The texture of tension: complexity, uncertainty and equivocality

Thommie Burström, Timothy L. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The premise of this paper is that tension exists among participants and parties engaged in projects. The uniqueness of development virtually assures this. The purpose of this paper is to propose that tension is a product of the precursors of complexity, uncertainty and equivocality, and an attempt is made to characterize tension as it arises in projects – its genesis and its nature.

An in-depth case study was conducted in a manner in which the contextually sensitive empirical researches for which Nordic studies are known. Within discussions on the strategy, decision making, intra- and inter-project interdependencies and managing across development sites associated with a flagship project, 77 statements concerning tension were identified for analysis. Through a literature review, 12 tension-driving factors were identified. These factors were used as base for analysis.

These statements were analyzed for content to produce a model associating tension with its precursors and the literature on tension. It is found that due to innovation turbulence, tension-driving factors are cascaded in and around organization(s). Tension is manifested in various ways for different stakeholders and tension management is performed through cognitive and emotional responses. The texture of tension is characterized by fluidity, multiplicity and parallelism.

Research limitations/implications
Case studies can of course not be generalized; they are valuable, however, in indicating important observations for further studies.

Practical implications
A contribution is made to management theory where knowledge about project context is seen as essential in order to understand best practices for project execution and effectiveness.

Although common, even virtually assured in projects, tension tends to be neglected in successful management. This study associates the genesis of tension through the underlying contributions of complexity, uncertainty and equivocality. It is believed to be the first study of its type.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalInternational Journal of Managing Projects in Business
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)458-485
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • Complexity
  • Innovation
  • Uncertainty
  • Tension
  • Projects
  • Equivocality

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoHP: Strategic and entrepreneurial praxis


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