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Opportunities in projects – what are they and do we really want them?

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Opportunities in projects – what are they and do we really want them?

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

Presented at the 26th IPMA World Congress 2012, Crete, Greece.


Project literature says that uncertainty can manifest itself in two forms: opportunities and threats. However, in practice, there is a significant focus on dealing with threats, when it comes to managing uncertainty in projects. Traditional way of managing uncertainty falls within the iron triangle of cost, time and quality that are associated with the project, and focuses mainly on threats rather than on opportunities. This traditional approach has its limitations, especially when it comes to creating or ensuring a wider effect that is to be produced by the project when it is completed. A project may be completed according to a predefined frame of cost, time and quality. But, the very purpose of the project (the intended effect of the project) may not be achieved. This paper discusses what opportunities are, and how to explore and exploit opportunities actively during the project. In this regard, this paper characterizes opportunities as first, second and third order consequences, and provides relevant examples. It also presents strategies to deal with opportunities and threats. In addition, this paper briefly describes the roles of project owner and project manager with respect to dealing with opportunities and threats. Although project uncertainty management has gained a lot of attention both from academics and practitioners, there is still a considerable potential for development in the field. This paper emphasizes the need to focus on opportunities in managing uncertainty in projects.