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PAPERS Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function

of Project Management: A New Critical


Success Factor
Marcia Hagen, Metropolitan State University, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Sunyoung Park, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION
ver the last 50 years, there has been an explosion in the use of work
This research examines the relationship
between ambiguity acceptance and customer
and organizational outcomes within the Six
Sigma improvement project context. Results
find a curvilinear relationship between open
communication and customer outcomes for
O teams, designed to improve organizational performance.
Historically, a project, as a unit of improvement, was widely used in
such industries as aerospace and was employed as a way to deal
with the complexities of developing military applications of such things as
missile defense systems and other Cold War applications (Levin &
project leaders. Results of multiple regression Kirkpatrick, 1966; Mulenburg, 1999). At that same time, the work of Elton
find a significant positive relationship between Mayo and his Hawthorne studies helped to promote an understanding of
open communication and organization out- how teams complete the new project methodology for organizational
comes, as well as a significant positive relation- improvement (Longbotham, 2000). Since that time, much research on team-
ship between ambiguity acceptance and cus- work, and the leadership of teams, has helped to establish which attributes
tomer and organizational outcomes for team are essential to the development of an effective team (Longbotham, 2000;
leaders, while there is a significant positive Parker, 1990) and thus a successful project.
relationship between ambiguity acceptance One area that relies heavily on projects is Six Sigma. Six Sigma is an orga-
and customer and organizational outcomes for nizational structure that resides outside normal operations and is developed
team members. Theoretical and practical impli- in an attempt to reduce variation in business processes. The process
cations are examined. improvement projects that take place within the Six Sigma structure are
directed by improvement specialists who use a structured method and per-
KEYWORDS: leadership styles; ambiguity; formance metrics with the aim of achieving strategic objectives for the
team communication; project outcomes organization (Schroeder, Linderman, Liedtke, & Choo, 2007). It is within this
context that projects and projects teams are examined.

Critical Success Factors and Project Leadership


It has been well established in project management literature that the
actions, activities, and attributes of a teams leader can have a significant
impact on the outcomes of a project. There are several examples of
the impact that a project leader can have on the success of a project. For
instance, Thite (1999) found that the project leaders ability to switch effec-
tively between the transactional and transformational leadership styles at
appropriate times had a positive impact on the overall outcomes of a proj-
ect. This was corroborated by Kaissi (2005), who found that the use of the
rational persuasion style of leadership by project leaders was related to a
positive outcome on projects. Importantly, there have been several pieces of
recent research that help to establish the importance of team leader per-
formance as critical to project success (Cooke-Davies, 2002; Dvir, Lipovitsky,
Shenhar, & Tishler, 1998; Hyvari, 2006).
Project Management Journal, Vol. 44, No. 2, 5266 Open communication has also been well established within the litera-
2013 by the Project Management Institute ture as an important area in which leaders need to pay close attention. For
Published online in Wiley Online Library decades, management scholars have expressed the importance of leaders
(wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI: 10.1002/pmj.21329 open communication within organizations (Powell, 1995; Samson &

