Project management of unexpected events

Subscriber Unlimited digital content, quarterly magazine, free newsletter, entire archive. Russell is vice provost for lifelong learning, dean of the Continuing Studies Division and executive director of the Consortium for Project Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Oxford University Press, ; A. For examples of the poor statistics of project results, see T.

Project management of unexpected events

Tweet Abstract Unexpected events and environmental impact not planned for are common during project implementation. This article explores how unexpected events are dealt with in projects using qualitative case study data from four different cases.

Project Management of Unexpected Events | ProjectTemplates®

Results show four different approaches to deal with unexpected events: The discussion shed new light on one common situations during project execution — i.

As a consequence, dealing with the project environment is also a part of the execution assignment and included in the plan.

Project management of unexpected events

First, environment is taken care of at scheduled points in time, for example, at initiation, stage-gate review occasions and at termination.

Such events are part of the project model used and points in time where the project is open for external impact. Second, risk management procedures are in place to mitigate consequences of, among other things, outside disturbances that may have a negative impact on the project.

Environmental issues are thus turned into planned events or are being subject for risk assessment. The unpredictability and randomness of project environments are kept aside and project management are mostly concerned with internal issues.

On the contrary, project management models fully illuminate the project itself while leaving the environment somewhat hidden in darkness [1].

Project management of unexpected events

However, investigating the relations between project execution and the project environment is being an increasingly more interesting issue for at least three reasons. First, many projects are organized in networks having several partners [2,3] thus being dependent on several host organizations and somewhat different goals.

Between plans and unexpected events

Second, organizations are more frequently referred to as being projectbased or project dependent [4—7] with projects as a vital part of the organizational architecture. These two observations Project management of unexpected events networks and organizations being project based also indicate that projects are frequently and regularly organized by a large number of organizations.

Environment is also becoming a more emphasized topic when moving from major one-off projects to frequent and regular project operations. It is also recognized in traditional PM literature that environmental relations need management attention but as the relation become more complex it is also becoming less possible to foresee and less possible to plan.

This is also made a topic of research to a greater extent today than what used to be the case [8—13] as well as suggested, in the literature reviews, as a desired topic to investigate more thoroughly [14]. This paper aims at contributing to the stream of the literature inquiring into the links between a project and its environment.

More precisely, we aim at an outline of different categories of unexpected events appearing in projects as a consequence of environmental impact and how these are dealt with. Between plans and unexpected events Traditional and normative project management models, such as the various bodies of knowledge presently on the market, are highly rational and sequential in the approach to project management issues, built on the idea of major independent projects being the role model, heavily dependent on structure, administrative systems and the execution of plans.

Several text books also discusses project management along similar lines there are many, see e. Such models are first of all prescriptions guiding ambitions and rational aspirations in the field rather than they are valid descriptions on project management in practice. The issue on the relation between espoused theories what is supposed to be done of projects and the actual project practice, or theory-in-use [18] has been the topic of some recent research efforts [19,20,10].

Research on the practice of projects follows similar lines as a more major shift in social science research, popularly referred to as the practice turn [21]. Several research agendas have been formulated following basically similar arguments, such as the communities of practice approach [23], learning and knowledge [24], strategy as practice [25,26] and the so called ANT approach.

Approaching projects from a practice perspective indicates the necessity to highlight actual activities, processes and actions of those that execute projects. Thus, models of project management become secondary and are not made a starting point for research.

However, project management bodies of knowledge may well be something used by practitioners to legitimate their actions or as guides for action — but it is not a starting point for building the ontology of the research.

Actually, to detach research on projects from ontological constraints provided by best practice project management models is rewarding as it opens up for a more comprehensive and elaborate understanding of the organizational and behavioural aspects of projects.

This is true also for organizational studies in general, see for example [27]. The issue on project — environment relations is one of the aspects of project management practices that have been shielded behind rational models and planning approaches, thus not giving the complexity of project — environment practices the attention it deserves.

As indicated in the introduction, project environments are depicted in terms of stakeholder relations, risk assessment, program and portfolio contingencies, and stage-gate decision points but less interest is given the everyday struggle to keep projects on track and on schedule, and not much is conveyed in terms of how the unexpected [28,29] is dealt with.

Engwall [8] provides an important contribution, highlighting how parallel activities in the organizational context, experiences and pre-project processes, institutional forces and future aspirations come together in creating the project context. He is able to extend the view of projects by adding time before and after and space organizational context to the understanding of a focal project.

The analysis shows that time frames as well as contextual frames are important for the understanding of project execution and success or failure.

Still plans have to be made. Project plans are repositories of expectations on which managers build their daily activities and hence there is a logical chain where our expectations about the future guide our actions today.

Expectations also help direct our attention and guide us in determining what to look for to confirm that our expectations were correct or incorrect.

A complication is that people normally tend to seek positive confirmation and may neglect disconfirming information [30]. Unexpected events may thus not be detected early on.

March [31] concludes that ambiguity is not only connected to the future. Also the past may be ambiguous with several possible interpretations and possible consequences.

Learning is as complicated as planning.Project Management Journal, 37(5), 97– Reprints and Permissions During the course of an organization's existence, there will be times when unplanned and urgent action is needed, action that realizes an unexpected business opportunity or protects against a .

Portfolio Project: Risk Management and Sentinel Events According to the Joint Commission (), a sentinel event is an unexpected occurrence whereby a death or serious physical or psychological injury occurs.

Because of their severity, there is an expectation . International Journal of Project Management, Volume 28, Issue 6, August , Pages TheTitanicsunk, sowhat? Project manager response to unexpected events. The project management team will assign the appropriate resources to the technology managers to ensure the accomplishment of project goals.

The more complex the technology, the more resources the technology manager typically needs to meet project goals, and each of those resources could face unexpected problems. Unexpected events and environmental impact not planned for are common during project implementation.

– The paper shows how the project managers' sensemaking processes, even within the same project management team, are highly subjective, leading to the coexistence of multiple, and highly divergent responses to the unexpected event.

Planning for the unexpected: Managing project risks