Dynamism in complex engineering: explaining uncertainty growth through uncertainty masking

Melanie E. Kreye, Philip J. Cash, Pedro Parraguez Ruiz, Anja Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The development of uncertainty over the progression of a project (i.e., dynamism) is a central issue in engineering management; however, it has been little explored. In this article, we answer the question of how uncertainty develops over the course of complex engineering. We present a case of a renewable energy power plant where we performed content analysis on over 54 000 e-mails. The findings reveal a new mechanism affecting the uncertainty development. We call this mechanism 'uncertainty masking' and define it as the process through which a 'root uncertainty' is misidentified by the project team, resulting in the creation and management of a 'symptomatic uncertainty.' The root and symptomatic uncertainty types compound over time and hamper uncertainty resolution, leading to growth in the level of uncertainty during later project stages. We describe the impact of uncertainty masking on the u-shape level of uncertainty in the case project. This article contributes to the engineering-management literature by explaining the observations of uncertainty growth, which existing theory is unable to explain. We, thus, significantly advance uncertainty theory in engineering management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1552-1564
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Engineering Management
Volume69
Issue number4
Early online date12 Sep 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

Keywords

  • power generation
  • complexity theory
  • task analysis

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