UCL Centre for Systems Engineering


Project Management

Management of complex projects, Causes of failure in technology projects, Sources and consequences of variability in projects, Integrating systems engineering and project management

Causes of failure in technology projects, Management of complex projects and other 'special' projects where normal project management approaches do not apply, Sources and consequences of variability within projects, Relationship between systems engineering and project management.

We are interested in how to make projects achieve more successful outcomes, in particular complex technology projects. Often it is assumed that a project will follow a fairly linear path with no feedback between tasks no unexpected challenges and no variability in task duration.

project management - optimistic project diagram

In fact, task duration for complex projects is very unpredictable when the project is started. Some tasks will be completed more quickly than anticipated, but much more often, tasks will take longer than anticipated as a result of unwanted emergent properties of the system that only become clear once components or subsystems are brought together. We also tend to systematically overestimate the rate at which progress will occur and underestimate the costs and level of challenge. The cumulative effect of such task overruns is often greatly underestimated.

project management - realistic progress image

There is a systematic tendency for people to be unreasonably confident about how quickly and successfully tasks will be completed ('optimism bias'). We are interested in modelling the extent and consequences of this for a range of project types. We are also interested in what makes someone good at accurately estimating project duration.

Another area of interest is the management of special projects that do not adhere to the normal rules of project management. These might include very short or long projects, projects in extreme environments (such as space), and collaborative projects (such as research projects).

Integrating project management and systems engineering

We worked with Halcrow Group Ltd (now a subsidiary of CH2M) on a research project to improve the application of systems engineering in major rail projects. Countries around the world are making significant investments in developing their railways, and it is crucial that fully integrated projects are delivered. Systems engineering should be tied to project management in an efficient way to deliver high quality projects on time and within budget taking into account critical safety and reliability requirements. 


CH2M Associate Director of Rail, Hadi Sanei, recently completed a PhD with us on developing a novel structure to be used as a single core linking Project Management and Systems Engineering Management activities for complex multidisciplinary rail projects.