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Living uncertainty management – An approach to learning and improvement in project-based organizations

Living uncertainty management – An approach to learning and improvement in project-based organizations

Authors: Agnar Johansen, Siva Ekambaram, Linda C. Hald,

Presented at the 13th European Conference on Knowledge Management (ECKM) 2012, Cartagena, Spain.


The main focus of the paper is learning and improvement in project-based organizations. Projects have been increasingly becoming a popular work-form in modern organizations. Many organizations consider that projects are an effective means to create focus and accomplish the intended results within a limited time frame. However, there are several important issues that are to be addressed in the world of projects. One such issue is managing uncertainty. This paper looks at uncertainty management in projects as its background, and focuses on learning in organizations.  

Managing / dealing with uncertainty requires, among other things, the following aspects that are connected to learning and knowledge sharing: Reflecting and making sense of the situation individually and / or collectively Utilizing existing knowledge or explore new knowledge to manage uncertainty Gaining new knowledge and competence by managing uncertainty effectively These 3 aspects can go in a spiral to facilitate improvement in managing uncertainty, and contribute to develop learning organizations.

This paper is based on a research project called “Practical uncertainty management in a project owner’s perspective” (in short, the PUS-project). This paper describes efforts taken by the PUS-project to create better understanding and knowledge within the field of managing uncertainty in projects. There were 6 industrial partners, from both the public and private sectors, who were involved in the project. This paper first presents a connection between uncertainty management and learning. And then, it looks at different learning strategies that were applied by the different participating organizations when it comes to managing uncertainty in their projects. These learning strategies are discussed with the referring to relevant theories. This paper suggests that learning is not a one-time or few-times event. It is an on going, dynamic process that has the potential to create new approaches and solutions to deal with uncertainty in projects in an effective manner.

The learning and improvement that these six organizations achieved were based on an approach called “living” uncertainty management – a continuous, active approach towards managing uncertainty that the PUS-project applied.

This paper is based on the results obtained by various research methods that were applied in the PUS-project. These methods were of both qualitative and quantitative nature.