollable external influences and almost continuous change.” Those challenges could exist in the most straightforward project.

    The interpretation of complexity that results in unexpected behaviour and projects or parts of projects going rogue may be wrapped up with big structural issues such as those but I believe that the most challenging features of complex projects are the ways that people and groups interact and modify one another’s behaviour, influencing information flows and decision making in ways that might stay below the project management radar until they flare up and surprise everyone.

    There is tendency to confuse complication and scale with the more interesting and quite different complexity that can give rise to emergent behaviour.

    • We agree – the quote was from the ICCPM ‘Executive summary of the Task force Report’ compiled by Stephen. The linked White Paper Project Size and Categorisation identifies emergent stakeholder behaviour as the primary source of complexity in all projects (complex technological systems can be another), and whilst (to paraphrase Spike Milligan) ‘size can get you a better class of enemy’, we believe where there’s stakeholders there’s the potential for complexity.

    • Agree. Complexity exists in almost any project.

      The extent to which is becomes a problem depends on both the structure of the environment and factors along the continuum of proper stakeholder identification-engagement. It centers around the orientation toward uncertainty, as discussed in this recent article from PM World Journal.

      There are observable traits of an environment, such as reliance on predictability, as well as in the stakeholder id-engagement continuum, such as having limited ability to communicate with key project participants, that can help us know when complexity will cause a problem for our project. They also point the way towards variables we can change to enhance the project environment’s ability to work with complexity.

      For reference, a list of observable traits and methods for enhancing a project environment’s ability to work with complexity, are discussed in Part II of my new book from Gower “Reinventing Communication.”

  2. It seems that your book is not readily accessible in Australia. I was led to a screen saying
    Title detail
    Sorry – you either have a broken link to the title you are looking for or for copyright reasons this title is not available outside North and South America from Ashgate, Gower or Lund Humphries.

    Please contact us at for further assistance. Please include details of the title you are looking for in your email.

    The little I could glean from the paper suggests that your ideas have a lot in common with the Cynefin framework and strategies for managing in the complex domain.

    Are there any other sources where you have laid out how you advise projects orientate themselves towards uncertainty?

  3. I should have said that I have contacted Ashgate

  4. Thanks Pat, I can see it now

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