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Iowa State University--Becoming the Best

Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects

Illustration: Traditional three-dimensional projec

Traditional three-dimensional project management triangle

Illustration: Five-dimensional complex project man

Five-dimensional complex project management pentagon


Principal investigators:

Co-principal investigators:

Project status


Start date: 09/01/09
End date: 07/31/14


Report: Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects (NA pdf) August 2014

Related publication: Guide to Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects Mar 2015


Sponsor(s): Second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP 2)

About the research


The shift in US infrastructure needs has largely been from building new infrastructure to replacing, expanding, or renewing existing infrastructure. The project management issues involved with infrastructure renewal are markedly different than the issues for new construction, furthering the need for a change in project management approaches to the nation’s infrastructure. Not only are infrastructure renewal projects more complicated by their nature, the situation has been exacerbated by years of under-funded maintenance and replacement. In other words, what would have been a complex process under ideal circumstances has been made even more challenging because of the need for rapid renewal to avert infrastructure failures. Adding to the challenge is the fact that complexity can evolve from the interaction of many factors, not all of which will manifest themselves on each project. Rapid renewal projects will cover a wide spectrum of project types, varying in engineering complexity, size, modality, jurisdictional control, financing approach, contract type, and delivery method. Each project will call for a distinct project management style with teams comprised of different resident skill sets required to successfully complete the project.

To begin this project the research team conducted a literature review to investigate what makes projects complex and what are some ways that this complexity is being managed. Following the literature review the research team decided to visit a variety of projects to find out about more ways of managing complexity. Fifteen projects in the United States and three international projects were investigated through in-depth case studies to identify tools that aid project managers of complex projects to successfully deliver projects. These eighteen projects represent a number of different project types, locations, project size, and phases of project development. The methods and tools identified from these projects fall into two different areas, Project Development and Project Execution.

The objective of this study was to develop a guidebook and workshop materials for effective project management strategies, both of which the team completed, along with final reports.

For additional information, see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/goshrp2/Solutions/all/R10/Innovative_Strategies_for_Managing_Complex_Projects/.