52 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


Terziovski, 1999). This also extends to Further, ambiguous and uncertain in Leaders can influence the behavior of
the project management literature, this study are considered to be synony- other people and display their abilities
where there are several calls to improve mous, because both concepts refer to a in work groups to accomplish group
open communication between project situation and the resulting cognitive goals. Leadership is a process of social
leaders and members in an effort to state from situation, and include chal- influence whereby a leader steers
improve project outcomes (Belassi & lenges and possibilities for the practice members of a group toward a goal
Tukel, 1996; Hyvari, 2006; Zimmerer & we cannot control (Best, 2008). (Bryman, 1992, p. 2). Also, leadership
Yasin, 1998), and in which open com- Project-customer outcomes (herein has been explained by trait (ability),
munication is considered to be a criti- referred to as customer outcomes) are style (effectiveness), contingency (situ-
cal success factor. defined as the level of appreciation of ation), and charisma (social relation-
Acceptance of ambiguity has been the project management results by rele- ship; Bryman, 1992, 1999). Critical
well established within the literature as vant interested parties (Caupin et al., evaluation and problem detection
an important trait that differentiates 2006). Project-related organizational skills, visioning skills, communication
effective from ineffective leaders. outcomes (herein referred to as organi- skills, management skills, and empow-
According to Lane and Klenke (2004), zational outcomes) are those project erment skills are important competen-
there are some leader behaviors critical outcomes related to the enhancement cies to develop for effective leadership
for survival in contemporary organiza- of larger organization strategy, goals, (Conger & Kanungo, 1988).
tions. Managers who exhibit leadership and financial performance (Shenhar, Communication has been recog-
styles that promote innovative, Dvir, Levy, & Maltz, 2001). The purpose nized as an important intervention for
adaptive, and entrepreneurial behav- of this article is to examine how both organizational goals, innovation, and
iors within their reports help to open communication and ambiguity performance (Kivimaki et al., 2000;
build change-oriented organizations. acceptance by project leaders can Swenson, 1999). Specifically, leaders
Importantly, these behaviors are best impact project outcomes such as cus- communication has played a critical
achieved by people who have a toler- tomer satisfaction and successful proj- role in improving team performance
ance for ambiguity and uncertainty ect completion. In pursuing our and enhancing relationships with sub-
(Dollinger, Saxton, & Golden, 1995; research purposes, the following ordinates (Marks, Zaccaro, & Mathieu,
Ghosh, 1994). Within the project man- research questions were developed: 2000; Sarin & McDermott, 2003).
agement literature, although there is a 1. What is the relationship between Leaders can inspire and motivate sub-
great deal of information and ensuing open communication and customer ordinates to perform and achieve goals
research on the impact of project ambi- outcomes? through open communication for
guity on project outcomes (Atkinson, 2. What is the relationship between affirming organizational vision and
Crawford, & Ward, 2006; Pich, Loch, & open communication and organiza- mission, driving transformational
De Meyer, 2002; Samson & Terziovski, tional outcomes? change, encouraging action, reinforcing
1999), precious little is known about the 3. What is the relationship between organizational capability, and creating
impact of a project leaders ability to ambiguity acceptance and customer supportive environments (Baldoni,
accept ambiguity within the project outcomes? 2004). Moreover, open communication
context. Within much of the literature, 4. What is the relationship between related activities (such as enhancing
ambiguous and uncertain are consid- ambiguity acceptance and organiza- communication skills, performing
ered to be synonymous, both defining a tional outcomes? broad communications, and using effec-
situation or event that is vague or tive listening and conflict resolution
imprecise (Ghirardato & Marinacci, techniques) have been emphasized as
2002). However, it is important to note
Literature Review key factors for successful leaders who
In this section, the relevant literature is
that some scholars delineate these perform well and establish better rela-
reviewed to investigate the impact of
terms, considering uncertain to tionships with others (Hamlin, 2004;
open communication and ambiguity
define a situation or event, with the Hellervik & Davis, 1984; Swenson,
acceptance on customer and organiza-
term ambiguous relating more to 1999). A supervisors open communica-
tional outcomes. Based on the review of
the cognitive state that is the result tion has a positive influence on subor-
literature, possible relationships among
of the uncertain situation or event dinates satisfaction (Jablin, 1979), and
the variables are hypothesized.
(March & Olsen, 1975). For the purpose is one of the key factors leading to effec-
of this article, ambiguity acceptance is Open Communication in Leadership tive coaching (Park, McLean, & Yang,
defined as behaviors that express an In leadership, three main elements 2008).
individuals tolerance for ambiguity have been emphasized: influence, A relationship with open communi-
and uncertainty (Dollinger et al., 1995). group, and goal (Bryman, 1992, 1999). cation can be described as one in

