Project Management Institute

Deviations, ambiguity and uncertainty in a project-intensive organization

The processes project managers use to adjust their project approach when project plans and goals change often differ from the methodologies touted in the literature. This discrepancy between actual practice and theoretical modeling causes much uncertainty and ambiguity in using project management tools and techniques to address project problems. This article analyzes deviation, uncertainty, and ambiguity by examining an empirical case study showing how one organization managed the ambiguity and uncertainty that project deviations caused. It first reviews the literature on managing project plan deviations: listing the three elements and four deviation management techniques researchers commonly recognize and comparing the ways the risk- and change-management literature addresses risk, change, and deviations. It then looks at the case study, explaining the methodology used before identifying its seven deviations and discussing the tactics used to manage these deviations. It subsequently details four tactics for managing deviation. It concludes by describing a process for managing deviations and an approach to more broadly understand this process and the factors influencing it; it also calls on researchers to more fully study deviation management and to develop a strategy for managing deviations.
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