Complexity Theory and Project Management – A Book Review

complexity theory and pm book coverComplexity Theory and Project Management is a unique text book that presents how a field of study that involves philosophy and mathematical modeling can be used in project management. The book introduces complexity theory as a tool and strategy to address complex, changing needs of most projects. It offers a supplement and/or alternative to standard PM practices as defined in the PMBOK Guide. It also tackles the topics of virtual project management and building of effective teams in specific working environments.

Book Details

This first hardcover edition was published in October 2010 by Wiley Publishing. It has 416 pages and about an inch thick. The front cover displays the title in large fonts at the center of the cover, with the authors’ name in smaller fonts below it. The cover shows an image of small concentric colored dots radiating outward from the area of the title. ISBN-10: 0470545968; ISBN-13: 978-0470545966


Hardcover edition price ranges from $70.37 – $83.24, Kindle edition is at $73.49


Target Audience

Complexity Theory and Project Management will probably interest veteran project managers, who have experienced both successful and failed projects. It is also for those interested about complexity theory, chaos versus control concepts, and the importance of leadership.

What Customers Say

Buck Field shared both pros and cons about the book. He was delighted about the authors’ position that PM research should be directed toward increasing the valuable knowledge of the profession. However, he also noted a lack of clear definition of terms, some contradictions, and missing evidence to support statements.

Lawrence Leach stated that he would love to read it but found the price too high.

Content, Approach, Style

Complexity Theory and Project Management is divided into 5 parts and 22 chapters. Part 1 provides an introduction about complexity theory, its history, its link with chaos theory, and how it is used in the modern world today. It also discusses major PM associations, its standards and its accommodation of complexity. It then discusses leadership, virtual projects and examples of both successful and unsuccessful projects. Part 2 presents how to deploy complexity theory as a PM strategy for success. Part 3 provides several case studies of applied complexity. Part 4 provides suggestions on how to create communities within organizations that supports complexity theory. Part 5 presents reviews, summary of findings and future applications of the theory in project management.

The book uses language that is easy to understand. It uses definition, examples, comparisons and contrasts to help the reader understand concepts. It uses capitalization, italics, bullet lists and special markers for emphasis. It also has topic headers, paragraphs of readable length, figures, and images as visual aids.

Why Buy the Book

Complexity Theory and Project Management is a rare textbook that discusses the topic of complexity theory and how it can be applied in project management as a strategy for project success. It is able to present a high concept in practical ways. However, it is more a conceptual textbook than a practical reference. There are also some generalizations that need to be studied more and proven. As they say, correlation does not imply causation. For example, high project failure and the wide use of the PMBOK does not necessarily imply that the PMBOK is a faulty or erroneous guide. Perhaps complexity theory needs to be studied more and be included in the future PMBOK editions, but more proof is needed.

Books that Complement

Project Management 2.0 by Dr. Harold Kerzner is a timely reference that presents a relevant framework for managing projects with today’s technology, work settings and economy.

Susanne Madsen’s The Power of Project Leadership is for project professionals and business managers to help them navigate today’s projects with unique uncertainties and leadership problems.


Dr. Wanda Curlee gained her doctor of management and organizational leadership degree from University of Phoenix. She has served in the US Navy for 15 years as an officer in intelligence units. She has over 20 years of experience in the corporate world in various management positions. She is currently a Director of Project, Program and Portfolios in Hewlett-Packard. She is also the President of Curlee Associates, providing expert assistance in complex projects, programs and mergers to small to medium companies. Dr. Curlee is a certified PMP, Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP), Program Management Professional (PgMP), and Portfolio Manager (PfMP). She has authored/co-authored several books on topics of complexity theory, project management, virtual PMO, and program management. She also teaches in several universities including Phoenix University.

Dr. Robert Gordon earned his doctor of management and organizational leadership degree from University of Phoenix. He recently received his Graduate Certificate in Information Technology Project Management from the American Public University System. Dr. Gordon has over 20 years of experience in supply chain management and project management in the maritime industry. He is currently the Program Director at APUS, is a faculty member of several universities and authored/co-authored books on the topic of project management, complexity theory, virtual PMO and program management.

Hardcover edition price ranges from $70.37 – $83.24, Kindle edition is at $73.49


Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for and Bridge24. He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.