April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 53


PAPERS
Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

which both parties perceive the other to (suggested by facilitative leaders) and effectiveness and project performance
be a willing and receptive listener, and task communication (emphasized by depend on the degree and quality of
refrain from responses which might be directive leaders) influence communi- communication between managers
seen as negative or non-accepting cation processes, which form effective from different functional departments
(Eisenberg & Witten, 1987, p. 419). Open teamwork stimulating exchange of when cross-functional cooperation is
communication is generally viewed to ideas and perspectives among team required (Pinto & Pinto, 1990).
have three elements: disclosure of members (Hoegl & Gemuenden, 2001). Communication of project objectives
personal information, disclosure of non- In particular, participative communica- and effective information are strongly
personal information, and clear com- tion has a strong, positive impact on the related to project team performance
munication (Eisenberg & Witten, 1987). level of innovation effectiveness and (Hirst & Mann, 2004; Thamhain, 1996).
The disclosure of personal information productivity within a team (Kivimaki In addition, the aspects of communica-
emphasizes employees feelings and et al., 2000). tion (such as open discussion of diverse
emotions that influence effective perspectives and participative commu-
superiorsubordinate relationships. The Open Communication in Project nication processes) are positively asso-
disclosure of nonpersonal information Management ciated with customer ratings of project
focuses on task-related and technical The phases of project management, performance (Hirst & Mann, 2004).
information that create power and such as project definition, planning and Enhancing clear communication chan-
political dynamics in organizations. organizing, implementation and con- nel and flow is one critical factor influ-
Clear communication pays attention to trol, and closeout, require communica- encing project success and outcomes
enhancing consensus and common tion; it is the most important factor for (Keller & Holland, 1983; White &
understanding through sharing organi- project success (Finch, 2003; Hyvari, Fortune, 2002). Some research has indi-
zational languages (Eisenberg & Witten, 2006; Pinto & Prescott, 1988). In addi- cated that the relationship between
1987). Each of these takes place with tion, communication is not only a criti- communication of team leaders and
the intention to create active interac- cal factor related to project team mem- team performance is curvilinear, with
tion among team members and bers, but also the most critical leader- lower performance resulting from
encourage the team to participate in ship feature to be an effective project either too low or too high levels of com-
sharing of ideas and open discussion of manager (Belassi & Tukel, 1996; munication from team leaders (Goris,
different perspectives, in an effort to set El-Sabaa, 2001; Zimmerer & Yasin, 1998). Vaught, & Pettit, 2000; Patrashkova-
team-developed instructions, priori- Communication has diverse func- Volzdoska, McComb, & Green, 2003).
ties, deadlines, and standards for a tions in project management. As project This curvilinear relationship has been
team project (Hirst & Mann, 2004). strategy, strategic communication is a key examined for communication frequen-
Thus, within this research, open com- success factor for project management cy, and thus helps to guide new
munication is defined as the process of (Toney & Power, 1997). Effective commu- research in the area of communication
transmitting information, based on nication within teams externally con- and team performance.
the style, content, and target elements tributes to establishing relationships
of the intended communication among people, helping to contribute to Ambiguity Acceptance
(Montgomery, 1981) in a collaborative improved project management practice According to the literature, ambiguity
effort to develop instructions, priori- (Loo, 2002). Open communication in is perceived when a lack of clarity, high
ties, deadlines, and standards for a project teams plays an important role in complexity, or paradox makes multiple
team project (Hirst & Mann, 2004). accessing, sharing, and interpreting (rather than single or dichotomous)
Within the team context, leaders information; exchanging feedback; incor- explanations plausible (Martin, 1992,
have influence on communication porating ideas; interacting with external p. 134). Ambiguity has been empha-
styles (Hirst & Mann, 2004). For groups; maintaining relationships; and sized as a key feature of organizational
instance, facilitative leaders create a cli- making consensus during the conflict culture because the whole of an organi-
mate conducive to active interaction (Gillard & Johansen, 2004). Moreover, zations culture cannot be explained by
among team members and encourage communication for brainstorming, distinctive characteristics (Alvesson,
the team to participate in sharing of obtaining information, and reviewing the 2002). In regards to organizational cul-
ideas and open discussion of different progress attains and increases cross- ture, ambiguity is displayed as those
perspectives, while directive leaders functional cooperation among project areas that are viewed by individuals as
communicate through instructions, teams (Pinto & Pinto, 1990). uncertain, complicated, and confusing,
setting priorities, deadlines, and stan- In terms of project success, com- forcing us to confront organizational real-
dards for team project (Hirst & Mann, munication has been strongly linked ity (Alvesson, 2002). In other words, ambi-
2004). Participative communication with project outcomes. Project team guity emphasizes multiple perspectives,

