University of Oulu

Mikkelsen, M.F., Venable, J. and Aaltonen, K. (2021), "Researching navigation of project complexity using action design research", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 108-130.

Researching navigation of project complexity using action design research

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Author: Mikkelsen, Mogens Frank1; Venable, John2; Aaltonen, Kirsi3
Organizations: 1TIME, IT-Universitetet i Kobenhavn, Kobenhavn, Denmark
2Curtin University, Perth, Australia
3Industrial Engineering and Management, Teknillinen Tiedekunta, Oulun Yliopisto, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Emerald, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-01-28


Purpose: Project complexity is becoming increasingly challenging for project managers. Much valuable research has been done on the concept of project complexity. The research reported in this paper aims to provide a new means (the “Complexity Navigation Window”) and guiding principles for the navigation of project complexity in practice.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper applied action design research (a methodology for design science research) to design and evaluate the Complexity Navigation Window (CNW), which will serve as a representation of project complexity as a key component of the user interface for a decision support system (DSS) for managing project complexity.

Findings: Formative evaluations of the CNW by 16 project management practitioners indicated that the artefact is relevant, comprehensible and heading in a promising direction to guide decision-making. The evaluation also highlighted project managers’ difficulty in using the (conceptual) representation by itself to assess a project’s current situation accurately, which in turn limits their ability to understand a project’s current complexity and decide an appropriate course of strategy. A conceptual framework by itself is insufficient. This finding motivates further research to develop and evaluate a DSS that would partially automate the assessment process (by surveying stakeholders and automatically assessing and representing project complexity according to the CNW), which should aid in increasing the accuracy (and timeliness) of project complexity assessments and contribute to appropriate strategy formulation and timely revision.

Practical implications: The formative evaluation of the CNW indicates relevance for practitioners and the further features of the DSS may still yield even higher perceived utility from the full artefact.

Originality/value: The paper provides improved understanding of practitioners’ perceptions of project complexity and ability to assess it for a given project. The paper describes the design of a new visualisation for navigating and managing complexity. The paper further presents four strategies for managing project complexity. Finally, the paper also provides a methodological discussion on the potential of ADR in advancing project management research.

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Series: International journal of managing projects in business
ISSN: 1753-8378
ISSN-E: 1753-8386
ISSN-L: 1753-8378
Volume: 14
Issue: 1
Pages: 108 - 130
DOI: 10.1108/IJMPB-02-2020-0040
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 222 Other engineering and technologies
Copyright information: © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited.