Project Management Institute

Complexity in projects of Greek state reforms: National cadaster


Dr. Panos Chatzipanos, PhD, M.Phil, D.WRE, Dr. Eur Ing.

President and CEO ECONTECH SA, President, PMI Greece Chapter, President, ASCE Hellenic Section

Eleftherios Lykouropoulos, PMP, ITIL, ISO 20000 Lead Implementer

CIO, NCMA S.A., Vice President, Education & Training, PMI Greece Chapter

Nick Zygouris, Civil Engineer, MSc in Structural Engineering

Executive Vice President, NCMA S.A., Deputy Board Member, PMI Greece Chapter

This paper presents the lessons learned from the application of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) publication, Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide toward the management of a program of 136 cadaster-related projects undertaken by the National Cadaster and Mapping Agency of Greece (NCMA.). These projects have a budget of approximately US$1 billion.

The complexity of the endeavor is enormous. Complexity resulting from system behavior, as well as from human behavior and ambiguity, is constantly present in the program affecting planning, execution, resources, and objectives.

The use of the practice guide has created awareness and proactive responses to emergent issues, as well as certain successful outcomes of issues that were created from self-organization of certain program components. The completion of the cadaster and land management system is a key factor for Greek economic recovery and the whole program is a top nationality priority.


Cadaster is a property-centric organization of land information for the whole of Greece, which facilitates land transactions, enhances land market, and improves governance, transparency, and financial growth. The paper describes the application of the recent publication, Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide (PMI, 2014) toward the program and project management of large cadastral programs and projects in Greece. Added value and lessons learned from adopting this guide, in parallel to foundational project management methodology (a systems approach per PMI's recent practice guide to projects impacted by complexity), are presented. The encountered complexity challenged the assumed characteristics of these programs and projects and had to be navigated. The guidance provided in PMI's practice guide has been utilized with good results and a number of emergent risks and issues were controlled. The applied methodology and the lessons learned from applying such guidance to a large program of projects during an initial eight-month period will be presented.

The guidance provided by the practice guide and other relevant publications (PMI, 2013), (Remington & Pollack, 2008), (Kerzner & Belack, 2010), (Cooke-Davies, 2011) was applied to a program of 136 projects involving 5,300 municipalities with a budget of approximately US$1 billion. Completion of cadaster is a key factor for Greece's economic recovery. So far, three different programs have been completed at various periods in the past 15 years and a database for 25% of land information has been created. The current program has the goal of completing the remaining 75% by 2020. The practice guide has been used toward assessing complexity as well as toward the improvement of organizational structures and leadership. (PMI, 2013), (PMI, 2014), (Snowden & Boone, 2007). The scenarios included in the practice guide have led to actions, which have considerably reduced complexity in certain areas; mainly in stakeholder management, in scope management, and in communication management. These results will be presented in detail.

Further, an action plan was developed which is a key driver for organizational restructuring, as well as a crucial asset of the recently established Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO). Last, but not least, it is the first time that both the establishment of an EPMO and proactive measures toward project complexity have been initiated in a Greek State Agency.

Description of Cadaster

The land administration that has evolved in Greece is based upon the French system of registrations and mortgages introduced by Napoleon I. A registry system was set up in 1853, and a law for the cadaster was passed in 1911. Personal records held at a mortgage office list all the real property transactions performed by people in a given area. It is a registry of deeds. Being based around the individual, with no geospatial data and description included, it is very difficult and time-consuming to identify owners of real estate property based on what can be observed /defined on the actual land. For this reason, with the help of the European Union (technical assistance and partial financing), a modern cadaster and land management “mega project” has been undertaken, with a total budget of over US$1 billion, including the cadastral projects program, which has a budget of US$1 billion. The basic facts are:

  • Cadaster is a property-centric system for land information management. It facilitates land transactions, enhances land market, and improves governance, transparency, and financial growth.
  • A running program of cadastral projects aiming toward the completion of the remaining 75% until 2020. This program has an approximate US$1 billion budget for 136 cadastral projects across 5,300 municipalities. The “customer,” is the Ministry of the Environment (MoE). This is the program presented in the current paper.
  • Operation of the cadaster is an on-going restructuring effort, which aims in replacing the previous system of 400 mortgage offices across Greece with few (estimated, 16) modern, fully digital, cadastral offices. The proposed model, compared to the previous system, offers accurate property and legal information (initially coming from the database creation, i.e. cadastral projects (the program we use to beta test Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide) and customer-centric local & central e-services.
  • NCMA “restructuring” project portfolio also includes the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment as the unique authority accountable for the operation of cadaster in Greece, as opposed to the previous system. The deadline for design and operation of first cadastral office under the restructured system is the end of 2015. Then, the project portfolio for initiating, implementing, and operating 16 similar offices situated at various regions of Greece will run until 2020.
  • Given the cadastral program is one of the top priorities by the present Greek government, it has been fitting for NCMA to adopt sound project management approaches and strategies. A mission-critical project management framework had to be developed for NCMA to support and sustain efficient program and project management.

Goals and Objectives

The guidance contained in PMI's Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide has been followed since February 2014, toward planning and executing the cadastral projects. These projects are executed under contract agreements with contractors (joint ventures of surveying/geodetic engineering companies and law firms). They are designed, supervised, monitored, controlled, and quality-audited by NCMA. This paper contains information about encountering complexity within the program described above, the implementation of Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide (assessment questionnaires and complexity scenarios), as well as the development of an action plan for the whole cadastral program.

The paper aims in highlighting:

  • The impact of leadership and governance toward successful complex project execution;
  • Awareness of complexity and its impact in programs and projects;
  • The impact of organizational project management toward reducing complexity causes in programs and projects;
  • The impact of successful stakeholder, risk, communication, and scope management toward navigating complexity in a program/project environment;
  • The value of key personnel engagement in the complexity assessment and the definition of its causes;
  • The high impact that effective communications and knowledgeable, talented individuals have toward dampening the effects of complexity in projects.

Existing Status of Cadaster in Greece - European Union Technical Assistance for the Greek Cadaster

For years, NCMA had no formal approach to project management. The various external contracts or internal projects and tasks were being dispersed within the Organization and managed by the different heads of NCMA's business units. The European Union selected the Dutch cadaster as the organization responsible for delivering the technical assistance to NCMA. The Dutch cadaster provided experts from various EU countries including Greece for the Greek cadaster (NCMA) toward implementing the capacity building of NCMA at two levels simultaneously: the ability of NCMA to develop and manage projects, especially programs and projects for the completion of the Greek cadaster; and its effective and efficient operation onward through organizational change and the establishment of modern digital cadastral offices.

The goals of the technical assistance team are:

  1. Establish a sustainable project management framework at NCMA; set-up an Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) plus project management offices for each business unit.
  2. Implement project management processes adapted to NCMA needs. (input of tools and techniques and output for each adapted process), required project management skill definition, assessment, and build-up;
  3. Support project/program reviews, monitoring/reporting models, plus a project management knowledge repository;
  4. Provide assistance to top management toward project management maturity, portfolio and program governance, and toward the expected complexity of the “mega-project”, as well as toward organizational change and talent management.

The Use of the Practice Guide at NCMA – Plan and Implementation

Since the program is a governmental endeavor, key stakeholders are as follows:

  • Clients are the beneficiaries of rights on land (i.e. Greek citizens/legal entities, as well as other state citizens/legal entities, having rights on land in Greece).
  • Customer is the “client representative” (i.e. the Greek State, which is represented mainly by supervising Ministry of Environment).
  • Performing organization is NCMA.
  • The program sponsors are NCMA executive management and the Ministry of the Environment
  • Program manager is the director of NCMA's Business Unit of Cadastral Projects
  • Project managers are the corresponding contract supervising engineers, given most of the project works are outsourced contracts.
  • Stakeholders with strong interest are Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, Municipalities, Ministry of Agriculture, notary associations, surveyor engineers, deed registrar associations or mortgage offices, lawyer associations, and forestry/natural environment agencies.

Complexity Assessment

NCMA formed a complexity assessment project team, which comprised of employees from the Business Unit of the Cadastral Projects, as well as executive-level personnel of the organization. Using the practice guide, each project team completed the incorporated questionnaire.

Areas of Causes of Complexity

After consolidating the answers from all team members, the answers were mapped to possible complexity causes, using the relative table included in the practice guide. The resulting correlation indicated that all nine causes of complexity were found to be present in the program, having varying degrees of severity.

System behavior (Varanini & Givevri, 2012) seems to be the most probable category of complexity causes in the program, followed by ambiguity. Ambiguity results in lack of prediction and/or erroneous prediction, which seriously inhibit planning (Taleb, 2007, 2012). Both causes make sense due to program size, processes involved, numerous interconnected components, and also due to the ambiguous nature of a nationwide endeavor involving a medium-size core team, numerous contractors with thousands of team members, millions of citizens, and hundreds of independent organizations all over Greece (municipalities, forestry departments, NGOs, State Agencies, etc.) – all powerful and interested stakeholders.

The human behavior category of complexity causes (Flyvbjerg 2007, 2008, 2013) (Kahneman, Lovallo & Sibony, 2011) is also quite important, with only the exception of “communication and control,” which seems to affect slightly the complexity of the specific program due to the experience (obtained from previous similar projects) of the project managers to properly handle communications with most project stakeholders. Note that program communications with key-stakeholders in not part of the communication plan of each project, but communication management is done by a higher level of the organization dedicated to communication management. Further, co-location of project teams and obviously similar culture and common language of stakeholders have a positive influence.