54 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


mixed values and meanings, and differ- focused on clarifying predictors and such as resources, schedules, and roles,
ent experiences within organizational consequences of ambiguity acceptance and the ability to take risks and seek
culture. At a national level, ambiguity and exploring their relationships with new solutions to problems related to
has been addressed as uncertainty employees outcomes such as creativity, those areas and the project in general.
avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance flexibility, job satisfaction, knowledge Within the context of this research,
refers to the degree that a culture has transfer, leader effectiveness, role ambiguity acceptance or the ability to
accustomed to the acceptance of ambi- stress, and performance (Frone, 1990; take or tolerate risk goes beyond the
guity (Hofstede, 2001). Lane & Klenke, 2004; Lysonski & traditional parameters and activities
Ambiguity can be described differ- Andrews, 1990; Nutt, 1993; Powell, of the project itself, also including the
ently according to individual, organiza- Lovallo, & Caringal, 2006; Simonin, tolerance of ambiguity related to
tional, and national levels (Alvesson, 1999; Tegano, 1990; Teoh & Foo, 1997). human resource issues, communica-
2002). It can also be used as a descrip- For example, entrepreneurs in small tion, and other interactional conditions
tor of a project itself, as a project that and medium-sized businesses have that can create ambiguity.
deviates from what is considered to be higher levels of tolerance for ambiguity Moreover, project managers have
normal project scope and definition and are less influenced by role stress in contributed to reducing ambiguity as a
can be considered a project with a high the entrepreneurial role. This, then, project develops. For instance, project
degree of ambiguity (Hllgren & leads to a greater likelihood for better leaders and managers can reduce and
Maaninen-Olsson, 2005). The ambiguity performance outcomes (Teoh & Foo, control ambiguity by evaluating team
that is seen at the project level is espe- 1997). inputs at each project stage, making all
cially apparent during the initial por- In the field of project management, decisions, and integrating information
tions of project deployment, when reducing and managing ambiguity or to achieve the desired outcomes
projects go largely undefined (Brun, uncertainty seems to be used as alter- ( Jaafari, 2001). In addition, project
Saetre, & Gjelsvik, 2009). native expressions for ambiguity leaders recognition and proactive
However, this article focuses on acceptance in terms of planning, coor- management of complexities and
ambiguity acceptance as a feature or dinating, and monitoring projects. For ambiguity is a key success factor for
leadership trait (Alvesson, 2002) at the example, uncertainty is regarded as an successful project management
individual level, as projects can be man- unknown probability of change in proj- ( Jaafari, 2001). Particularly, project
aged within many different and varied ect performance measures (time, bud- managers diverse roles play an impor-
organizational cultures. Conversely, get, scope, and quality), including both tant role in project success in ambigu-
ambiguity can be explored as an indi- positive and negative impact on the ous situations. De Meyer, Loch, and
vidual feature; ambiguity acceptance or project outcomes and objectives Pich (2002) suggested that the project
ambiguity tolerance refers to the ten- (Perminova, Gustafsson, & Wiksrom, manager should be the troubleshooter
dency to perceive ambiguous situations 2008). and expeditor, consolidator of project
as desirable (Budner, 1962, p. 29) and Project team leaders adaptability to achievements, flexible orchestrator,
an individuals willingness to accom- changes in the project plan is one networker, ambassador, entrepreneur,
modate or adapt to encounters with important factor affecting project suc- and knowledge manager according to
ambiguous situations or ideas cess (Chan, Scott, & Chan, 2004). the different types of uncertainty (e.g.,
(Ausburn & Ausburn, 1978, p. 338). Successful project management variation, foreseen uncertainty, unfore-
Ambiguity acceptance is related to an requires appropriate management of seen uncertainty, and chaos).
open attitude toward new ideas, multi- ambiguity about resources, schedule, For project success, ultimately,
ple solutions, and diverse perspectives roles, responsibilities, objectives, prior- ambiguity acceptance emphasizes that
in decision making and collaboration. ities, and relationships among stake- project managers should be empow-
In other words, ambiguity acceptance is holders in project (Ward & Chapman, ered and flexible to successfully work
associated with adaptability and cogni- 2003). Specifically, managing ambiguity through unforeseen circumstances,
tive flexibility (Peterson & Hicks, 1996). (uncertainty) is a critical part for flexi- based on the project owners guidance
Individuals with higher ambiguity ble and rapid decision making when and customers expectations that pre-
acceptance are more likely to take risks, choices are limited in the situation to sent how the owner and customers think
be persistent, and perform well when maximize the outcome of project man- the project should be best achieved
confronted with novel, complex, and agement (Perminova et al., 2008). For (Jugdev & Mller, 2005). This implies
contradictory situations (Jonassen & this research, ambiguity is discussed that customer satisfaction is critical to
Grabowski, 1993). relative to ambiguity acceptance, which the success of a project (Freeman &
Within an organizational context, is the ability to tolerate ambiguity or Beale, 1992; Munns & Bjeirmi, 1996).
research on ambiguity acceptance has uncertainty related to project issues Providing satisfactory benefits to the

