Managing Risks in Complex Projects



Dealing effectively with risks in complex projects is difficult and requires management interventions that go beyond simple analytical approaches. This is one finding of a major field study into risk management practices and business processes of 35 major product developments in 17 high-technology companies. Almost one-half of the contingencies that occur are not being detected before they impact project performance. Yet, the risk-impact model presented in this article shows that risk does not affect all projects equally but depends on the effectiveness of collective managerial actions dealing with specific contingencies. The results of this study discuss why some organizations are more successful in detecting risks early in the project life cycle, and in decoupling risk factors from work processes before they impact project performance. The field data suggest that effective project risk management involves an intricately linked set of variables, related to work process, organizational environment, and people. Some of the best success scenarios point to the critical importance of recognizing and dealing with risks early in their development. This requires broad involvement and collaboration across all segments of the project team and its environment, and sophisticated methods for assessing feasibilities and usability early and frequently during the project life cycle. Specific managerial actions, organizational conditions, and work processes are suggested for fostering a project environment most conducive to effective cross-functional communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, a condition important to early risk detection and effective risk management in complex project situations.