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Exploring uncertainty and flexibility in Projects: Towards a more dynamic framework?

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Authors: Agnar Johansen, Siva Ekambaram, Hans Petter Krane, Trygve Steiro,

Presented at the 28th EGOS Colloquium, 2012, Helsinki, Finland.

A part of introduction:

In this paper we will question some of what we believe are the basic assumptions regarding uncertainty and flexibility in projects. We will address/discuss three basic assumption that have strong impact on how projects are planned and executed in what some authors refer to as the task perspective(Andersen, 2008).

  1. All projects should have clear objectives, and change of objectives in the execution phase should be avoided at any cost.
  2. Every project has a project owner who  
  • initiates the project
  • follows it up in the execution planning and execution phase 
  • "owns" the effect and the delivered functionality from the project

3.   The uncertainty and flexibility drops/ is reduced over the project life cycle, and in theory:

  • The project owner and the project team will be responsible and "see" or have /focus on the same opportunities and threats. And they will be equally interested in maintaining the project flexibility during the project execution.
  • The uncertainty will be reduced during the planning and execution phases, based on choices that the project manager and the project owner do together.
  • Most projects will have much focus on opportunities and threat in all phase of the project.

All those three areas/assumptions are fundamentally important for how we think upon project.

We will argue that these assumptions in many cases are just partly correct, and in many cases they are not correct at all.

We think that there are three trends that will drive the project management field forward in the future. The first trend is that the project owner will expect more flexible solutions that give a high delivered functionality, and  the project owner will demand that the project is delivered as effective as possible. This means that in the future it will not be acceptable to just deliver the result within the time, cost and quality – project managers must also understand the business case and deliver the required effects and functionality. The second trend that will drive the development of the project management field is that projects tend to become bigger (more and more mega projects), and this will further have an impact on the time we spend on planning and executing projects. The third trend is that we will see more rapidly changing demands from project owners – not one, but many owners.   And, there will be more global competition - not one company but many companies deliver input and share responsibility of achieving the project objectives.

These three trends means that in the future we need to develop project owners and project mangers who understand the business case, understand the value of flexibility and have the skills and attitudes that are necessary to deal with uncertainty – i.e. both threats and opportunities – in a professional way.