Embracing Emergence: Problem Solving on Complex Projects | UTS ePRESS

Embracing Emergence: Problem Solving on Complex Projects

International Research Network on Organizing by Projects (IRNOP) 2017, 11-14 June 2017
Published by UTS ePRESS | http://pmrp.epress.lib.uts.edu.au


Gina Bowman1*, Lynn Crawford2

1 Director, Australia, Gedeth Network. gina.bowman@gedeth.com

2 Director, Project Management Program, University of Sydney, Adjunct Professor, Bond University; Visiting Professor, Cranfield University School of Management; Professor of Systemic Management, ISCE. lynn.crawford@sydney.edu.au

*Corresponding author: Gina Bowman. Gedeth Network. gina.bowman@gedeth.com

Name: International Research Network on Organizing by Projects (IRNOP) 2017

Location: Boston University, United States

Dates: 11-14 June 2017

Host Organisation: Metropolitan College at Boston University

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/pmrp.irnop2017.5698

Published: 07/06/2018

Citation: Bowman, G. and Crawford, L. 2017. Embracing emergence: problem solving on complex projects. International Research Network on Organizing by Projects (IRNOP) 2017, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-27. https://doi.org/10.5130/pmrp.irnop2017.5698

© 2018 by the author(s). This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.


Managing within the unpredictable and complex environments of today’s projects calls for new competencies to help interpret and respond to problems. Quantum storytelling can play a powerful role in reinterpreting project concepts such as risks, and their resulting problems, by harnessing the properties of emergence. The reframing of problems is explored through a complexity lens and underpinned by stories from the international development sector.

Research design

Actuality research, with its focus on the lived experience, provided the foundation for a research study exploring how project managers currently interpret problems on complex projects. Application of the storytelling diamond model supported methodology choice, and in-depth interviews were undertaken with six project managers from two organizations managing complex projects.

Relevance for practice

We believe that developing an understanding of quantum storytelling and its potential application to managing projects has the capacity to assist project teams to make sense of the emergent nature of complex projects and to consider alternative approaches to solving problems.

Main Findings

The findings provide insight into how the project managers interviewed currently interpret problems and the resulting approaches to solving them. Their stories outline the themes that populate both the organizational and sectorial narrative of their projects.

We argue that traditional project methods apply control frames and behaviours through which to interpret concepts like problems, but in the real world, adaptable and flexible behaviours are required to tackle them as they evolve in the field. We determine that the traditional “plan and manage” contingency approach is not delivering to these project managers the competencies required to manage their projects.

Research implications

Our paper illustrates how a storytelling methodology can be used to explore problems and identifies the potential to further develop storytelling competency through adopting a complexity mindset with its inherent understanding of the property of emergence.


Complex Projects, Problems, Storytelling, Complexity, Emergence

Source: Embracing Emergence: Problem Solving on Complex Projects | UTS ePRESS