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Facilitating Complex Projects

Facilitating Collaboration Between Diverse Stakeholders

Facilitating Complex Projectsby Bryan Coffman

Complex projects that involve multiple stakeholder groups usually require a greater degree of collaboration than other types of projects. These types of projects can generally be seen as three major, overlapping processes: strategy, design-build, and operations. This paper focuses on how to facilitate the collaboration of diverse stakeholders through the design-build stage of the process. We believe that the most successful projects in the design-build phase should not be thought of as a series of linear steps, but rather as a web of interconnecting activities happening mostly in parallel, and overlapping with the strategy work that precedes it as well as the operations work that follows.

This overlap is crucial to maintaining flexibility, because design of complex projects is really more of a learning process than a project management process. Hence, learning processes require the ability to cycle back and adjust the design—otherwise there is no learning, and instead you just hope for the best on your first shot. We offer notes on the difference between facilitation and management, and the necessity for both.

The core of the paper addresses the Process, Methodology, and Guidelines for facilitating collaboration in complex projects. The Process section examines a set of generic stages of work that happen during design. The Methodology section explores the ways in which each collaborative exercise during the design is crafted and facilitated. It’s a toolkit to help managers work through the design stage with multiple stakeholders. The Guidelines propose some of the counter-intuitive rules of thumb that we have found to improve the facilitation success of these types of projects.


  1. Definitions
  2. Three Stages
  3. Facilitating the Design Stage
  4. Notes on Process
  5. Notes on Method
  6. The Five Foundations of a Good Collaborative Solution
  7. Creating the Supporting the Work
  8. Some Guidelines
  9. Summary

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