Brexit and the moon landing from a project complexity perspective: A comparative case study

Roland Alter


With the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom on June 23, 2016, a majority of voters decided that the country should leave the European Union, resulting in the formal start of the exiting process on March 29, 2017. During the discussions in the run up to the referendum, the complexity of the undertaking itself was rarely an issue. The subsequent statement by Brexit-Secretary of State David Davis that the complexity of the moon landing would be dwarfed by the complexity of Brexit puts the undertaking into a new perspective and is the starting point for a comparison. Based on the concept of an intrinsic case study with the focus on learning and pattern identification, the comparison is carried out by using a framework of four complexity levels: (1) objective (2) relative (3) subjective and (4) dynamic complexity. The comparison concludes that both projects are characterized by extraordinarily high objective complexity. The difference emerges with respect to the subsequent levels. NASA was aware of the deficiencies and worked systematically to close the gap through professional project management. Brexit, on the other hand, is characterized by widespread ignorance of complexity without a systematic approach to close a dynamically widening complexity gap.

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