Managing Project Risk and Uncertainty: A Constructively Simple Approach to Decision Making

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Estimate variability. Evaluate overall implications. He is a past president of the Operational Research Society and the current chai r of the Committee of Professors in Operational Research. He is an Honourary Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries.

Working In Uncertainty

For more tha n 25 years his research interest has focused on risk and uncertainty management. Besides the criticism of the ineffectiveness of general prescribed industry risk management standards traditional mainstream risk management standards and guidelines especially in dealing with complexity, there is also a rather confusing array of such standards and guidelines Beck, ; Hanson, There is limited evidence in the literature of empirical research focused primarily on the management of uncertainty and risk on complex projects.

The combination of continued project failures, increasing project complexity and inadequate uncertainty and risk management prescription and practice culminate to establish the research problem. Besides research within each of the variables uncertainty and risk management; project complexity and project success elaborated upon in the literature review, there is some specific empirical research that does address some of the inter-relationships and key elements of this gap. Notably, research on uncertainty and risk management practice and project success Raz et al. This study contributes to knowledge by building on past research in the area and addressing the practical challenges and issues concerning management of uncertainty and risk in complex project environments.

As stated above this research builds on other empirical investigations, particularly the research findings of projects in Israel that concluded that risk management practices are not widely used by Project Managers, but when they are used they appear to be related to project success Raz et al. The research also investigates if risk management practices do differ from risk management prescription promulgated by general prescribed industry risk management standards, as discovered in the empirical study of the risk practices of information technology Project Managers in Hong Kong Taylor, Qualitative insights from research participants, with respect to suggested improvements in the management of uncertainty and risk are also investigated.

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What levels of general prescribed industry risk management standards are implemented by Project Managers on projects perceived to have high complexity? On projects of high complexity, does the uncertainty and risk management approach and process implemented affect perceived project success? The quantitative approach provides the overall picture of the phenomenon and the qualitative aspect provides support for interpretation of the results and answers to some of the research questions. Although the approach is primarily quantitative, it is important to note that it is based on opinions and reported practice, not on objective observations.

An abductive logic was determined the most appropriate, given the nature of the research and particularly as the researcher could not conclusively rely on the initial premise being correct. The following five null hypotheses were developed to investigate the research questions stated above: 1H0: Project Managers do not implement higher level uncertainty and risk management approaches and processes on projects they perceive as more complex, than on projects that they perceive as less complex.

P a g e 17 4H0: There is no positive correlation between uncertainty and risk management approach and process levels implemented and perceived project success by Project Managers, on projects that they perceive to be of high complexity. The sampling technique used included a combination of self-selecting and snowballing. These were considered to be the most pragmatic, given the nature and characteristics of the study.

A Questionnaire was developed and following a pilot survey data was collected from Project Managers between mid August to late November An extensive and wide spectrum of project management institutions, associations and networks were approached across the globe. Chapter 2 is a review of the pertinent literature associated with the management of uncertainty in complex project environments. An account of the history of risk management shows the progress of this discipline over time, particularly highlighting the overarching debate between the use of qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Increasing project complexity and evidence of continued project failures is portrayed. The rational and linear nature of the project management paradigm and P a g e 18 traditional mainstream risk management standards and associated practice are critiqued and shown to be considered ineffective in managing uncertainty, especially in complex environments.

The approaches and processes highlighted in the literature that seek to improve the management of uncertainty, especially on complex projects, are identified. The challenges of measuring project complexity and project success are introduced. The literature review provides the background for identification of the research gap to be addressed and the formulation of the research questions.

Chapter 3 outlines the null and alternate hypotheses devolved from the research questions for testing in this study. It describes the methodology used to collect and analyse the data. The research philosophy is explained and the theoretical framework set. Frameworks are established to operationalise key variables, the sampling approach is determined and the manner in which the data is statistically tested is set out.

Chapter 4 presents the statistical findings of the data. Descriptive statistics are firstly used to present the data, identifying the characteristics and suitability of the sample and a univariate description of the key research variables. This is followed by the statistical tests conducted on each hypothesis. Chapter 5 presents the analysis and discussion. The research questions are restated and the results of the hypotheses tests briefly summarised. The research questions are analysed against the findings and the implications thereof discussed.

P a g e 19 Chapter 6 provides a conclusion to the thesis. A summary of the findings is presented. The importance of this research as a contribution to knowledge is outlined and emphasised. The limitations of the research are highlighted and finally recommendations for future research are proposed.

This review addresses the key themes, definitions, debates and challenges surrounding the management of uncertainty and risk in complex project environments.


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Importantly, it intends to confirm the value of this empirical research as a contribution to knowledge. It is widely depicted in the literature that projects are continuing to fail Atkinson, ; Flyvbjerg et al. Flyvbjerg et al. Shenhar et al. Uwe, The Airbus A project was initiated in In when the aircraft was in the assembly stage in Toulouse, France a preassembled wiring harness produced in Germany failed to fit into the airframe.

Production was halted, deliveries postponed for 2 years and costs were blown out significantly. Shore, P a g e 21 The sections that follow in the literature review build on ways to address this critical issue, with the focus on project complexity, the management of uncertainty and risk and perceived project success.

Thinking about uncertainty

Insights into how uncertainty and risk management has evolved over time is summarised to provide an introduction to some of the key debates and challenges faced in managing uncertainty and risk. It is revealed that there has and continues to be debate and polarisation between the use of rationally based methods primarily quantitative and irrationality primarily qualitative.

The nature and definition of complex systems and specifically project complexity is investigated and described. Furthermore, it is then shown that there is significant critique in the literature, suggesting that the current project management paradigm is not effective in managing such complexity. The challenges of developing complexity measures for projects are highlighted and a number of key models presented and critically discussed.

The relationship between uncertainty, risk and complexity is discussed. The polarisation between quantitative and qualitative approaches, as mentioned above, is highlighted, with particular attention towards defining risk and uncertainty. Following this, the prominent general prescribed industry risk management standards currently used in the management of uncertainty and risk in project management are presented and critiqued.

Assessing the Proposal

These are described by some researchers as a rather confusing array of standards and guidelines Beck, ; Hanson, Key concepts seeking improved ways to manage uncertainty and risk, particularly in complex project environments are highlighted. The important concepts and challenges in determining project success are then critically discussed.

From its conception in the Hindu-Arabic numbering system, developed over eight hundred years ago, to the establishment of the theory of probability and explosion in quantitative techniques during the Renaissance years. Bernstein contends that much of the advancement during these years forms the basis of much of the quantitative risk management theory today.

Weber, C.

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Curtis, B. Slevin, D. Project Management Journal, 17 4 : Thomas, G. Westerveld, E. White, D. Zopounidis, C. In European Journal of Operational Research pages In Handbook of Multicriteria Analysis. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg Project success factors.

Quantitative Risk Analysis for overall project risk

Uncertainty present in projects. Information requirements: traffic forecast. Gabler Edition Wissenschaft. Willingness to pay concept. Cost effectiveness ratio.


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