April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 55


PAPERS
Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

project owner and satisfying the needs of To test the hypotheses previously used project teams as the core deploy-
owners, users, and stakeholders, the proj- listed, perceptual data for each of the vari- ment tool for improvement projects.
ect team and supporters are continually ables of interestambiguity acceptance, Organizations A, B, C, and D can be
developing their own criteria for judging open communication, customer out- described as follows: (1) Organization A
successful projects (Turner, 1999). comes, and organizational outcomes is a Fortune 500 company with more
Although ambiguity can be were collected from team leaders and than $14 billion in annual sales and
described differently according to indi- team members of Six Sigma project 50,000 employees, and had implement-
vidual, organizational, and national teams. Each project within the data set ed Six Sigma six years prior to research;
levels, this article focuses on ambiguity was completed by applying Six Sigma (2) Organization B is a Fortune 100
acceptance as an individual feature practices employed to help reduce vari- company with $51 billion in sales and
because the positive influence of ambi- ation and waste within an organization. 79,000 employees, and had implement-
guity in organizational culture is still Six Sigma projects are accomplished by ed Six Sigma 12 years prior to research;
debated (Alvesson, 2002), and projects using the prescriptive DMAIC method, (3) Organization C is a Fortune 500
can be implemented in different orga- which is an acronym for the intercon- company with $4 billion in sales and
nizational cultures. nected phases of a process improve- 34,000 employees, and had implement-
ment projectDesign, Measure, ed Six Sigma 10 years prior to research;
Hypotheses Analyze, Improve, and Controlas and (4) Organization D is a Fortune 100
Based on the literature review, the fol- described by Bertels (2003). company with $35 billion in sales and
lowing relationships are suggested Testing of the independent vari- 122,000 employees, and had imple-
among open communication, ambigui- ables, open communication, and ambi- mented Six Sigma eight years prior to
ty acceptance, and project outcomes: guity acceptance through survey research. Although each of the organi-
Hypothesis 1: There will be a curvilin- research has been widely used and his- zations under study had fully instituted
ear relationship between open com- torically accepted (Lovelace, Shapiro, & Six Sigma, one organization had signifi-
munication and customer outcomes. Weingart, 2001; Sarin & McDermott, cant experience in the area, having
Hypothesis 2: There will be a curvilinear 2003; Wageman, 2001) and helps to add deployed the program 12 years earlier,
relationship between open communi- to the body of knowledge in these areas while another had only implemented
cation and organizational outcomes. within the team context. Each team in six years earlier. Each of these organiza-
Hypothesis 3: There will be a positive the sample consisted of one team tions requires team leaders to have four
relationship between ambiguity accept- leader, who managed the work process- weeks of training plus a minimum of
ance and customer outcomes. es within that team, and two or more one successfully completed project to
Hypothesis 4: There will be a positive team members. Team leader respon- be certified as Black Belts and able
relationship between ambiguity accept- dents provided self-report perceptions to lead Six Sigma project teams. All the
ance and organizational outcomes. scoring of their own ability to accept team leaders within the sample held
ambiguity and provide open communi- Black Belt certification, as defined by
Method cation, as well as their perceptions of the organization.
The purpose of this study is to deter- project and customer outcomes, while Emails with survey links were sent
mine whether ambiguity acceptance team members provided perceptual to participants, along with one follow-
and open communication on the part scores of their team leaders ability to up reminder for non-respondents. The
of a project leader impacts the out- accept ambiguity and provide open survey was fully voluntary, and there-
comes of that project. The study is communication, as well as their per- fore response rates were accordingly
based on the known critical success ceptions of project and customer out- low. The response rates at these organi-
factors of project management (Belassi comes. The data was not aggregated. zations are shown in Table 1.
& Tukel, 1996; Hyvari, 2006), as well as The selection of Six Sigma project Of the team leader respondents 123
the theoretical underpinnings of ambi- teams as a source for information provided usable results. One hundred
guity acceptance within broader lead- on the impact of team leader behaviors twenty-five usable responses were col-
ership theory (Ghosh, 1994; Lane & on team outcomes is appropriate as lit- lected from team members. While the
Klenke, 2004). The methods used to erature on the topic establishes Six response rate at Organization C falls
carry out this research are described as Sigma teams as exemplifying a team below the desired boundaries suggest-
follows: (1) population, sample, and environment (Repenning & Sterman, ed by Baruch and Holtom (2008), given
data collection process are reviewed; 2001). the challenge of gaining access to the
(2) instrumentation and scales are Data were collected online from current population and the use of mul-
described; and (3) data analysis is four volunteering organizations, all of tiple survey reminders, we believe it
explained. which had implemented Six Sigma, and is justifiable to use this sample, as it is

56 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


Possible Leader Usable Leader Possible Team Member Usable Team Member
Organization Respondents Respondents Respondents Respondents
A 23 19 66 21
B 89 46 74 16
C 119 33 422 68
D 43 25 103 20
Totals 247 123 685 125
Table 1: Survey response rates.

