Are you managing a complex project? Complexity is a result of a number of factors including vague or changing requirements, unclear scope, multiple international teams and high levels of uncertainty. Sound familiar? According to PMI’s Pulse of the ProfessionTM In-Depth Report: Navigating Complexity, there are 3 areas where businesses should focus to ensure they improve the delivery of complex projects. They are:

- Having engaged sponsors

- Building leadership skills

- Communication.

Let’s look at each of those in turn.

Have engaged sponsors

Create a culture where the sponsors are at the executive level and engaged with the objectives and benefits of the project. The study shows that this has a massive impact on project success and was the second most important element raised for the successful management of complex projects.

Experienced project managers won’t find this as a surprise – having an engaged sponsor is a critical success factor that has been cited in a number of research studies over the years and personal experience will often bear this out too.

I would also argue that having an engaged Project Board is also important – it isn’t just the sponsor who needs to be on board. There are a number of reasons why your Project Board might not be working effectively, and you should address these in order to give your project a better chance of success, as the whole project executive team plays a part in managing a complex project effectively.

Leadership skills are important in project management

Build leadership skills

Project managers need leadership skills for all projects, but these are even more important on complex projects. The report describes how talent management is important for businesses, with 75% of businesses ranking project management leadership skills as the most important element for working on complex projects.

As project managers, we also need to work on building leadership skills within our teams so that things don’t fall apart when we aren’t there!

Talent management is going to be a big subject in years to come, as PMI is also predicting a large gap in skills with more jobs being available for good project managers than there will be candidates to fill them. So this is a great time to be taking a project management role if you would like to develop your long-term career plan and skills into a project or business leadership role.


You’d expect communication to be in there somewhere, wouldn’t you? I can’t imagine that a complex project could be at all successful without good communication. This means everything from making sure that the project plan is accessible to everyone with tools like Seavus Project Viewer to good project status reporting.

The PMI report shows that highly effective communicators average 80% of their projects meeting their original goals. In other words, businesses that manage communication well manage to deliver projects that achieve their original objectives 80% of the time. The rest of the time we could perhaps put down to business need changing or functionality being added or taken away. If a company is not rated as a highly effective communicator, this number drops significantly. It really does pay (if you want to achieve your project’s original objectives) to manage communication well on complex projects.

And on all projects, frankly. I’m sure that you don’t need reminding how much of a project manager’s job is about communication.