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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-006    Date:  September 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-006
Issue No: Vol. 81 No. 2
Date: September 2017


Breaking Down Project Complexities

by Carlos F. Figueroa and Amy Nagel

The Washington State DOT is using a SHRP2 product to manage a multimodal ferry terminal replacement in downtown Seattle.

WSDOT is using Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects, a SHRP2 product, for the replacement of the Seattle Multimodal Ferry Terminal at Colman Dock. Shown here are two ferries docked at the original dock.
WSDOT is using Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects, a SHRP2 product, for the replacement of the Seattle Multimodal Ferry Terminal at Colman Dock. Shown here are two ferries docked at the original dock.


The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is working with a diverse set of partners and stakeholders as it replaces and reconfigures the aging Seattle Multimodal Ferry Terminal at Colman Dock–all while the terminal remains operational. This ferry terminal is the largest in the system, providing two service routes to more than 8.5 million people annually. The facility also serves two passenger-only routes operated by King County. Pedestrians and bicyclists use the terminal, as well as several types of vehicles, including cars, high-occupancy vehicles, and transit.

The Colman Dock in Seattle serves a variety of stakeholders such as pedestrians, as shown here on the dock, as well as bicyclists and cars.
The Colman Dock in Seattle serves a variety of stakeholders such as pedestrians, as shown here on the dock, as well as bicyclists and cars.


To facilitate effective project planning and execution, WSDOT is using a product developed through the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2), called Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects. The product provides a systematic and collaborative approach that goes beyond traditional project management methods. It accelerates decision making, addresses complex issues, and expedites project delivery. The product has helped WSDOT assess the project and address complex issues such as public safety, environmental protection, and stakeholder impacts and concerns, from the planning stages through delivery.

Project Snapshot

The downtown Seattle ferry terminal has two routes, providing trips across Puget Sound to Kitsap County and the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry terminal was rebuilt in 1964 while retaining many of the original 1938 timber piles; it was reconstructed again and expanded in 1992.

The terminal’s riders included 4.4million foot passengers in 2013. By 2030, total ridership is projected to increase by 39 percent for the Seattle/Bainbridge route and 25 percent for the Seattle/Bremerton route.

The current condition of the terminal is poor because of aging and seismically deficient timber piers. Key features of the project include replacing the main ferry terminal building and passenger-only ferry facility on the southern edge of the dock, replacing and reconfiguring a portion of the dock to improve safety and operations for vehicles and pedestrian traffic, and replacing two movable bridges.

The replacement project has a budget of $268 million. WSDOT is employing the general contractor/construction manager (also known as construction manager/general contractor) project delivery method with an anticipated construction period of 6 years (2017–2023).

Map showing the two ferry routes: one going between Colman Dock in Seattle and Bainbridge Island and another going between Colman Dock and Bremerton.
Map showing the two ferry routes: one going between Colman Dock in Seattle and Bainbridge Island and another going between Colman Dock and Bremerton.


Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects

Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects was the tenth research project in the SHRP2 Renewal Focus Area and therefore it is known as Renewal 10 (R10). The product guides project teams through five dimensions of project management (5DPM): (1) cost, (2) schedule, (3) technical requirements, (4) finance, and (5) context, expanding on the traditional three-dimensional process (cost, schedule, and technical requirements). The product includes 5 recommended methods and 13 execution tools to help project teams address project complexities. The 5 methods are: (1) define critical project success factors, (2) assemble project team, (3) select project arrangements, (4) prepare early cost model and finance plan, and (5) develop project action plans.

A key benefit of this product is that project managers can apply it to transportation projects of varying sizes and types. This characteristic enables project managers to identify project complexities proactively and effectively, and develop action plans to determine rational resource allocations and guide project planning and implementation. Furthermore, the five-dimensional process may be repeated periodically throughout the project life cycle to continually monitor complexity and reallocate resources as necessary.

Using R10’s approach, WSDOT quantified the level of complexity in each of the five dimensions of the Seattle ferry terminal project, applied the planning methods to the most complex areas, developed action plans, and identified potential execution tools to address project complexities.

