A Complexity / Uncertainty grid positions a variety of project management bodies of knowledge, frameworks, and tools according to the levels of complexity and uncertainty in their environments.

Of course, no grid can describe the world. No grid will ever be perfect.

But, the goal of this grid is simply to introduce discussions within a project management community of practitioners whose degree of experience in the domain is highly diverse.

This is a version 2 of the version 1 grid I have recently posted on LinkedIn. The v1 grid received an amazingly large number of views as well as many likes and important comments.

I have learned a lot with all these comments. I felt comfortable with many, uncomfortable with some.

But all helped to progress and develop an improved version.

So, Thank You to Everyone For the Likes and Comments on the Version 1 of the Grid.

Of course this version 2 is not perfect. This version contains a few improvements and clarifications. I hope they will help whoever looks for different project management approaches in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

It shows bodies of knwoledge, frameworks, and tools. Since a project accomplishes products among other outputs, the grid contains also project management frameworks and product delivery frameworks. Thus, it should taste like a burger with its different constituents and their specific baking time.

Please also note that project management relies on technical, leadership, and business and strategy capabilities. Separate grids will describe the last two domains, while this one concentrate on the technical domain.


About Complexity and Uncertainty

Complexity has many sources. Among these sources are three fundamental characteristics that make an endeavor complex: the high number of variables involved, the nonlinearity of the interactions between these variables, and the irreversibility of phenomena within complex systems.  Here are a few other characteristics of complex systems:

  • Emergence (look at termite hills)
  • Co-evolution (impact on the environment)
  • Sub-optimal (relative fitness)
  • Requisite variety (resilience)
  • Connectivity (feedback loops)
  • Simple rules (flight of bird flocks)
  • Self-organising (no (apparent) hierarchy)
  • Edge-of-chaos (maximum diversity)
  • Nested systems (fractal scales)

More on complexity at http://complexitylabs.io/ More also at https://www.santafe.edu/

Uncertainty means here the indeterminacy of the future. It is a situation in which something is not known, a state of limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state, a future outcome, or more than one possible outcome. Volatility and uncertainty are equivalent.


About Projects

project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to accomplish a unique product, services or results (PMI). The European Commission has defined a project as a structure which is setup to create a unique product or service (output) within certain constraints such as time, cost, and quality. Each project’s goal is to introduce a new product or service or to change an existing one. achieving the goal is expected to bring about benefits to the organisation. A project can also be seen as a transformational process, turning ideas into reality.

Organizational Project Management (OPM) is a strategy execution framework that utilizes portfolio, program, and project management as well as organizational-enabling practices to consistently and predictably deliver organizational strategy to produce better performance, better results, and a sustainable competitive advantage (PMI at www.pmi.org).

Project teams improve performance when they benefit from a wide range of available solutions fitting the level of complexity and uncertainty of their environment. It is up to these teams to adjust the solutions to their needs, to their culture, and to their capabilities. The approaches cited in the grid are largely used in the Americas and in Europe. I wish project practitioners from other regions will bring their own contribution and confirm or improve the grid with what they do there.


About Project Categories

A megaproject is only a category of projects. I is an extremely large-scale investment project. Megaprojects are large-scale, complex (both in technical and human terms) ventures that typically cost $1 billion or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people. Examples of megaprojects are here or here.

Complex projects are characterized by a degree of disorder, instability, emergence, non-linearity, recursiveness, uncertainty, irregularity and randomness, and dynamic complexity where the parts in the system they act upon can react / interact with each other in different ways. More for example at ICCPM. ICCPM Ltd was established by Australian, UK and US government bodies and major defence industry corporations. It is now a substantial network of global corporate, government, academic and professional organisations dealing with Complex Project Management.

Innovation projects are a very important and specific category of projects. Innovation is precisely something that gains from uncertainty. And some people sit around waiting for uncertainty and using it as raw material.


About Project Management Approaches

The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge is a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management. The body of knowledge evolves over time and is presented in “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge”. The Guide is a document resulting from work overseen by the Project Management Institute (PMI), which offers the CAPM and PMP certifications. The PMBOK Guide is intended to be a “subset of the project management body of knowledge that is generally recognized as a good practice. ‘Generally recognized’ means the knowledge and practices described are applicable to most projects most of the time and there is a consensus about their value and usefulness. The 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide now includes an “Agile Practice Guide”. There are also a guide for program management as well as a guide for portfolio management. More at www.pmi.org

PM2 (stylized PM², sometimes pronounced as P M square) is the official project management methodology of the European Commission (EC). It incorporates elements from a range of widely accepted best practices in project management, and builds heavily on PMBOK, Prince2, IPMA-ICB, CMMI, TEMPO, and operational experience from EC institutions. More at https://ec.europa.eu/isa2/solutions/open-pm2_en

The Spiral model is a risk-driven process model generator for software projects. Based on the unique risk patterns of a given project, the spiral model guides a team to adopt elements of one or more process models, such as incremental, waterfall, or evolutionary prototyping. This model was first described by Barry Boehm in his 1986 paper “A Spiral Model of Software Development and Enhancement”. More at https://www.sei.cmu.edu/reports/00sr008.pdf

About Agile

Agile software development describes an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end users(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change. The term Agile was popularized, in this context, by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The values and principles espoused in this manifesto were derived from and underpin a broad range of software development frameworks, including Scrum and Kanban. More at http://agilemanifesto.org/

Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. It is founded on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. More at https://www.scrum.org/

High-Impact PMOThe Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) helps businesses address the significant challenges of developing and delivering enterprise-class software and systems in the shortest sustainable lead time. SAFe synchronizes alignment, collaboration, and delivery for multiple Agile teams. SAFe is scalable and configurable. And it allows each organization to adapt it to its own business needs. It supports smaller-scale solutions employing 50 – 125 practitioners, as well as complex systems that require thousands of people. As an extensive body of knowledge, SAFe describes the roles, responsibilities, artifacts, and activities necessary to implement Lean-Agile development.  More at http://www.scaledagileframework.com/

There are a number of scaling frameworks available, such as SAFe and LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)Horizontal scaling works with the largest adoption of the agile mindset. Vertical scaling goes up to the executive team. It connects with strategy management systems. The goal there is more “Agile at Scale” than “Scaling Agile”.


About Strategy

Sustainable organizations develop through operations and projects that sustain their strategy. Operational excellence and project excellence are two indispensable pillars.

There is a direct connection between Project Management and Strategy Management. For this reason, the project management community benefits from understanding the strategy management systems. I have cited in the grid the very few a Strategic Initiative Officer may like for example: the Kaplan Norton Execution Premium System (XPP), or Nassim Taleb’s bimodal strategy described in his book Antifragile. Both have been alive for a long period of time. That proves their value.

It seems that there is no framework or approach which works for an extreme uncertainty and complexity. However Nassim Taleb proposes a solution. Indeed, about all solutions to uncertainty are in the form of barbells. The barbell is a bar with weights on both ends that weight lifters use. Thus, it illustrates the idea of a combination of extremes kept separate, with avoidance of the middle. And in our context it is not necessarily symetric. It contains two extremes, with nothing in the center. One can also call it, more technically, a bimodal strategy, because it has two distinct modes rather than a single, central one. So, the barbell is a domestication, not the elimination, of uncertainty More in Nassim Taleb”s book Antifragile.


Thank you. To your continued success.

Philippe Husser

Author of the book :

The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World