Other important causes include “organizational design and development,” since the whole program is a crash-test for the organizational skills of NCMA and its capability to handle many programs and projects simultaneously using common resources and unified repeatable processes. These issues have been the objectives for the establishment of the project management framework. Also of much interest is the fact that the conducted resource gap analysis has already detected missing resources and skills of the project teams. Nowadays, the organization has extreme hiring limitations for human resources, enforced by a concurrent central public funds saving campaign. This specific issue is a root cause of complexity and has already led to contingency plans in order to navigate through such an environment, which is currently evolving.

Last, but not least, group behavior is expected to produce much instability during program execution, since many professional and other organizations in Greece are negative stakeholders with hidden agendas, deep-rooted cognitive biases, and contradicting interests to the program objectives.

Complexity Scenario Mapping Phase

After the completion of the assessment using the questionnaire and the complexity cause-mapping table of the Practice Guide, a linear approach was followed trying to combine the assessment results with the closest pre-defined scenario of the practice guide, using a semi-automated spreadsheet and various similarity metrics. The produced consolidated results used the number of common questions which received a negative answer between assessment result and standard scenarios. It is noted, that according to the Practice Guide Complexity Assessment Questionnaire, negative answers indicate program or project complexity.

The most prominent scenarios per the practice guide proved to be four scenarios out of the twelve scenarios of the guide. Next, regardless of the initial, semi-automated mapping approach, it seemed that the best way to work was, as mentioned in the practice guide, to combine parts from various scenarios since many of them had common questions with negative answers.

Following the practice guide, after elaboration and application of critical thinking, we came up with the final and most appropriate combined scenario for the specific program as follows:

“The program/project is funded from various sponsors and sources, each with their own objectives and agenda. The program or project manager is having difficulty applying and acquiring organizational resources for the program or project activities. Team members do not have the necessary skills. In addition, there are unresolved claims from the suppliers, customer, or contractor.”

Complexity Navigation Action Plan Development

Given the above scenario, the knowledge of the project team about the program, organization-specific causes of complexity, and also given that the practice guide does not capture the severity of every possible cause, we split the combined scenario issues into six distinct, more intuitive and easy to manage “situations,” as follows, in order to deal in more detail with the most anticipated situations (most likely to be encountered during the life-cycle of the program):

Situation 1: Very complicated structure of components (high connectedness, high number of components, long duration, etc.) along with issues arising from NCMA's organizational structure.

Situation 2: Negative stakeholders can threaten program execution.

Situation 3: The program manager is having difficulty applying and acquiring organizational resources for the program or project activities.

Situation 4: The project is funded from various sponsors and sources each with their own objectives and agendas.

Situation 5: Team members do not have the necessary skills.

Situation 6: There are unresolved claims from the contractors.

After applying critical thinking toward categorizing them in descending order, we found that situations 14 are of high severity; situation 5 has a moderate severity; and situation 6 has a low severity.

Thus, situation 6 has not been part of the action plan and has remained as a possible situation to be dealt with in the team's log as an open issue, logged for periodic assessment as part of the program's risk management plan. This situation will be reviewed during the next iteration of the complexity assessment in order to determine any possible change in its severity and visible impact. An action plan was developed for the remaining five situations.

Analyzing situations 1 to 5, we came up with the conclusion that we had to address the following issues:

  • Organizational design issues, along with the inherent complexity of the cadastral program
    • Project Management Office issues; program leadership-related issues
    • Program sponsorship-related issues
    • Team competencies
    • Soft skills
    • Talent management
    • Knowledge management
    • Capacity/resource issues
  • Multiple sponsors issues – human behavior – structured dialog
  • Stakeholder and communication management issues
    • Management of numerous stakeholders
    • Management of negative stakeholders
  • Issues emerging from the millions of the program components’ interconnections, the long duration of the program, and the vast number of individuals and human groups involved.

Implementing the Action Plan Via the Project Management Office

The above-detected situations (i.e. situations 1-5) can be classified into two different groups:

  • Situations that require focus within the organization (internal focus), e.g. project management skills improvement, governance structure, organizational culture toward change (new structures introduced, etc.) are named ‘internal focus situations’
  • Situations that focus on the external environment (external focus), e.g. negative stakeholder management, negotiation with central government bodies concerning lack of resources, program uninterrupted financing, etc. are named ‘external focus situations’

It became evident that a set of best practices in the areas of stakeholder management, risk management, and scope management, as well as program management and organizational project management had to be included in the action plan.

Under this approach, the action plan selected (and already followed) is summarized in the following paragraphs.

Focus on Organizational-Related Issues and Problems: Actions Already Taken

Since the early stages of assessment, per complexity testing (March 2014), the organization has moved toward, adopting organizational project management with the help of the technical assistance team.

