Naturalistic Decision Making and Decision Drivers in the Front End of Complex Projects



Lawani A, Flin R, Ojo-Adedokun R & Benton P (2023) Naturalistic Decision Making and Decision Drivers in the Front End of Complex Projects. International Journal of Project Management, 41 (6), Art. No.: 102502.

Decision making plays a crucial role in the front end of projects which is a critical stage for maximising the performance of complex projects. Although it has been suggested that project managers rely more on analytical approaches to decision making as opposed to an intuitive mode, there is emerging evidence of project managers using intuitive decision processes. Yet, little is known about how this occurs during the front-end phase, with few attempts to study the underlying cognitive processes and what influences project decision making. This research gap is addressed by interviewing project managers experienced in front-end decision making (n =16) of large-scale complex projects within the oil and gas industry. Adopting a naturalistic decision-making (NDM) methodology and using a form of cognitive task analysis, a thematic coding of their accounts of decision making during the front end of large complex projects identified key decision processes and influencing factors (drivers). Formal analytical processes (e.g., data-driven calculations, software rating tools) were favoured but, and in line with emerging findings, these experienced project managers also used intuitive decision-making processes, such as pattern recognition and feelings/associative memory. Decision drivers were grouped into 5 clusters - project external factors, project internal factors, social dimensions, individual differences, and time pressures. The findings suggest that project managers should be trained on how to recognise when intuitive decision making is occurring and how to use it while being aware of its strengths, weaknesses and influencing factors. A focus on building descriptive models of actual decision making in complex environments, for the training of project managers, by applying NDM methods will enhance the management of the front end of projects.

Naturalistic Decision Making; Intuition; Front End of Projects; Complex Projects

International Journal of Project Management: Volume 41, Issue 6

FundersEngineering Construction Industry Training Board
Publication date31/08/2023
Publication date online31/08/2023
Date accepted by journal04/08/2023

People (1)


Dr Ama Lawani

Dr Ama Lawani

Lecturer in Project/Ops Management, Management, Work and Organisation