Risky Business: Research Aims to Help Managers Exploit Opportunity

New book aims to show companies how to distinguish advantages at the critical moment

12/10/2013

We all know that even the best-laid plans go astray, so it must also be true that the best project managers adopt an entrepreneurial approach to turn project uncertainty into success.

That’s the finding of a new book by Dr. Thomas Lechler, an associate professor in the Howe School, which focuses on how entrepreneurial thinking can help project managers turn frustrating surprises into opportunities.

“Project managers have to be entrepreneurial, because projects face situations of uncertainty, and those situations can only be overcome with entrepreneurial behavior,” said Lechler, who specializes in project management and entrepreneurship.

The project management program at Stevens prepares students to lead and manage enterprise-level projects, with courses available on campus, online and in the workplace.

Lechler received $50,000 from the Project Management Institute to pursue the research, which was published as “The Silver Lining of Project Uncertainties.” He performed the research with Dr. Barbara Edington, an associate professor at St. Francis College, in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., and Ting Gao, a Ph.D. candidate at the Howe School.

PMI introduced the book at its annual global congress, held in October in New Orleans.

Research for the book was based on interviews with professionals in a variety of industries, from IT to construction. The book focuses on rethinking risk. A good project plan prepares for risks ahead of time, but uncertainty, Lechler said, should be treated differently from risk. The book defines uncertainty as unexpected situations that could significantly affect a project.

When uncertainty rears its head, managers often treat it like risk, and move ahead by sticking to the goals established in the plan. Instead, Lechler said, such situations call for a more nuanced approach that allows for a new opportunity to be exploited.

Such an adjustment is critical for managers and companies that recognize opportunity, Lechler said, “because they see something no one else sees,” and can get an idea or product to market first.

Lechler and his co-authors identified frameworks that can help organizations reduce their fear of uncertainties in the project execution process to capitalize on such unexpected developments.

That kind of thinking is what sets apart Stevens’ unique focus on project management. It’s the only university in the tristate area to be accredited by PMI.

“An entrepreneurial mindset can help dissolve the black cloud of uncertainty by exploiting opportunity,” Lechler said.

For more information on project management degree and certificate programs, or for a list of requirements, visit the Howe School’s Enterprise Project Management page.