Gary Klein University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Christophe Midler École Polytechnique
Urgency implies one must act decisively and without delay. Often, the response to urgency is the rapid deployment of a project, but this occurs only in situations that do not allow time for upfront project tailoring to desired outcomes. Urgency may be felt or constructed at the individual, team, inter-team, organizational, sectoral, or societal level. Wildfires require immediate actions, forcing both immediate organization of the mitigation project and flexible tasking throughout delivery. Corporations respond to product failures and public relations disasters, such as aircraft crashes and information security breaches (Engwall & Svensson, 2004). First responders organize hyperprojects to fight fires and respond to fog-bound pile-ups on high-speed freeways (Simpson, 2006). Executives fend off hostile takeovers and the irrational demands of activist investors. Societies and governments control pandemics and struggle to reverse climate change damage. In brief, the notion of urgency ties directly to perceptions of time pressure and survival (Dutton & Duncan, 1987).
Despite a wealth of research on project management, we face unprecedented challenges in managing projects in urgent situations. Urgent situations often evade distinctly defined tasks and prescriptive governance approaches rooted in stability and predictability, and instead require operating under occasions of instability and uncertainty that can foil the best plans. Urgency challenges project organizing in terms of polycentric governance, distributed decision making, and collective sensemaking under dynamic external environments evoking uncertainty and complexity.
Little is known about new forms and practices of organizing projects that may be necessary for us to address urgent issues that require more participative, ambiguous, and experimental approaches (Ferraro et al., 2015). For example, linear time scales and deadlines associated with urgency might be ill-suited to processes such as learning and innovation, which do not follow an orderly path from inception to completion (Reinecke & Ansari, 2015).
Furthermore, while urgency creates the impetus for action, mainly to mitigate immediate risk, it also creates the opportunity for envisioning future alternatives by providing momentum for change (Mische, 2014; Granqvist & Gustafsson, 2016). For example, COVID-19 brought the world to a halt, but also provoked discussion about preparedness for similar events in the future. Hyperprojects deployed in response to urgent issues, however, are not usually tailored to future possibilities, but rather immediate needs, and can lead to different, conflicting, or equivocal goals (Bakker et al., 2013).
Urgency thus appears to be a complex phenomenon that requires an effort of theoretical clarification, since, in common parlance, it covers very different situations, such as the response to a seismic disaster, a fire, the management of a pandemic, or climate change. The impacts of urgency on project management deserve in-depth analysis insofar as they are both essential and to some extent paradoxical. On the one hand, urgency is a significant new constraint, which requires a review of the usual best practices both in terms of the hierarchy of outcome priorities and project processes, governance, and organization. But it is also an opportunity for project managers whose vocation is to “get things done,” insofar as it makes possible collective mobilizations and resource acquisition that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible to achieve.
Our goals for this special issue, therefore, include to more comprehensively theorize the notion of urgency in relation to project organizations and organizing processes. We seek to build an inclusive conversation that appeals to many theories and methods within project studies. In this sense, urgent situations are not only low-probability, high-impact events such as disasters, wildfires, or pandemics; with the focus on urgency as planning and decision making under time pressure and extreme contingency. We also include empirical contexts addressing urgent organizing under high uncertainty, in extreme contexts, or grand challenges.
For this special issue, we are looking for papers that find new ways to understand the effects of urgency on project organization and delivery. We welcome all forms of submissions that offer insights, including critical literature reviews, theory-building papers, and empiricalstudies with qualitative or quantitative data using traditional or novel methodologies. Topics of urgency in the domain of project management include, but are certainly not limited to:
Analysis of various empirical contexts in their nature and magnitude
Comparative analysis of “less urgent” to “urgent” situations in the conduct of projects
Mobilization or construction of urgency in the discourse and practice of project management
Managing hyperprojects through the four stages of disaster response (mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery [Altay & Green, 2006]).
Building dynamic capabilities for managing urgency
Communicating in urgent projects, including behavioral and technical aspects (e.g., social media)
Performance measurement, to include criteria and processes (e.g., data analytics)
Comparisons between immediate and future-oriented goals
How individuals, teams, and organizations cope with the disruptive nature of urgency (e.g., Van Wijk & Fischhendler, 2017)
The temporal nature of urgency
Achieving collective action during urgent projects, programs, or portfolios
Variations over time in decision making and governance
Developing a shared strategic direction against the backdrop of urgency
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our submission target date of 31 December 2020 is flexible. We recognize that instructional time is volatile, and data collection might prove problematic. Should you not be able to submit the full paper on time, please send one of the special issue editors an abstract of your research. We will then determine if your proposed paper is appropriate for the special issue or a regular issue of Project Management Journal®.
Papers will be processed as submitted. All accepted papers will rapidly proceed to production and be available in an online collection dedicated to the special issue. The print issue is scheduled for late 2021; papers accepted past the print production deadline will join others in the online collection and will appear in a subsequent regular issue. Our goal is to publish every quality paper received on the topic of urgency in projects, both those papers received early and those received late. The relevance of the topic demands no less consideration.