More specifically, the following issues have already been addressed:

  • Filling organizational gaps in program/portfolio management, as well as implementing a controlling EPMO and Business Unit Project Management Offices.

  • Formal training in project management methodologies of all personnel involved with project-related work. Focus on talent management. Focus on complexity awareness, recognizing its causes and account for its effects on the whole program.
  • Focus on leadership and program sponsorship issues with NCMA top management.

Focus on the External Environment of the Organization

In order to cope with emergent issues and risks arising from the external environment of the program, since the early stages of the complexity assessment, the management of the business unit responsible for the cadastral projects has moved toward the creation of a stakeholder register which contains possible issues and risks that may emerge due to the complexity introduced by the particular stakeholder, plus possible causes of complexity per stakeholder. Very important for that list was a record of the encountered cognitive biases per stakeholder (Kahneman, 2011), (Lovallo & Kahneman, 2003), (Chatzipanos & Giotis, 2014), which were recorded and noted with possible mitigation activities toward each particular cognitive bias. This has been done for all key stakeholders and appropriate plans based on what-if scenarios have been recorded.

The corresponding management strategy has moved toward management by objectives and has evolved as more flexible and adaptive. We have planned an approach for systematic cooperation with key stakeholders as well as for simultaneous, multiple sponsors’ management, per PMI's recommended approaches for communication and stakeholder management. Based on the practice guide's advice regarding human behavior, an informal mapping of recognized cognitive biases per stakeholder has been made for all key stakeholders. With the help of an external consultant – business psychologist – plans to address these and dampen their influence are being made. Awareness of cognitive biases has been important for creating the stakeholder communication plan. This plan will be monitored, viewed, and amended as necessary at frequent intervals in future. This is especially important for the negative stakeholders, which may seriously threaten the program success.

Awareness of human behavior; and particularly of the effect of cognitive biases leading to over-optimism, anchoring, and strategic misrepresentation, considerably helped the project teams develop open, frank dialogue. Dialogue is a way for the project teams to collectively observe how subconscious values and intentions control behaviors and collectively aid in the surfacing of possible hidden agendas by individuals. We have found, that under such conditions, collective learning and common objectives are achieved as a part of a gradual process between team members.

Next Steps

Since assessing and developing the action plan for navigating complexity in programs and projects is a repetitive approach, we consider what has been done so far as the first iteration cycle. Following that, in early 2015, a second iteration will be conducted. The plan is also to hold regular review sessions with program team members and create/review/amend (as needed) SMART performance metrics based on the current action plan developed per Navigating Complexity: A Practice Guide recommendations, to measure and assess the program's progress and steer toward successful completion.

Concluding Remarks

PMIs Navigating Complexity: Practice Guide has been used in identifying causes of complexity, as well as assessing the current situation for the cadastral projects program. This has enhanced the top management's awareness that the complexity to be encountered in the cadastral projects program is a very serious phenomenon hindering the program's performance and needs close monitoring and control by an experienced engineering program management team, as well as close program sponsorship by experienced leaders.

Even closer monitoring and control during execution of the program, as well as meticulous planning containing alternative scenarios based on the above initial findings, have been decided by top management and are currently at the design stage. The use of the practice guide by the program manager and core team is a useful tool in raising awareness of emergent issues, the evolvement of problematic situations due to self-organization by numerous program components, the need to have multiple action-plans under certain situations, and the need for effective and efficient change management processes within the program governance board. Further iterations per the advice of the practice guide, experienced, knowledgeable project management-wise people running the program, continuous involvement of the program sponsor from executive management, project talent management, application of critical thinking, plus adaptability and flexibility during emergent situations will help greatly in achieving the program objectives successfully. These are the focus areas that NCMA top management has concentrated to improve within the organization.

Chatzipanos, P., Giotis, T‥ (2014). Cognitive biases as program complexity enhancers: The Astypalea project. PMI Global Congress 2014, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Cooke-Davies, T. (Ed.). (2011). Aspects of complexity: Managing projects in a complex world. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2007). How optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation undermine implementation, Concept Rapport, NTNU 17(3), 41—55.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2008). Curbing optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation in planning: Reference class forecasting in practice. European Planning Studies 16(1), 3—21.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2013). Quality control and due diligence in project management: Getting decisions right by taking the outside view. International Journal of Project Management, 31(5), 760—774.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kahneman, D., Lovallo, D., & Sibony, O.,(2011, June). The big idea: Before you make that big decision…, Harvard Business Review, , 89 (6), 51—60.

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Snowden D. J., &Boone, M. E. (2007, November). A leader's framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 85 (11): 68-76.

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Varanini, F., & Ginevri, W.,(2012). Projects and complexity. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2014, Dr. Panos Chatzipanos, Eleftherios Lykouropoulos and Nick Zygouris
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA



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