To succeed in the face of risk, uncertainty and complexity, project managers need constantly to – quickly and flexibly – bounce back from adversity to prevent errors from cascading into a crisis. It is a matter of Project Resilience.
noticing indicators of an ever-changing environment
realistically interpreting these indicators and bring them together to form a ‘big picture’
preparing for the effects of these changes
containing and even exploiting the effects of changes in the environment
recovering from unforeseen events and quickly restoring project capabilities.
In order to establish and maintain a state of Project Resilience, project managers need to be proficient in the art of
Impact of our research
The discipline of Project Management is often advocated as a ‘self-evidently’ correct set of processes, procedures, tools and techniques. As long as one is compliant to these frameworks, success in projects is almost guaranteed.
Nevertheless, in order to deal with risk, uncertainty and complexity effectively, is not a question of being obedient – often ‘mindlessly’ - to frameworks but to foster situated human thinking. In this respect, we have developed a guide about the limitations of human thinking as well as providing suggestions about how to exploit the amazing human ability to cope with risk, uncertainty and complexity.
This guide should not be seen as a counteracting force to contemporary project management, freeing project managers of the ‘shackles’ of compliance. It is rather a set of principles that is complementary to conventional wisdom in project management.
Why the research was commissioned
Organisational resilience is often referred to as an ability to bounce back from adversity (e.g. Burnard and Bhamra 2011). Originally, the resilience literature emerged from studies of ecological systems, noted for having a persistent absorptive capacity to deal with disturbances, followed by a reconfiguration of the system (e.g. Holling 1973; Gunderson 2000; Warner 2011).
From a socio-ecological perspective, resilience is associated with the ability of a system to remain function when perturbed (e.g. Carpenter et al. 2001). The concept of disaster management (Paton, Smith, and Violanti 2000), for example, focusses primarily on recovering from a crisis, largely ignoring the pre-crisis incubation phase (Turner 1976).
Another strand is one of Organisational Resilience (e.g. Horne and Orr 1997; Hamel and Välikangas 2003; Pagonis 2003) – not dissimilar to the body of literature of resilience engineering (e.g. Hollnagel, Woods, and Leveson 2006; Woods 2006) – which sees resilience as a fundamental property of an organisation to adapt to the requirements of the environment’s variability. From a socio-psychological view, a further body of work has emerged which considers Resilience as an outcome, based on an attentional state of mindfulness (e.g. Weick and Sutcliffe 2001; Weick and Sutcliffe 2006). It is:
“the combination of on-going scrutiny of existing expectations, continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on newer experiences, willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of the unprecedented events, a more nuanced appreciation of context and ways to deal with it, and identification of new dimensions of context that improve foresight and current functioning.” (Weick and Sutcliffe 2001, 32)
In this book and series of blogs, we synthesise the insights from these bodies of literature, and show the benefits for managers of considering and using these ideas.