Project Management Institute

Identifying and acting on early warning signs in complex projects

Complex projects often do not behave in the way expected, and in particular, effects within complex projects are often time-delayed and take time to emerge. This paper considers identification of early warning signs (EWS) in projects, and project professionals are not good at detecting or acting on EWS. This paper includes a literature review, which provides much information on identifying uncertainties in project development, as a starting point and confirms that project managers are not good at recognizing early warning signs. It reports on a comprehensive exploratory fieldwork designed to look at how project owners actually install regulatory frameworks with project assessments, and discusses some aspects of the outcome. The authors first examined a selection of nine (public and private sector) governance frameworks to find out how frequently project assessments are made, and what the guidelines prescribe as good practice. The barriers to identifying early warning signs are identified.
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