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Projects in uncontrollable environments – Uncertainty management in projects pursuing interests (PPI’s)

STUDENT PAPER

By Sara Løchte

University of Southern Denmark

Denmark


Editor’s note: This paper won the 1st prize Student Paper Award – master level at the happy projects ’12 conference in Vienna in May 2012; republished here with approval of the author and happy projects conference organizers, PROJECT MANAGEMENT GROUP at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration and ROLAND GAREIS CONSULTING.  Learn about the happy projects events at http://www.happyprojects.at/ 

Abstract

This paper is a study of uncertainty management in projects pursuing interests (PPI’s) where high levels of uncertainty are present. Uncertainty in political projects is typically related to changes during the project process. Strategies for risk management in political projects should focus on both operational and contextual uncertainties. An organisational perspective should be dominant in uncertainty management in these projects since a task perspective will most likely lead them astray. When initiating PPI’s the organisation is advised to make room for project management strategies which include transformational leadership styles using network based management. On the basis of a literature study and a project case study a model for uncertainty management in PPI’s is developed and recommended to the organisation.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude to my patient husband and children who gave me the possibility to complete this paper. I am also indebted to my colleague Leif Kvistgaard for his priceless support in a number of ways.

1.             An introduction

The paper focuses on uncertainty management in projects executed in political organisations – and under severe levels of uncertainty. A case study has been made involving a project in a trade organisation that functions as a shared political secretariat for companies in a specific sector in Denmark.

Professional organisations, well organised interest groups or public authorities are organisations specialized in pursuing the interests of specific groups of people – for example lobbying organisations and NGO’s. Even the central administrations executing the will of politicians elected by the people pursue interests. Societies are full of organisations preoccupied with the representation and pursuing of interests – an activity often organised as projects.

Projects dealing with pursuing interests are often characterized by the fact that the specific product – if such product exists at all – plays a secondary role during the execution of the project. The dominant activity for project management is managing the processes of decision-making that surround the project. Project success often depends entirely on the central uncertainties originating from decision processes involving multiple and diverse parties.

The trade organisation in which the case study was made is led by a board comprised of eighteen managing directors from member businesses, which is the political and strategic management of the organisation. Management is undertaken by a managing director and a deputy managing director.

Project work was introduced in the base organisation six years ago to promote the strategic goals of the organisation. Among these is the aim to be a more pro-active lobby organisation. Experience with project work is mixed. Often the projects are hit hard by uncertainties far from the control sphere of the projects and even the base organisation’s control sphere. Meanwhile project tools and models insist on risks related to time, resources and quality – tools and models that match the uncertainties in these projects poorly. It is clear that all these risks are present in projects exposed to high levels of uncertainty. But often deadlines can be postponed and more resources can be found. It is not the influence on deadlines and resources of uncertainty that knocks out these projects. Rather,  it is the underlying sources of uncertainty. Some projects are successful. But many projects experience so many project crises along the way that they are ultimately remembered as failures. This sometimes has the effect that the results are in fact produced are not implemented anyway and that project managers and participants become disillusioned.

This paper seeks to offer explanations as well as solutions in order to avoid waste and worries so that the organisation gains more from project work and project parties. On the basis of a case study in the organisation a model addressing the uncertainties present in projects dealing with pursuing interests is developed.

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About the author

Sara Løchte

Sara Løchte works as a senior consultant at the Danish Insurance Association (DIA), department of life insurance and pensions. As a political advisor her main working areas are general pension policy, antidiscrimination issues in insurance, and socially responsible investments. Another responsibility is to head the PMO in the organisation and to follow up on the project portfolio maintaining focus on the application of adequate project processes and tools. She finished her Master in project management at the University of Southern Denmark in February 2012. Former positions were in the DIA’s department of economic affairs, where her tasks included Solvency II (the new European regulatory regime for the  insurance and pensions  industry), one year with the Danish Supervisory Authority as an international advisor and negotiator of the Solvency II directive, and five years as a project manager at the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency.  Sara can be contacted at [email protected].