PhD Thesis: Situated Practices in Global Projects


Interactionally Managing Uncertainty and Ambiguity

PhD thesis by Liv Otto Hassert

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Projects are complex work contexts. Members of project teams must collaborate to perform planned tasks that require close coordination and clear communication. This collaboration can be demanding in itself, but is made more challenging because it often needs to be accomplished through virtual media, as team members can be distributed across the world. At the same time, the project members must continuously adapt to constant changes in the organizational environment and consider internal stakeholders' demands and interests. In addition, they are required to collaborate with both external vendors and customers, who may also be distributed worldwide. This dissertation explores the practices of projects by examining how project members through situated interactions create meaning in their complex work context and how they handle different types of uncertainties and ambiguities in practice.

This dissertation draws on three different types of empirical material: Interviews with project managers, observations of project managers and teams, as well as recordings of the same teams' meetings. The empirical material was collected within Maersk Line IT, who is the industrial partner of this PhD study.

The dissertation applies an ethnomethodological framework and is centred on three analyses that illustrate how project actors handle different types of uncertainties and ambiguities. Through micro-analysis of meeting interaction, in particular, the analytical chapters show how project teams create order in their daily, complex work context, how project members handle different types of unexpected problems in their work and the uncertainties created by these problems, as well as how project actors handle relational ambiguity in complex project contexts.

By studying the situated practices in projects, this study contributes with a deeper understanding of how project practices as such are performed in practice. It is concluded that the project actors produce different types of management mechanisms such as routines and situated identifications to manage uncertainties and ambiguities. Across the analyses, membership knowledge and competencies are shown to be central for being able to produce these management mechanisms and thus essential for managing and making sense of the complex work setting. Theoretically, the dissertation contributes to project research, especially to the project-as-practice field, by showing the situated, interactional practices that the project actors perform, how meaning and order are created through these practices, and how the practices are performed as 'ordinary' in the overall project practice.

Read: Situated Practices in Global Project