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The role of cue utilisation in project management sensemaking: a focus on the disaster recovery context

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posted on 2022-03-28, 14:45 authored by Eva Marie Gacasan
Project management has been defined as an exercise in the management of complexity whereby project managers are continuously required to cope with the intricacies and uncertainties associated with their projects (Baccarini, 1996). Effective project managers are constantly acquiring, integrating and comparing project-related information against shorter and longer-term goals. This process involves deriving ‘sense’ from a complex and complicated array of data—only some of which are directly relevant to the progression of the project. The capacity to ‘make sense’ of information from disparate sources underpins the process of project management. Although ‘sensemaking’ is recognised as a critical capability associated with project management, the existing literature is largely descriptive. Further, there is little exploration of sensemaking in the context of disaster recovery project management. The aim of this research programme was to develop and evaluate a measure of individual sensemaking as applied in project management, specifically in disaster recovery. Sensemaking was examined through the basic constructs of cue utilisation. The research aim was divided into three research questions and addressed through three corresponding studies. In Study 1, cues pre-empting sensemaking in the general context of project management were identified. Using naturalistic decision making (NDM) as a frame, overt and difficult-to-articulate cues (Kahneman & Klein, 2009) that serve to guide skilled project managers were established. Cognitive interviews were conducted using cognitive task analysis (CTA) and applying the critical incident technique (CIT), where the participants were asked to recall critical project incidents that threatened the progression and outcomes of their respective projects. The critical incidents served as units of analysis in the extraction of the cues. The outcomes revealed three categories of cues that aided project management sensemaking: feedback cues, context cues and tacit knowledge. In Study 2, the cues identified during the cognitive interviews were tested to ensure that they constituted valid representations of cues that are used in the project management domain. The cues were examined in relation to project-specific constructs, including project complexity and stages of project management (initiation, execution and closing). An online survey was distributed to participants with and without experience in project management. Statistically significant differences were evident in the perceived utilisation of cues where inexperienced project managers demonstrated relatively greater perceived utilisation and discrimination in the use of cues in comparison to the naïve cohort. The results provided support for the validity of the sensemaking cues that were identified in Study 1. Finally, Study 3 was designed to evaluate a measure of cue utilisation in the context of disaster recovery project management. Cue utilisation was measured based on four component tasks: cue identification, cue association, cue discrimination and cue prioritisation. Statistically significant differences in performance were evident between naïve and non-naïve groups in cue identification, cue association and cue prioritisation. This research programme provides empirical support for the role of cue utilisation as a fundamental cognitive process in project management sensemaking. Conceptually, it has established, for the first time, the role of cue utilisation in disaster recovery project management. It also demonstrates associations between sensemaking, project complexity and the progression of projects. At a practical level, this research provides an empirical basis for training and assessment in cue identification and utilisation.


Alternative Title

Cue utilisation in PM sensemaking.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Study 1 : sensemaking cues in project management -- Chapter 3. Study 2 : the utilisation of feedback cues and context cues in project management sensemaking -- Chapter 4. Study 3 : sensemaking through cue utilisation in disaster recovery project management -- Chapter 5. Discussion of the research presented.


Running title: Cue utilisation in PM sensemaking. Empirical thesis. Includes bibliographical references (pages 193-212)

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mark W. Wiggins

Additional Supervisor 1

Ben J. Searle


Copyright Eva Marie Gacasan 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




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