Addressing Project Complexity: The Role of Contractual Functions

Nan Gao, Yongqiang Chen, Wenqian Wang*, Yu Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Project complexity leads to transaction risks in interorganizational exchanges and can negatively affect performance if appropriate governance mechanisms are absent. Although the contract prevails in construction projects to address transaction risks, its role in coping with complexity-related risk has not yet been fully investigated. Given this circumstance, this paper differentiates between three types of project complexity and illustrates relational and performance risks caused by each project complexity dimension. This research also distinguishes three contractual functions and hypothesizes the effective contractual functions under each type of project complexity. Empirical results show that contractual coordination can deal with risks induced by technical, organizational, and environmental complexity, whereas the adaptation function can address environmental complexity-related risk. However, contractual control is ineffective when either technical or environmental complexity is high. This research provides new insights into project complexity management and provides practical guidance for construction practitioners to improve complex project performance through contract arrangement.
Original languageEnglish
Article number04018011
JournalJournal of Management in Engineering - ASCE
Issue number3
Early online date13 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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