Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor 1

Amlan Mukherjee

Committee Member 1

William Bulleit

Committee Member 2

Ann Maclean

Committee Member 3

Raymond Swartz


This research discusses the characteristics that make projects difficult to manage. Project inefficiencies and failures can be attributed to the structure of a system. Developing a measurement for complexity based on the number and nature of interactions in the system can allow project complexity to be reduced while still meeting project objectives. Previous research has identified characteristics or markers of complex systems but does not address how to measure or how to reduce a system’s complexity.

The objective of this dissertation is to develop a metric for complexity that assists project and emergency managers in reducing project complexity either by engineering complexity out, if possible, in the planning stage, or by managing the system during an ad hoc incident. The proposed measure uses the number of interactions for a given perspective of the system as the metric of complexity and uses disequilibrium from the expected normal state as an indicator of an irreducible interaction and an indicator of complexity. The proposed hypothesis is discussed through mathematical and visual examples to illustrate disequilibrium in system interactions.

The methodology is demonstrated in three case studies: one in construction, through the Morgan Street Bridge project over the Rock River in Rockford, Illinois; and two in emergency response incidents (one local and one State/Federal). These cases demonstrate how this measure of complexity can be used to reduce complexity in a project by identifying the perspective of interest in the system, determining the disequilibrium in the interactions, and reducing the interactions while minimizing information loss.