currently the only research examining content experts. One item from the (2001) as the Project Success Assessment
ambiguity acceptance within this con- original scale was omitted, as it lacked Questionnaire that tests the overall suc-
text and serves as a catalyst for further face validity. cess of a project, measured on a 5-point
examining ambiguity acceptance with- The scale included such statements Likert-type scale. Validity was initially
in the project management context. In as: The team leader stresses risk-taking established using factor analysis and
this research, all teams were working on when helping team members make review by content experts. The organiza-
a project, and leaders were also decisions. The scale, originally devel- tional outcomes scale measured project-
deemed to be project managers, as oped using a 7-point Likert-type scale, related organizational outcomes that
defined by Globerson (2002). was revised for this research and tested resulted from the successful completion
The survey was conducted in online using the following 6-point Likert-type of a project, and measured such areas as
format and measured the extent to scale: strongly disagree 1, disagree the projects contribution to organiza-
which respondents agreed or disagreed 2, slightly disagree 3, slightly tion performance, the projects strategic
with the statements provided, on a 6- agree 4, agree 5, strongly agree impact, and the projects monetary sav-
point Likert-type scale. A 6-point scale 6, and not applicable; and yielded a ings. The customer outcomes scale, how-
was employed based on the arguments Cronbachs alpha score of 0.805. ever, measured the level of satisfaction of
of Cummins and Gullone (2000) who the projects internal and/or external
Open Communication
performed a review of research litera- customers, and included information on
The dimension open communication
ture indicating that expanding the whether the project met customer
was developed by Park and her colleagues
number of choice-points beyond 5- or expectations and resulted in positive
(2008) within the Coaching Skills
7-points does not systematically dam- feedback.
Instrument as a 4-item scale that meas-
age scale reliability, yet does increase The scale included such statements
ures a leaders ability to build partnerships
scale sensitivity. Since the questions in as: (1) The project contributed posi-
within a team. Validity was both originally
this research are inherently value- tively to the overall organizational per-
established and further confirmed in this
laden, the use of a neutral choice was formance, and (2) The project was
research through factor analysis, field test-
unnecessary and would have provided completed within budget. Each of
ing, and review by content experts.
little additional information. these scales was also collected on the
The scale included such statements
6-point Likert-type scale previously
Scales as: The team leader was willing to dis-
described. The organizational out-
cuss team experiences when the situa-
Ambiguity Acceptance comes scale yielded a Cronbachs alpha
tion warranted it. The scale, originally
The scale used to measure ambiguity score of 0.906, while the customer out-
developed using a 7-point Likert-type
acceptance was originally developed as comes scale yielded a Cronbachs alpha
scale, was revised for this research and
a portion of the Coaching Skills score of 0.947.
tested using the 6-point Likert-type
Instrument (Park et al., 2008) as a
scale previously described. It yielded a
4-item instrument that measures Statistical Analysis
Cronbachs alpha score of 0.789.
leader tolerance of ambiguity on a Regression analysis was used to test the
7-point Likert-type scale. Validity was Outcomes independent variable ambiguity
both originally established and further The project outcomes and customer out- acceptance and its two corresponding
confirmed in this research through fac- comes scales were originally developed hypotheses, while the independent
tor analysis, field testing, and review by and validated by Shenhar and colleagues variable open communication, and its

April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 57


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Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

two corresponding hypotheses, were worthy of note that scales were used as acceptance and open communication,
tested by viewing the curve fit for each originally developed, except one item which yielded a correlation of 0.763.
of the hypotheses. Composite scores within the customer outcomes scale, Importantly, the variance inflation fac-
were calculated for each of the scales which was removed from analysis due tor yielded from each variable is rela-
used for the dimensions ambiguity to issues of multicollinearity, as sug- tively low, with none exceeding 2.915,
acceptance, open communication, cus- gested by Podsakoff and Organ (1986). which is far lower than the cutoff of 10
tomer outcomes, and organizational The results of the factor analysis dictate suggested by Kutner, Nachtsheim, and
outcomes. Each of the variables was that the research be analyzed using four Neter (2004). This result, together with
tested using the mean scores of each dimensions: ambiguity acceptance, the results of the factor analysis, sug-
item in the scale for each individual open communication, project out- gests construct validity among the vari-
participant. The reliability of each of comes, and customer outcomes. ables used in the research and helps
the scales was tested using Cronbachs Results can be found in Table 2. establish that the variables being tested
alpha and indicated appropriate alpha Following the results of the factor are not subject to collinearity.
coefficients ranging from 0.789 to 0.947 analysis, four research dimensions Data were gathered from two
as defined by Malhotra (1998). (ambiguity acceptance, open commu- groups: project team leaders and
Importantly, factor analysis was used to nication, customer outcomes, and project team members. Multivariate
test, and supported, the a priori model organizational outcomes) were tested analysis of variance (MANOVA) was
suggested by the previously developed for collinearity among the variables performed in order to determine
scales as has been suggested by Suhr using a correlation matrix. The results whether significant differences existed
(2006). can be found in Table 3. between team leaders and team mem-
A principle components factor Correlation coefficients results bers. Results indicated that significant
analysis was performed with varimax showed several significant, but low to differences existed between groups for
rotation, which showed the presence of moderate, correlations of between the following variables: ambiguity
four distinct factors with factor load- 0.339 and 0.457 for the variables, except acceptance, open communication, cus-
ings in line with original scales. It is for the correlation between ambiguity tomer outcomes, and organizational

