Project management approaches for dynamic environments

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International Journal of Project Management 27 (2009) 355–364 Project management approaches for dynamic environments
Simon Collyer a,*, Clive M.J. Warren b a School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland, Australia b UQ Business School, The University of Queensland, Australia
Received 9 July 2007; received in revised form 19 April 2008; accepted 22 April 2008

This paper investigates the properties of projects conducted in rapidly changing environments. These projects are challenged by the rapid introduction of new unknowns as they progress. One might say they are more akin to stacking worms than stacking
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Shenhar and Wideman [14] argue that another key difference is the number of design cycles. In low technology projects they say there is typically only one cycle with a freeze before development, and with high technology there are at least two, typically three cycles.

Cioffi [16] suggests that ‘projects’ be placed on a spectrum of ‘newness’ from operational to project. The idea has been adapted in Fig. 1 to illustrate the sliding scale of unknowns that applies to projects. Unknowns in this sense refer to any aspect of the project, including the methods to achieve it, the objective, and the environment it has to operate in.
The guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) [2] describes ‘progressive elaboration’, where planning is developed in greater detail as the project progresses. Using progressive elaboration to fill knowledge gaps, it might be possible to move a project to the left in
Fig. 1, thereby achieving the objective in a more predictable fashion. However, rapid changes in the environment, including tools and methods, and attempts to innovate, act to push the project to the right, increasing unknowns.
The two forces of exploration and change act against each other continuously throughout the project. The challenge is to conduct exploration at a greater rate than the emergence of environmental change. It is also important to


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