Project Execution
Tools in R10

  1. Incentivize Critical Project Outcomes
  2. Develop Dispute Resolution Plans
  3. Perform Comprehensive Risk Analysis
  4. Identify Critical Permit Issues
  5. Evaluate Applications of Offsite Fabrication
  6. Determine Involvement in Rights-of-Way (ROW) and Utilities
  7. Determine Work Packages andSequencing
  8. Design to Budget
  9. Co-Locate Team
  10. Establish Flexible Design Criteria
  11. Evaluate Flexible Financing
  12. Develop Finance Expenditure Model
  13. Establish Public Involvement Plans


The Washington State DOT R10 Demonstration Workshop

WSDOT’s project team applied Project Management Strategies for Complex Projects during a demonstration workshop in July 2015. The Federal Highway Administration hosted the workshop in order to showcase the product and provide assistance to WSDOT in applying the product’s tools and methods. The workshop also helped to facilitate team communication and identify project complexities. In addition, it helped WSDOT identify opportunities to implement complex project management strategies in the delivery of its transportation program.

Through the workshop, the WSDOT team learned to effectively identify and address issues earlier in the project’s development, and determined the need to conduct a second project risk assessment including an evaluation of the context issues that could impact the project. The workshop also helped WSDOT better understand the complex stakeholder landscape by bringing to the table, at an early stage, representatives from FHWA, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Washington State Ferries, and the design consultant.

“The product and workshop emphasize more than the scope, schedule, and budget,” says Stephen Levengood, former WSDOT chief estimator and now capital project coordinator with the city of Seattle. “Context isn’t always given consideration, but it’s very important. The product gets people on board and thinking about these areas, including project finance.”

The workshop provided a collaborative environment among team members to promote communication and decision making. The workshop involved representatives from each of the project areas, such as environmental, planning, geotechnical, and construction engineering, to ensure that the team addresses all elements and levels of project complexity.

Mapping the Project’s Complexity

The Ferry Terminal at Colman Dock is a multimodal hub that serves and affects a variety of stakeholders (context dimension). This is one of the factors that influences the success of this complex project. Using method 1 of the R10 process (identify critical success factors), the WSDOT team identified success factors for all five dimensions of project management: cost, schedule, technical, context, and finance.

The team also quantified the level of complexity for each dimension on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing the greatest possible complexity and 50 representing an average level. The team plotted each dimension’s relative level of complexity on a pentagon-shaped graph that provided an overall complexity area rating of 11,674. The complexity map is a visual representation of the project’s complexity footprint based on the subjective assessment by the project team at that particular time. The maximum area is 24,000 (when all five dimensions are rated 100), and the average area is 6,000 (when all five dimensions are rated 50). The graph helped the project team visualize the five-dimensional complexity.

The team assessed context, finance, and technical dimensions as significantly more complex.

Context (complexity score of 85 out of 100). Three factors make context the most complex project dimension: (1) limited timeframe for construction in the water because of seasonal windows for regional fish spawning, (2) the need for legislative support and environmental clearance to pursue construction, and (3) the challenges of coordinating with many significant and influential stakeholders, including the public, tribal communities, and legislative, political, and environmental regulatory agencies.

Finance (complexity score of 80 out of 100). Project funding comes from multiple stakeholders–including FHWA, FTA, WSDOT, King County, and other local sources–and will require a firm understanding of revenue availability from all sources.

Technical (complexity score of 75 out of 100). Maintaining safe operations and capacity for pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic, including access for individuals with disabilities, during construction is a challenge. In addition, adherence to environmental requirements, such as fish-spawning windows that constrain in-water construction time, adds complexity.

The five-dimensional method can be applied as a benchmark starting before a project’s implementation, and periodically throughout the project’s development stages. By identifying the greatest complexity at various points in time, project managers are empowered to allocate resources to the most complex dimension at that particular time.

Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
Photo. A pentagon-shaped graph with the five project dimensions noted at each corner. Clockwise, they are cost, schedule, technical, context, and finance. Ratings from 0 to 100 in increments of 10 are shown with lines inside the pentagon shape. The rating area for the Colman Dock project is 11,674, which is also outlined inside the pentagon-shaped graph and skews more to the finance, context, and technical areas. Below the map, the average area is defined as 6,000 and the maximum area is 24,000.
This pentagon-shaped graph helped the project team identify the most complex dimensions of the project. A maximum possible rating area is 24,000 (if all five dimensions are rated 100), and an average rating area is 6,000 (if all five dimensions are rated 50).


