Research – Exploring Uncertainty

Uncertainty in projects is a fundamental reality. And yet the traditional tools of project management emphasize planning and control, assuming away many of the challenges and resignedly dealing with the rest as risks. Organizations still take on large and complex initiatives, one where there is no clear solution or well defined path to get there. The challenge is providing effective and meaningful guidance that embraces the very real uncertainty and complexity that these projects face.

Mark Mullaly of Interthink Consulting is undertaking a research effort to investigate how projects are managed today—and can be managed more effectively tomorrow—when faced with projects or project environments that are highly complex and uncertain.

The research is a multi-phase effort, investigating what is understood or suggested about uncertainty, exploring how uncertainty is currently approached and manage, and developing a substantive theory of how uncertainty can be better managed in the future. The overall planned approach is to:

  1. Explore the current state of understanding of uncertainty in projects
  • review the literature
  • initial interviews with participants to understand how they manage and approach uncertainty
  1. Revise and focus the research effort based upon the initial results
  • possible follow up interviews with some initial participants
  • additional interviews and data collection
  1. Develop a theory of managing uncertainty and complexity in large projects

The hope and expectation is that this will lead to the development of a practical model and framework for managing uncertain projects that can be offered to the project management community alongside more traditional views of project management.

I am currently seeking research participants to contribute to the initial interview process (and potentially continue to be involved in the research project going forward). If you manage in a complex environment, or have experience managing projects that are big, complex, ugly and difficult (whether because of the nature of the challenge, the politics, or both), or you know someone who does, I’d like to hear from you.Your involvement would likely be one or two interviews of approximately an hour long (phone or Skype is fine for these).

There would be an opportunity, if there was an interest, to pilot approaches of the model as it develops.

All participants will be receive on-going updates of the research results. I would also happy to acknowledge your contribution to the research process, or maintain anonymity, depending upon your/your organization’s preferences. In all instances, the confidentiality of individual contributions will be respected. All findings will be reported in the aggregate. Any individual quotes and observations, or discussion of any cases, will be carefully anonymized.

The research effort is starting up in May 2015, and is expected to continue over a period of several months.

To participate in the research, please contact Mark Mullaly:

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