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Complex versus Complicated - An important difference in directing your cladding remediation project.

You may have noticed that my guide describes a cladding remediation project as "complex". What does this really mean, and how can understanding the true meaning ensure you are more successful in securing a grant from the Building Safety Fund, or working towards a satisfactory ESW1 Form?

We use the words complex and complicated in everyday life, often interchangeably, to evoke thoughts of difficult tasks that exercise the grey matter. In the world of project management, there is an important difference and the words take on specific meanings.

"Complicated" refers to a process that indeed may be difficult, but is typically linear and follows an entirely predictable path step-by-step. Building a piece of flat-pack furniture may be complicated. Following a recipe may be complicated. Generally however the complicated steps may be followed one by one and will result in a perfect wardrobe or cake.

"Complex" on the other hand refers to a non-linear system or network of things, processes or tasks whose inter-connectedness in the modern world means that nothing can be entirely predicted and pre-planned with 100% certainty. The modern world is complex, and the cladding remediation project is especially complex. The official BSF guidance notes include a very basic linear flowchart simplistically portraying the process as a number of nice simple steps following one after the other, all taken one step at a time; a complicated, but entirely predictable process. But the simple steps are deceptive, and the reality is that a cladding remediation project is complex.

Goalposts or priorities can shift; government policy may change on a whim; individual leaseholders' behaviour cannot be accurately predicted; lease terms or the types of work required can have subtle differences with profound effects; assumptions may be incorrect; alternative or partial funding may emerge from other sources at a time completely out of your control, and the route you take towards the end goal can change direction as things evolve or new information comes to light. All of this can happen at random points in your project.

My project required contracts with 8 companies and had non-contractual dealings with 9 additional companies or parties just to get through the pre-construction planning and funding process. Throw in the leaseholders, waking watch and insurance and we are dealing with 20 interfaces before you even get anywhere near construction. For those who think you simply fill out a form and await a funding decision, think again.

With the best will in the world, it is simply not possible at the start of the project to map out the exact order every step that will happen. My flowchart is a good starting point for trying to map out how your project may pan out, but this is because most of it was created retrospectively to reflect what I actually did, and it is only one way of doing it. It is not possible to guarantee that your own project will pan out exactly the same, although it may be similar. That is why the flowchart comes with the caveat that real projects are inherently messy and imperfect, and my advice should be sought.

If this sounds daunting, fear not. The purpose of me explaining the difference is to liberate you from self-inflicted pressure and destructive negativity that, kept unchecked, could send you off course.

For people who do not work professionally in project management, the effects of complexity are often misunderstood to be a reflection of incompetence. Human psychology means we find comfort in things being predictable, and for some it can be disorientating and discomforting to contemplate that answers cannot be given with 100% certainty. Yet people make careers out of their ability to deal with complexity, and as the director of your project, it is a vital skill that you can get comfortable in the "messy zone". Leaseholders will want answers that you cannot always give, at least without caveats, or they may get angry and frustrated when elements of the project evolve or U-turns occur. As a fellow leaseholder yourself, it can feel like you have let others or even yourself down, especially as you are so emotionally and financially invested in the project's outcome, but you should take comfort knowing that what is happening is a normal consequence of complexity that commonly occurs on most projects. It does not reflect negatively on you. None of this is an excuse to avoid good planning, and it goes without saying that planning is a fundamental part of project management. There are also project management tools such as "risk management" that can be used to mitigate against certain uncertainties. What I am saying is simply that it is perfectly acceptable, and in fact a necessity, to be prepared to adapt your plan and change direction without fear of criticism. If you can show resilience, bounce back from setbacks, block out unhelpful noise, and keep focussed on the end prize, you will secure the BSF funding. And when you achieve that funding, leaseholders won't remember the complex path you took to get there.

If you would like to discuss how to navigate complexity, or for all sorts of other helpful advice and guidance, contact me or point the directors of your Residents' Management Company in my direction.


If you have discovered fire safety issues with your external walls, Clad To Help provides strategic advice from a leaseholder, RMC Director, Chartered Engineer and Project Management Expert who has led his own apartment block through the highly complex Building Safety Fund process. For support which protects leaseholders and offers cost and time saving strategies, please contact to arrange an initial chat.

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