Avoiding and Managing Chaos in Projects

Sven Bertelsen1 & Lauri Koskela2

1M.Sc., consulting engineer. Sven Bertelsen, Strategic Counselor aps. Senior Research Advisor to Lean Construction – Denmark. sven@bertelsen.org
2Senior Researcher, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, P.O.Box 1800, FIN-02044 VTT, Finland, Phone +358 9 4564556, Fax +358 9 4566251, E-mail lauri.koskela@vtt.fi


Construction projects are often very complex and dynamic by their nature, and it is a well-known fact that such systems exist on the edge of chaos. The paper’s objective is to study construction projects poised on the edge of chaos and to explore the forces that may turn projects chaotic in the sense that the project crosses this dangerous edge. The prime aim is to understand how the phase transition may take place and to propose an approach for understanding this risk and keeping it under control in project management. The paper explores this understanding of the construction project further by proposing a way of analyzing its complexity and dynamics along the four characteristics: the project’s complexity, the project’s internal and external setting and the project organization. The aim is not only to reach a deeper understanding of projects’ nature, but also to outline a tool for analyzing and comparing projects' risk of turning chaotic. However, before addressing this main theme, the phenomenon of chaos in a project is introduced through a literature review and illustrated with empirical project cases. Complexity was identified as an IGLC championship at the IGLC-9 conference in Singapore in 2001 and was included in the theory championship at the IGLC-10 in Gramado, Brazil in 2002. The paper is contribution under this championship


Project management, construction, complexity, order, chaos theory



Bertelsen, S. & Koskela, L. 2003, 'Avoiding and Managing Chaos in Projects' In:, 11th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Virginia, USA, 1-.

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