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Complexity is ever-present, and while it means different things to different organizations, some common traits do emerge. Nearly three of five respondents reported multiple stakeholders as complexity's defining characteristic in PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report: Navigating Complexity. Ambiguity came in at a close second, with nearly half of organizations reporting it as a key trait of complexity.
But as complexity takes on many forms, so do the ways to harness it. The Pulse complexity report revealed that among high-performing organizations -- those that complete 80 percent or more projects on time, on budget and within goals -- effective communications to all stakeholders had the most impact on projects with high complexity. SA Water is a prime example of how rock-solid communications can pay big dividends.
When the 2013 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist launched an AU$1.4 billion project to build a desalination plant in the middle of a global economic meltdown, it faced a tough sell. So the Australian government agency identified key stakeholders -- which included everyone from business leaders to aboriginal elders -- and then tailored communications to each audience to gain buy-in. And when the severe drought -- the very reason for the project's existence -- ended, the agency built on the trust it had forged to showcase the continued value of the investment to a skeptical public. The team highlighted project facts on a dedicated website, held public meetings and met with community business groups. Drought or not, stakeholders are well aware of the project's ROI: long-term water security.
But effective communications is just one way to wrangle complexity. According to the Pulse complexity report, an engaged project sponsor is a powerful ally for highly complex projects and programs.
When Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, another 2013 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, began its project to clean up aging stockpiles of nuclear waste, the details were still ambiguous. Before the team could get to work, it had to figure out what "clean" actually meant. To hammer out a definition, and thus a project scope, the team collaborated with the project sponsor, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), a PMI Global Executive Council member. The agency also relayed project progress to the U.S. government, which funded the project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In the end, the DoE's ongoing participation in the project pushed it toward the finish line -- under budget and more than four years ahead of schedule.
Complexity is no doubt difficult to define and control. But according to the Pulse complexity report, a project with high complexity has an average budget double that of a project with no complexity -- putting that much more money on the line. And no organization can afford that kind of risk.