Managing project uncertainty: critical incidents in multi-firm project networks

Tuomas Ahola / Karlos Artto / Jaakko Kujala

This paper addresses the management of uncertainty in the context of complex multi-firm projects. Such projects include a network of participating firms i.e. a project network that requires the integration of resources, capabilities, and knowledge possessed by several heterogeneous and legally independent firms. We elaborate the nature of uncertainty in projects and especially in multi-firm projects with a special character by applying the critical incident technique to study unexpected incidents that are relevant for the outcome of the project. We collected empirical data from four multi-firm project networks selected from the Finnish shipbuilding industry. We identified a total of 320 critical incidents. Based on the analysis of their inherent characteristics, we present a typology of critical incidents in multi-firm project networks consisting of ten unfavourable categories and six favourable categories of incidents. We also draw three conclusions which highlight how the characteristics of multi-firm project networks give rise to uncertainty.