Complexity is in the Eye of the Beholder – Journal Article Review

Complexity is in the Eye of the Beholder – Journal Article Review

*This is a summary and analysis of the following publication. For full references and research details, please see original publication.

Kashiwagi, I. (2020). The Effect of Expertise on Project Complexity. Journal for the Advancement of Performance Information and Value, 12(2), 99-99.

Available at:

Information Communications Technology (ICT) Struggle with Performance

The information communications technology (ICT) industry has struggled with performance issues for years with failure to be completed on time and on budget as high as 84% (Standish Group, 1994). Many countries including the Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom have performed governmental inquiries due to massive losses on ICT projects (Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory, 2014; Public Administration Committee, 2011; The House of Representatives of the Netherlands, 2014). Project complexity has commonly been cited as the cause of poor project performance. The Standish Group (2016) identified 14% of “very complex” projects are completed on time, on budget and with a satisfactory result for the client. As the ICT industry becomes more integrated into society through technological advances and automation, firms require approaches and solutions to handle project complexity to stay in business.

Project Complexity

Early research in project complexity has focused primarily on measuring complexity through a project’s conditions, inclusive of its size (number), variety, uncertainty, types of people involved and interdependence. For example, an exceptionally large project, a project which involves multiple stakeholders or a project which requires multiple different services could be considered complex. More recent research has been drawn more towards measuring complexity by an individual’s perception of a project’s conditions. In other words, project complexity is relative to how much project knowledge or expertise an individual may have. By measuring complexity through perception, an exceptionally large project could be complex or simple, depending on if you have an expert or nonexpert. Measuring complexity through perception may be the path forward; it may resonate more with the average person’s day to day use of the word complex, often synonymous with something difficult to do or understand. This is not a new idea either; expertise has been regularly suggested to reduce complexity and improve performance.

Research Focus

There are various methods to measure complexity (over 19 included in the study) but none of the models demonstrated the ability to reduce poor performance caused by complexity. Kashiwagi proposes that most models are too focused on measuring complexity by their project conditions and disregard the priority of expertise. Hence, his research’s focus is to bring to light the importance of expertise in the field of complexity.

Research Results and Analysis

The research included a survey with 97 ICT practitioners, followed by 15 interviews. The survey reported 79% of respondents believed expertise to reduce performance issues caused by project complexity. In looking at overall project performance, 58% of respondents thought an expert would unlikely have poor project performance due to complexity factors. In contrast, 81% of respondents thought a nonexpert would likely experience poor project performance due to complexity factors.

Kashiwagi argues that if a supplier is having performance issues it recursively proves the project was clearly complex to a degree. In further analysis, the only factors which posed a challenge for experts were those that related to project stakeholders. In interviewing participants Kashiwagi discovered the only reason these factors posed a challenge to experts were because, to an extent, they fell outside the control of the expert. The expert could only minimize stakeholder problems if their expertise was utilized. In many cases, stakeholders may refuse, leading to performance issues and perceived complexity by nonexpert stakeholders. In cases where stakeholders fully utilized the experts, complexity was no longer an issue.

In short, the research concludes that experts do not perceive ICT projects as complex while nonexperts perceive ICT project as complex. Experts do not have performance issues due to complexity factors while nonexperts have performance issues due to complexity factors. The results would suggest that the issues with complexity is not in the technology or scoping of a project; the issue and solution is found in the proper identification and utilization of expertise. This might be the reason project complexity researchers have not yet found the answer, they are not looking at the core problem, expertise.


In proper context, the rise in project complexity has not been a rise at all. Project complexity has been an issue in all industries and is certainly not new to the ICT industry. The “software crisis” caused by complexity was addressed as early 1969 by the NATO science committee! The solution is in an approach or process which can facilitate the proper identification and utilization of expertise. Project complexity in this light, can be viewed as an indicator that there is either insufficient expertise on the project or there is improper utilization of that expertise. As research dives more in depth into creating models centered around expertise, we may find the ICT rising complexity issues to disappear.