Scale Item AA OC CO OO Communality


Ambiguity Acceptance 1 0.659 0.444 0.146 0.021 0.654
Ambiguity Acceptance 2 0.779 0.270 0.118 0.254 0.759
Ambiguity Acceptance 3 0.926 0.179 0.142 0.211 0.779
Open Communication 1 0.148 0.878 0.169 0.053 0.823
Open Communication 2 0.390 0.741 0.027 0.149 0.724
Open Communication 3 0.440 0.604 0.065 0.243 0.622
Customer Outcomes 1 0.178 0.107 0.854 0.403 0.935
Customer Outcomes 2 0.166 0.157 0.873 0.359 0.944
Organizational Outcomes 1 0.127 0.173 0.295 0.822 0.809
Organizational Outcomes 2 0.106 0.159 0.195 0.831 0.766
Organizational Outcomes 3 0.122 0.136 0.126 0.788 0.670
Organizational Outcomes 4 0.146 0.051 0.176 0.796 0.689
Organizational Outcomes 5 0.200 0.005 0.197 0.825 0.759
Variance 2.2365 2.1129 1.7946 3.7955
Cronbachs alpha 0.8051 0.7894 0.9407 0.9069
Note: Numbers in boldface type indicate items that represent factors.

Table 2: Factor analysis.

58 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


Factor Ambiguity Acceptance Open Communication Customer Outcomes Project Outcomes
Ambiguity Acceptance 1.0
Open Communication 0.763* 1.0
Customer Outcomes 0.457* 0.359* 1.0
Organizational Outcomes 0.427* 0.339* 0.564* 1.0
*Denotes significant correlations where (p 0.05).
Table 3: Correlation matrix of variables.

SE p-value t df Mean Difference


Ambiguity Acceptance 3.504*** 0.978 0.000 0.193 246 0.4750
Open Communication 32.061*** 0.669 0.000 2.827 246 0.2954
Customer Outcomes 28.513*** 0.920 0.000 5.238 246 0.2754
Organizational Outcomes 0.193*** 1.102 0.000 0.895 246 0.5380
***p 0.01.
Table 4: Between group comparison.

outcome, as indicated in Table 4. The member group and for open communi- was not confirmed in the team member
results of the MANOVA suggest signifi- cationorganizational outcomes for both group, as the relationship between
cant differences between groups on the team leader and team member open communication and customer
multiple variables; therefore regres- groups for this data set were not indicat- outcomes was not curvilinear, as
sions were run with data split between ed; a linear relationship existed for each suggested within the literature (Lin,
the two groups (team leaders and team of these variable combinations. Figure 1 Chai, Brombacher, & Wong, 2009;
members). Importantly, for both shows the curvilinear relationship pres- Patrashkova-Volzdoska et al., 2003).
groups, team leaders were included ent for team leaders in the relationship Prior research indicated that a curvilin-
only in the team leader group and were between open communication and cus- ear relationship may exist for both
not counted as both a member and tomer outcomes. groups; however, it existed only for
leader. Likewise, care was taken to be Thus, hypothesis 1 was confirmed team leaders in this study. This result
certain that any participant (team for the team leader group, while indicates that while there may be a tip-
leader or team member) could not be hypothesis 2 was not accepted for ping point, in terms of level of commu-
counted on two different teams simul- either the team leader or team member nication that can exist between team
taneously. groups. For those groups in which a and leader and the reduction of cus-
curvilinear relationship was not pres- tomer outcomes from the perspective
Results ent, regression analysis was performed; of team leaders, team members, in gen-
Hypothesis 1 and 2 the relationship between open commu- eral, do not necessarily have that same
Analysis of the variable open communi- nication and dependent variables cus- perspective. Also, this finding may
cation resulted in curve estimates that tomer outcomes and organizational imply that the relationship between
showed a curvilinear relationship for outcomes was tested for all groups in open communication and customer
open communicationcustomer out- which a curvilinear relationship was outcomes for team members would be
comes for the team leader group, as indi- not apparent. influenced by team leaders. Team lead-
cated when both regression models and Hypothesis 1 suggested that there is ers have played a significant role in the
squared terms are significant (Hatcher & a curvilinear relationship between internal dynamics and outcomes of
Stepanski, 1994; Patrashkova-Volzdoska open communication and customer the team (Sarin & McDermott, 2003).
et al., 2003). However, curvilinear rela- outcomes of a Six Sigma project. This When team leaders can make the com-
tionships between open communica- hypothesis was confirmed in the team munication among team members
tioncustomer outcomes for the team leader groups. However, the hypothesis more effective, the relationship between

