(This post contains affiliate hyperlinks. Please read my full disclosure.
Complex Project Toolkit is a book about project management paradigms and how to encourage teams and project managers to be curious and embrace uncertainty. This book is not a guidebook with checklists or templates, but a strategy-oriented approach. It is filled with examples from science and history as well as project anecdotes.
The book is well-written and moves at a fast pace. The book is well-written and contains enough detail and research to support the thinking, but it doesn’t get too philosophical.
Kieran also uses many matrices to contrast the’standard’ project management methodology with his complex one. This is helpful for people who are more visual than myself.
What makes a project complicated?
The Complex Project Toolkit flows well. The book’s first half begins by giving a brief history about projects and project management. The book then discusses complexity and analyzes the characteristics that make certain projects unique.
Next, it examines the’standard’ scientific approach to project management. This is based on empirical thinking and reductionist thinking. However, this approach fails to handle complex projects with many unknowns.
The toolkit to manage complex projects
The second half of this book is about the toolkit and how it was inspired and shaped by design thinking, which is more generative and responsive.
The toolkit can be broken down into mindsets and practices as well as skills that address each of the complexity characteristics to varying degrees.
The book ends with a brief discussion on application or “making It Happen”.
The key takeaways
My key takeaway is to be comfortable with uncertainty and let your curiosity lead you down a new path. It’s better to accept new information and challenges as they come so that they can inform the process, for better or worse.
A project cannot remain in an exploratory state indefinitely. Decisions will still have to be made. This book is about loosening our grasp on some of that ideological certainty we rely on in our automatic responses.
It’s important to note that Kieran doesn’t advocate either/or use standard or complex methodologies – he frequently points out that there is nothing wrong with traditional methods, particularly in standard and replicable projects.
This book is designed to tackle unique or groundbreaking projects that have no precedents. Complex Project Toolkit can be considered a supplement to traditional methods of working.
Other thoughts
I was waiting for the explanation about Agile methodology in the first half of this book. This explanation was given early on, when many would logically question the differences.
I must admit that I wasn’t entirely on board with his definitions of Agile. It sounded like he might have had bad start-ups or Spiral (an earlier methodology similar to Scrum). You will see that there is a lot of overlap in the core principles of Agile Manifesto.
However, his thought is not completely different from Agile. This doesn’t negate its validity or utility.
As someone who has worked in architectural project management, I find it fascinating how designers interact with design teams in a different manner than we do for overall management. Concept and design development is highly iterative while project management is largely waterfall with occasional periods that are hybrid.
It was great to see this iterative thinking applied as a larger project framework within the toolkit.
I found the application section at the end of this book a little lacking. The ability to suggest a shift in mindset is useful when dealing with certain teams or companies.