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Avoiding the Overly Complex Project

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 6/4/2013

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the main aspects of complex projects and show what steps you can take to avoid being stuck with an overly complex one.

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    In the first part of this series, I described three types of overly-complex projects: The Meta-Project, The Abstract Project, and the In-Over-Our-Heads Project. I offered suggestions for correcting each of these problems when faced with them. In this part, I offer steps to avoid the complex project. Learn the questions you should be asking when your team is putting together the project scope statement.

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    Avoiding Meta-Projects

    While defining a project ask yourself these questions to avoid creating a Meta-Project:

    1. Are there a significant number of steps involved in this project?
    2. Are there two or more over-arching and unrelated categories of actions involved in this project?
    3. Does each deliverable of the project require five or more steps in order to reach its completion?
    4. Does it seem as though the project keeps growing (scope creep) as your team tries to nail down important milestones and deliverables?
    5. Do you feel overwhelmed when you try to identify everything that needs to be done for the project? For example, are there so many deliverables that you wonder how they will ever be completed?

    If you answer "yes" to any of the above five questions, you may want to look at your project as a meta-project. You have two options - you can either continue to plan the huge project and create a master project with sub-projects, or you can break the project down into smaller, more easily manageable projects. If you are a beginner, I would strongly suggest breaking the project down rather than attempting to manage a meta-project.

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    Avoiding Abstract Projects

    While defining a project, you should ask yourself the following questions to avoid creating an abstract project:

    1. Can I define at least five steps that must be taken to complete this project?
    2. Is the scope finite? That is, does it have clear boundaries?
    3. Is the duration finite? Will I know when the project is completed?
    4. Is the project's progress measurable? How will I know if it is progressing correctly?
    5. Is the project specific enough? Can I see what the project path will be just by the definition of the project's objectives?

    If you can answer these questions, great! That's excellent news. By having a finite scope and duration, measurable objectives, and being clear about what is to be accomplished, you are avoiding a project nightmare - the abstract project.

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    Avoiding In-Over-Our-Heads Projects

    The final set of questions you want to ask yourself during the project defining stage involves identifying whether or not your project is beyond your team's capabilities. To avoid the In-Over-Our-Heads Project, ask yourself these questions:

    1. Do I have enough staff to complete this project? If not, do I have the financial resources to hire more?
    2. Do my team members have enough know-how and training to complete this project? If not, how will I provide them with the training and the knowledge resources?
    3. Do I have the financial resources to complete this project? If not, how will I obtain them?
    4. Does my team have the time to complete this project? If not, how can it be scheduled so that they do?
    5. Does this project fit in with the overall capabilities and objectives of this company? If not, how can it be tweaked so that it will?

    By taking the time to answer these questions before submitting the scope statement or project plan for approval, you can ensure that the project can be completed with the available resources. If adjustments have to be made, they are made before the project has reached a crisis point when team members are so overwhelmed they are suffering burnout.

Avoiding the Complex Project

This series discusses how to identify and avoid complex projects.
  1. Identifying the Overly Complex Project: When Is It Too Much?
  2. Avoiding the Overly Complex Project