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A more comprehensive, innovative approach to managing complex projects

Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects (R10)


Complex highway projects come in a variety of sizes and use various financing mechanisms and delivery methods. Work on such projects often involves navigating complex logistics, new construction methods, controversial stakeholder issues, and restrictive regulations. Each of these components requires careful planning and execution. Similarly, underestimating cost, schedule, or disruption can negatively affect budgets, increase delays, and undermine public confidence.

Project management has long focused on three elements—cost, schedule, and technical requirements (scope, design, quality, and integrated delivery). However, complex projects, particularly those in the rapid renewal area, need something more robust to be successful.

Moving beyond traditional approaches requires stronger partnerships among transportation agencies, contractors, consulting engineers, and external stakeholders. Better strategic planning and execution must occur from startup through construction. The Guidebook for Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects provides practical tools and techniques to optimize innovation, minimize schedule and budget risks, and build better projects.


Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects (R10), expands the three-dimensional analysis typically used by departments of transportation. It creates a model that facilitates project management in five areas: cost, schedule, technical, financial, and context. Methods for assessing complexity factors will help managers make rational resource allocations and guide planning and implementation.


The complex management product is a methodology that takes a project through a deliberative process that begins with an overview of complexity mapping. This process then follows five distinct steps for addressing the five dimensions. The steps are:

  1. Define critical project success factors
  2. Assemble project team
  3. Select project arrangements
  4. Prepare early cost model and finance plan
  5. Develop project action plans

Application Tools

The guidebook also contains the following:

  • 18 case studies including 15 in the United States and 3 international
  • Forms
  • Other application tools that will assist transportation agencies in using the product.

The companion training program will assist State and local transportation agency staff in obtaining the skill sets necessary to follow the process.


This deliberative process addresses and enables a systematic management approach that speeds decision making, addresses complex issues, and expedites government approvals for rapid renewal projects.

R10 provides:

  • A five-dimensional project management (5DPM) approach to account for external factors.
  • Considers projects to be iterative rather than linear.
  • Schedules projects to create value; encourages innovation, hybrid contracting, and relational partnering.
  • Emphasizes that each complex project has its own set of performance goals

This method represents an evolution in current project management practices. The R10 product can be applied to highway projects of varying sizes and types to help project managers proactively identify, plan for, and manage their projects to reduce the schedule and cost impacts. The context for projects changes from linear to dynamic by encouraging innovation and relational partnering and emphasizing that each complex project has its own distinct set of performance goals.

The complex management methodology can be "self-implemented" after project managers or facilitators have been trained. It will also guide managers through a process to fully integrate project teams across the entire life cycle, a foundation of project success. Projects using this approach may also consider using the guidebook for Managing Risk in Rapid Renewal Projects (R09) at the appropriate point in the project development process, since the two products are complementary.

In the Field

State Project Description Activity Contact
California Implementation Assistance Program – Federal Lands Highway is applying strategies to the Fanny Bridge Community Revitalization project in Tahoe City, CA. Lead Adopter Victoria Peters
Federal Lands Highway Division
Georgia Implementation Assistance Program – GDOT is applying strategies to I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor project. Lead Adopter Darryl VanMeter
Georgia Department of Transportation
Massachusetts Implementation Assistance Program – MassDOT is applying strategies to Route 20 project in Charlton and Oxford. Lead Adopter Muazzez Reardon
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
Michigan Implementation Assistance Program – Michigan DOT is applying strategies to the I-75 and I-94 projects. Lead Adopter Sue Datta
Michigan Department of Transportation
Montana Federal Lands Highway applying strategies to the Gardiner Gateway project Lead Adopter Victoria Peters
Federal Lands Highway
New Mexico Implementation Assistance Program – NMDOT is applying strategies to the Silver City complex project. Lead Adopter A.J. Romero
New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department

Several training sessions and workshops were piloted during the research phase. Training sessions were held in California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Texas. Pilot workshops were conducted in Colorado and Washington.

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