Navigating Complex Project Management: How to Track Complex Projects

March 4, 2024
12 min read

Modern projects like construction, solar, retail, and telecommunication tend to be complex, with project managers juggling different tasks, processes, and teams to keep things moving. Without a clear roadmap, such projects can get messy quickly, impacting delivery, quality, performance, and productivity.

That’s likely the outcome, given the complexity of projects is increasing as organizations run more and more projects simultaneously. More than 50% of the projects in the construction industry fail to attain their objectives. The picture is even gloomy for big, complex projects, with up to 99.5% likely to fail in one way or another.

But what is a complex project? The International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) defines it as a project characterized by ambiguity, uncertainty, dynamic interfaces, increased risk, and significant external forces. Examples include complex software development projects, large organizational change initiatives, large-scale infrastructure projects, etc.

These projects are more challenging, demanding high-level expertise, innovative approaches, and multiple teams to ensure success. In this case, traditional, linear project management techniques cannot manage the complexities of such projects. Thus, project managers must invest in innovative solutions for complex project management to ensure effective tracking.

In this post, let’s explore how to track complex projects as well as the benefits of effective tracking.

Understanding Complex Projects

The concept of project complexity is not defined based solely on the size or volume of the project. In fact, there’s no consensus on what a complex project means, and experts agree that no single definition can capture the whole concept.

However, several factors can impact the project's delivery, objectives, progress, quality, and completion. According to the ICCM, these factors include:

  • Details: Projects with many interfaces and variables tend to be challenging to manage and oversee.
  • Ambiguity: A project where the expectations, requirements, scope, and outcomes are unclear is likely to be complex.
  • Uncertainty: This is when there’s a probability that a project’s objectives might not be attained in part or fully.
  • Dynamics: When a project experiences rapid and regular changes, it exacts pressure on your team and existing resources.
  • Interrelationships: Projects with many interconnections and interdependencies present difficulty in tracking, management, and oversight.
  • Social structure: Projects with complicated and different types of interactions have a high risk of disconnected teams, workflows, and functions.

Together, these factors contribute to the complexity of any project, resulting in confusion, errors, delays, reworks, conflicts, and even project failure. But that doesn't need to be the case. With the right project management strategy, project managers can take control of every aspect of the project, from conception to completion.

Effective project management centralizes every aspect of your project, making monitoring and tracking easier. It offers visibility into every task, activity, and resource and supports seamless communication and collaboration. This approach lets you supercharge your operations and deliver projects with great speed and agility.

Importance of Tracking Complex Projects

Given the challenges and intricacies of big projects, project managers must know how to track complex projects from initiation to completion. This is vital to stay on top of every activity and task, making it easy to allocate resources, delegate tasks, and keep team members on a clear objective throughout the project lifecycle.

When done right, effective tracking offers several benefits, such as:

Improved Collaboration

Executing complex projects demands the input of cross-functional teams and multiple stakeholders. Project tracking centralizes these dynamic teams, allowing them to collaborate on a shared platform to solve problems and achieve defined objectives. It eliminates siloed channels and unifies teams and systems for easy access to project data and resources.

Enhanced Communication

Poor communication contributes to up to 57% of project failures. It isolates team members, creates conflicts, and results in delays. With effective project tracking, everyone stays on the same page. Tracking tools like Quickbase offer features like messaging, commenting, updates, file sharing, and document management to support seamless project communication.

Real-Time Updates

The last thing you want when working on complex projects is surprises. Tracking eliminates this with real-time project planning updates, allowing team members to stay current on tasks, deadlines, timelines, messages, etc. Team members get alerts for actions and items that need their attention, keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring things move through quickly.

Better Productivity

Complex projects entail a lot of processes, interdependencies, and activities, which impact productivity. For instance, a 2023 Quickbase report found that 58% of workers spend less than 20 hours weekly on meaningful work. Project tracking centralizes operations and eliminates gray work through automation, boosting productivity and team performance.

Improved Budgeting & Scheduling

While over 90% of large projects go over budget and schedule, the numbers must be reasonable and minimal. Your project management style must minimize deficiencies, reworks, and cost overruns. With effective tracking, you get real-time visibility into every task and activity, allowing you to manage resources, control costs, and keep track of timelines.

Better Project Organization

Traditional project management systems are disparate, with managers using about 10 systems to manage a project. Interestingly, a 2023 Quickbase study revealed that teams use up to 77 unique platforms to manage complex projects. Project tracking fixes this mess by replacing chunky, siloed systems with one solution, harmonizing operations for efficient organization.

Tools for Tracking Complex Projects

Traditional tools like spreadsheets are ineffective in addressing the complexities of modern projects. Plus, they can’t be customized to address the unique needs of your project. Technological advancements allow you to leverage dynamic tools to track complex projects and stay on top of every task. Here are the tools you can use:

Time Sheets

Tracking time is a core principle of any successful project. As a project manager, you must know how much time team members take to complete a task or activity. This is essential for expense tracking, capacity planning, managing labor costs, or estimating team availability.

Timesheet tools allow you to track time daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, depending on the needs of your project. Users can add notes to each time entry to improve decision-making and collaboration. Timesheets can also support business logic, like multi-step approval paths and pay periods.

For instance, in Quickbase, you can use an add-on like QTimesheet to automate timesheet entries. This add-on can be embedded directly in your Quickbase app, so there is no need for separate hosting. It also provides a central place for all your tasks and timesheets.

Gantt Charts

A Gantt chart makes resource and project management simpler in complex projects. It offers a visual presentation of all tasks and their dependencies and timelines. This makes understanding your project's status, schedule, and scope easy.

