Early warnings : a phenomenon in project management

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Project Management Association Finland series, Suomen projektitoimintayhdistyksen julkaisuja, 5
The emergence of Concurrent Engineering has caused growing demands on project management. The classic project management methods are often slow: problems may already exist when those methods are applied. The objective of the present study is to improve the opportunities of those responsible for a project's operational management to receive advance information about potential problems and final results through early warnings typical of the theory of weak signals by Igor Ansoff. The research examines the background of Ansoff's theory, the way in which project theories treat project problems, the causes of problems, and possible early warnings. Other aspects of the phenomenon investigated in this study include its relation to project risk management and its communicational character. A survey of the relevant literature shows that project literature contains some discussion of early warnings. However, only a few studies have the phenomenon as their main focus; similarly, research on the Ansoff theory is sparse. A number of studies concerning early warnings can be found in other fields, such as military science and general business economics. In addition, communications studies are familiar with the concept of weak signals, which is analogous to the concept of early warnings. An examination of project literature shows that certain factors in a project - early warnings detected in project work, project problems, and the causes of those problems - may form chains. The interpretation of these factors may vary depending on the perspective and the time of observation. In addition, they can to some extent be considered subsets of one set (as defined by set theory). The research was conducted using a qualitative research method. A total of seventeen project experts were interviewed using the semistructured (thematic) interview method, which was also used to identify and examine early warnings in four case projects. Almost 900 such statements were observed. These observations were grouped according to similar characteristics, after which the various factors were analyzed qualitatively as well as according to percent distributions, both individually and through multiple attribute examination. The empirical research shows that stimuli (signals, messages) that comply with communications theory can be found in the project environment. These signals and messages are always to some degree inaccurate, and making decisions based on them is difficult. To clarify the meaning of these messages, the present study examines the general character of the early warnings phenomenon and designs an explanatory model that illustrates the communicative character of the phenomenon as well as the stages of decision-making. Further, the study develops a hierarchical classification of warning signals, complete with signal type categorization and descriptive typology, and draws up categorizations to help in signal identification. The categorizations are formed using eight (8) different factors. In addition, the relationship between early warnings, project problems, and problem causes is investigated; the dependence network designed of these three factors plus the responses they require furnishes some of the most important data for further utilization. Furthermore, this study designs a fundamental model for the utilization of the early warnings phenomenon. This model, and the results of the present research in general, can be used to identify early warnings. For the present, the data provided by this research have to be handled manually, which may be somewhat laborious. To aid utilization in the future, the study proposes a way to incorporate early warnings to the Risk Management Knowledge-Based program created by Kiyoshi Niwa. The study provides project management and project risk management theories with additional information about the early warnings phenomenon, which has not been extensively studied, but which is widely known among project management specialists. The study defines the phenomenon and makes it easier to comprehend. A broader utilization of the phenomenon, however, requires further research.
project work, risk management, presignals, weak signals, industrial investment
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