How managers frame and make sense of unexpected events in project implementation

Elmar Kutsch, Ibrat Djabbarov, Mark Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines how managers’ framing and sensemaking of unexpected events alters and adapts over time during the course of a major project implementation. By adopting a process ontology, we study the temporal evolution of framing and sensemaking of unexpected events and how they recursively influence each other. We show how over time managers’ sensemaking shifts from one form of sensemaking to another as they frame and reframe events to cope with changes in their environment.

Our study contributes in two important ways. First, we contribute to the discussions on framing and sensemaking literature by illustrating how they manifest recursively. In particular, we show how change in framing of events alters the form of sensemaking and how new forms of sensemaking enable actors to reframe their expectations. Second, we contribute to discussions on how project managers cope with unexpected events in large complex projects which may lead to failures or project termination. We show how unexpected events not only disrupt actors’ mental frames of what and how to accomplish as part of project implementation, but also how they rework their expectations to adapt and move forward.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-580
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Issue number5
Early online date10 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Sensemaking
  • Framing
  • Unexpected
  • Project implementation


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