The chart usually features two parts: a task list and a project timeline. This tool is a 20th-century creation of Henry Gantt, and it’s still effective in managing projects, assigning tasks, allocating resources, creating schedules, and tracking progress.

Quickbase lets you simplify complex projects with Gantt software, which supports features like notifications, pipelines, and custom fields and tables. It provides a holistic view of your complex project, allowing you to adjust timelines and gain actionable insights into projects.


In modern projects, having real-time visibility into the progress of a project makes a huge difference. This is what a project-tracking dashboard does, giving you a complete view of your progress. It provides a single plane of glass for all your project data, reports, notifications, actions, etc.

The best part is that you can personalize your dashboard to view the most critical data from different sources. With a single view of your entire portfolio, you can monitor and track pending actions, upcoming deadlines, etc. You can also drill down into individual projects for more details.

Task Management Tools

You can use different task management tools to keep track of every activity, task, and process in a complex project. Examples include a cost tracker, document management tool, notes taker, and file sharing tool.

With a powerful Dynamic Work Management platform like Quickbase, you can build and customize all these tools to your organization’s standards. This ability is crucial, particularly if your project has varied tasks, steps, and components to track, review, or approve.

Strategies for Tracking Complex Projects

While organizations can track projects differently, setting forth well-defined strategies for effective tracking and successful completion is crucial. You must outline the process and plan to ensure seamless execution, timely deliveries, and effective management.

This also helps to ensure no unforeseen bottlenecks impact the project's performance, productivity, and delivery. Here are key strategies you can use to ensure effective tracking.

Set Clear Objectives

You can’t effectively track a project without understanding its goals and objectives. The last thing you want is for your team to work blindly, moving through phases without fully understanding what they need to achieve.

You need to define clear, specific, and measurable objectives -- you can’t track what you haven’t established. This way, planning your workforce, resources, and timelines becomes possible, ensuring everything proceeds according to plan.

Break Down Tasks

However complex, breaking down your project scope allows you to visualize every task as a simple, manageable activity. It also allows you to define task hierarchies based on a task's priority, urgency, and complexity.

You can make this simple with a work breakdown structure (WBS), which comes as a feature in some project management tools. It makes it easy to break down tasks into sub-tasks and deliverables, providing a map that guides you through complex projects.

Harness the Power of Digital Tools

Legacy and manual systems like spreadsheets are ineffective for complex projects. They are slow, prone to error, and don’t give visibility into your progress. Instead, you need to use a digital project management and tracking tool for your project.

Digital tools come with a host of features like Gantt charts, dashboards, task lists, timesheets, workload, portfolio management, and project reports. With such features, you can streamline and automate every aspect of project tracking and management to ensure efficiency.

Establish KPIs

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is critical during any project. They help you gauge your team's performance and the project's progression. KPIs also add a quantifiable measure to your project objectives, making it easier to identify inefficiencies and make sound decisions.

You can track KPIs like budget variance, number of errors, cost variance, planned value, resource capacity, task completion rate, schedule variance, etc. Digital project tracking tools make it effortless to track KPIs with built-in configurations and templates, saving you time in setting up KPIs.

Document and Report

A critical part of tracking projects is documentation and reporting. You must create reports and documents for phases, tasks, risks, status, costs, etc. It may seem tedious, but comprehensive documentation and reporting help to provide insights, clarify objectives, plan resources, break down work, and keep clients and stakeholders informed.

Reporting and documentation also offer long-term benefits like better cross-team alignment, seamless onboarding for new team members, and more effective knowledge management. To realize these benefits, documents and reports must be accurate, well-written, and up-to-date. You can also use permissions to control access and actions like sharing and editing.

Real-Life Example: Consigli Construction

Consigli Construction is one of the largest employee-owned construction companies. The firm handles a variety of complex projects, including hotel construction, laboratory construction, school repairs, conjugation facilities, corporate headquarters fit-outs, museums, etc.

Each of their projects involved thousands of spreadsheets, disconnected systems, and manual updates during execution and implementation. For the most part, these methods and tools worked, but they denied the company a single source of truth.

In this case, the firm didn’t have real-time access to the latest project data, impacting project timelines and costs. It also complicated their ability to adhere to the rigorous OSHA safety compliance standards, as projects had mountains of paperwork to work through.

Consigli resolved to use Quickbase to streamline safety procedures and improve project tracking. In less than a month, the firm created an application using Quickbase, allowing them to automate tasks and simplify workflows. With the help of Quickbase, the company managed to create custom solutions to their complex problems.

Leverage Digital Tools in Complex Projects

A complex project changes how you manage projects -- it demands innovative solutions, collaborative approaches, and effective organizational structures. This means embracing a fresh perspective in handling such projects while harnessing the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team to drive successful outcomes.

It also means ditching traditional paper-based and manual methods of project management, which result in siloed teams and systems. These systems can’t handle the complexities and nuances of modern projects, let alone complex projects. Instead, organizations should invest in dynamic work management solutions like Quickbase to drive efficiency and agility.

Regardless of your project’s complexities, Quickbase empowers your team to do more, offering a solution for different use cases and industries. Whether in the construction, solar, retail, or manufacturing industry, our no-code platform lets you create custom applications for complex projects and processes.

With your Quickbase app, you can track every aspect of your project, including resources, tasks, costs, timelines, etc. It offers a central place for every project activity, ensuring real-time visibility into project performance. Plus, you can use our drag-and-drop workflow automation features to optimize and streamline tasks and processes, resulting in org-wide efficiency.

Start a free trial and discover how Quickbase can simplify your complex project tracking and management.

Additional Resources

For additional information on project tracking, check out these resources: