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Book Review: Managing Complex, High Risk Projects

Franck Marle, Ludovic-Alexandre Vidal, Managing Complex, High Risk Projects – A Guide to Basic and Advanced Project Management, Springer, 2016


The subject of the book “Managing Complex, High Risk Projects – A Guide to Basic and Advanced Project Management by Franck Marle and Ludovic-Alexandre Vidal, is an active promotion of the project complexity measuring methodologies approach to resolve issues arising due to the complex nature of the projects and improving the complex projects by analyzing the project structure and restructuring the project organization, if needed. The authors provide practical solutions to understand the complexity of a project – the core focus of the book. The book provides a detailed, valuable and pragmatic view of the traditional principles of the project management methodologies applicable in a complex project. It clearly defines “complexity” and distinguishes it from the “complicated” nature of a project. The book, I believe, can serve as a trigger point to initiate more research by academics and further commitment from the industry to establish a relation, if any, between the project complexity and the project performance.

The book is well organized and somewhat aligned to the PMBOK®. The book discusses in detail about the four phenomena – Ambiguity, Uncertainty, Propagation, and Chaos – of a complex project during the five phases and the ten knowledge areas as defined by PMI. The book is useful for advanced project managers who have strong experience in managing projects and want to advance their knowledge and those who are or will be managing complex projects. This book may not be a good read for new-comers in the area of project management and, it’s choice of audience is quite intentional.

After defining and assessing the complexity of a project, the authors introduce the concept of project vulnerability. On page 127 of the book, project vulnerability is defined as the “characteristic of a project which makes it susceptible to be subject to negative events and, if occurring, which makes it non-capable to cope with them, which may in the end allow them to degrade the project performance.” On page 397 of the PMBOK®, the individual project risks is defined as “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives”. In my understanding, the project vulnerability is the same as that of a risk with negative impact. The authors failed to distinguish between the two and left the readers to wonder about it. The book can be more impactful if the publisher can introduce this distinction in subsequent prints.

The final two chapters of the book outline the changes in the project structure and how the project organization can be adopted based on the project complexity. The authors did not elaborate on certain aspects such as the challenges faced in project organizational change, resistance to change, other factors that can play in this change, costing & budgeting, project human resources and additional practical aspects of a project. I am also surprised that the book has no mention of the agile framework. Although the book has used simple language, the understanding of certain concepts would be a lot easier if the authors had used more examples.

This book is a must read for project managers who want to manage a complex project. In fact, based on my experience, most of the large projects fall under the area of “complex” project and hence their project managers should also read this book. I would strongly recommend to add more examples and a chapter related to the challenges one can face while changing the project organization.

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