Leading dynamically complex projects

Steven Cavaleri (Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut, USA)
Fred Reed (As It Is Inc., Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Publication date: 25 January 2008



The paper seeks to establish a critical role for leaders in guiding projects to higher levels of effectiveness. This role centers on using the thinking capacities associated with systems thinking, knowledge processing, action learning, and pragmatism. It is also to design systems to imbue these capacities into the operation of project teams.


This paper presents a case study, action‐research observations, and conceptual models. Actual case studies including a medium‐sized US manufacturer and a large shipyard.


This paper includes a section that presents research findings that suggest efforts by managers to improve profits actually reduced profit in the longer term due to erroneous learning and low‐quality knowledge.

Research limitations/implications

The research presented does not focus specifically on project teams, but rather on the interplay between project teams and the larger organizations of which they are part.

Practical implications

In certain industries, the performance track record of project teams for operating according to schedule and within budget is dismal. Such failures have been wrongly attributed to bad staffing, poor decision making, internal politics, or external forces. This paper proposes that the more common reasons for such failures are erroneous learning caused by misperceptions of dynamic feedback, low‐quality knowledge, imbalances among system elements, and failure to account for dynamics and time delays. An approach called project management system pragmatics is proposed for use by leaders as a way to improve the effectiveness of project teams.


This is the first approach to project management/leadership that offers practical ways for leaders to conceive of how to deal with the ambiguities posed by the dynamics of the complex systems many project teams operate within.



Cavaleri, S. and Reed, F. (2008), "Leading dynamically complex projects", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 71-87. https://doi.org/10.1108/17538370810846423

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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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