Applying Project Execution Tools and Action Plans

The WSDOT team developed action plans to manage the identified areas of complexity. The R10 product also offers 13 project execution tools. The project team considered each tool and selected 9, which they used to create 7 action plans. The team chose the following tools:

  • Incentivize Critical Project Outcomes (Tool 1)
  • Develop Dispute Resolution Plan (Tool 2)
  • Identify Critical Permit Issues (Tool 4)
  • Determine Work Packages and Sequencing (Tool 7)
  • Design to Budget (Tool 8)
  • Co-Locate Team (Tool 9)
  • Evaluate Flexible Financing (Tool11)
  • Develop Finance Expenditure Model (Tool 12)
  • Establish Public Involvement Plan (Tool 13)

The action plans summarize the results from the first four out of five methods (method 1: identify critical success factors, method 2: assemble project team, method 3: select project arrangements, and method 4: prepare early cost model and finance plan). The plans address the complexities for the success factors identified during method 1, considering the identified human, project, and financial resources determined in methods 2 to 4, respectively. Then for each action plan (method 5), the project team considered and selected the execution tools as applicable to the specific action plan.

The project is currently in the final design phase. WSDOT will continue to use the R10 product leading up to the construction phase. After the work begins, the project team will reevaluate to manage construction risks and project cost.

As part of the SHRP2 R10 Implementation Assistance Program, FHWA provided funding for assistance in developing a WSDOT standard method to determine the appropriate contracting and project delivery method. In addition, FHWA provided funding to develop WSDOT’s Design-Build Request for Proposal template documents, and assistance to develop a WSDOT Design-Build Contractor Assessment Performance Process.

Source: FHWA.
WSDOT's Stages of Developing a 5DPM Action Plan - Flowchart. Four steps are outlined from left to right: (1) Five-dimensional project management complexity dimension (technical), (2) critical success factor (ensure constructability), (3) selected project execution tools (incentivize critical project outcomes, determine work package/sequence, establish a public involvement plan), and (4) action plan. Tasks under the action plan include reviewing the contractor’s means and methods to maintain safe and consistent operations for pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular traffic at Colman Dock; adhering to environmental constraints, particularly the fishspawning season constraint for in-water construction; and effectively implementing the general contractor/construction manager delivery method for the first time in a WSDOT project.

Implementation Benefits

The WSDOT project team already has benefitted from the five dimensions for project management product by conducting an indepth self-assessment to determine opportunities to improve the complex project management maturity and capability in all phases of project development. The team also identified potential alternative sources of project funding and determined a need to hire consultants who can assist them with financial planning, securing permits, and communicating information to the public.

“The R10 product has additional applications for other complex WSDOT projects,” says Mark Gaines, WSDOT State bridge construction engineer. “We’ve talked about these issues previously, but not with everyone together at the table. It’s been very valuable.”

Available Resources

  • A demonstration workshop enables State and local transportation personnel to realize the R10 product’s benefits first hand by applying it to a real project.

  • The project team receives a summary report after the workshop, which outlines the action plans and execution tools to manage project complexities.

  • Training for agency staff in facilitating an R10 workshop, and its related training materials, are available to learn the skill set to apply the product to future projects.

  • The product’s guidebook and other materials are available on the Transportation Research Board Web site at www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/167482.aspx.


Carlos F. Figueroa, P.E., PMP is the FHWA program manager for the SHRP2 R09 and R10 Project Management Tools in the Office of Program Administration. He is responsible for the deployment and implementation of these tools for more than 20 State departments of transportation. Figueroa has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and an M.S. in construction management from Virginia Tech. He is a registered professional engineer in Georgia and Puerto Rico, and is a certified Project Management Professional®.

Amy Nagel was a communications specialist with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.Nagel has a bachelor of science degree in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College and a master of education degree from Lesley University.

For more information, see www.fhwa.dot.gov/GoSHRP2/Solutions/Renewal/R10 or contact Carlos Figueroa at 202–366–5266 or carlos.figueroa@dot.gov.



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