April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 59


PAPERS
Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

Hypothesis 4 proposed that there is


a relationship between ambiguity
6 acceptance and organizational out-
S 0.743077
R-Sq 17.3% comes. This hypothesis was confirmed
R-Sq(adj) 15.9% in both the team leader and team mem-
5 ber groups. Ambiguity acceptance
accounted for 2.9% of the variance for
organizational outcomes for the team
leader group and accounted for 15.2%
CO

4
of the variance in the team member
group. Table 5 summarizes the results
of multiple regression analysis for the
3 four proposed relationships and pres-
ents that multicollinearity did not
occur.
2 Discussion
The implementation of performance
1 2 3 4 5 6
improvement teams within the Six
OC
Sigma context is the result of attempts
to improve profitability and competi-
Figure 1: Fitted plot line for curvilinear relationship between open communication and customer
outcomes for team leader group. tive advantage in an age of increasing
competition and globalization, with the
aim of achieving strategic objectives for
the organization (Schroeder et al.,
open communication and customer 2.9% of the variance in project out-
2007). The deployment and implemen-
outcomes for team members would be comes, while open communication
tation of a Six Sigma program is often
more positive. accounted for 14.2% of the variance.
costly. According to Dusharme (2004),
Hypothesis 2 proposed that there is Results for team members showed
while the cost of Six Sigma deployment
a curvilinear relationship between a significantly positive relationship
for very small companies can be less
open communication and project out- between ambiguity acceptance and
than $10,000 per year, many large com-
comes. This hypothesis was not con- customer outcomes, with 17.2% of the
panies have invested more than $10
firmed in either the team leader or variance accounted for, while there was
million. The cost of deployment is just
team member groups. However, the lin- also a significantly positive relation-
one of several reasons why it is impor-
ear relationship that exists among the ship between organizational outcomes
tant that we gain an understanding of
independent variable open communi- and ambiguity acceptance, which
those things that help or hinder Six
cation and dependent variable organi- accounted for 15.2% of the variance.
Sigma project success and ultimately
zational outcomes did exist within the For the team member group, there was
project management in general. This
team leader group. Open communica- no significant relationship between
research is significant in that it helps to
tion accounted for 14.2% of the vari- independent variable open communi-
establish the importance of ambiguity
ance of project outcomes. cation and dependent variables cus-
acceptance within the project manage-
tomer outcomes or organizational
ment literature, further defining its
Hypothesis 3 and 4 outcomes.
importance beyond the area of general
A significant positive relationship exists Hypothesis 3 proposed that there is a
management and into project manage-
between ambiguity acceptance and positive relationship between ambiguity
ment in particular.
customer outcomes. Ambiguity accept- acceptance and customer outcomes of a
ance accounted for 6.4% of the variance Six Sigma project. This hypothesis was Practical and Theoretical
within the team leader group. A similar confirmed in both the team leader and Implications
significant positive relationship existed team member groups. Ambiguity There have been several pieces of
between ambiguity acceptance and acceptance accounted for 6.4% of the research that have identified open
open communication for project out- variance for team leaders and 17.2% of communication as critical to the suc-
comes for team leaders. In this case, the variance for team members for cess of a project (Belassi & Tukel, 1996;
ambiguity acceptance accounted for dependent variable customer outcomes. Hyvari, 2006; Zimmerer & Yasin, 1998).

60 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


By Dependent Variable B SE R2 (adj.) p-value VIF
Team Leaders
Customer Outcomes:
Constant 3.980 0.396
Ambiguity Acceptance 0.268** 0.089 6.4% 0.003 1.00
Organizational Outcomes: 1.820 0.627
Ambiguity Acceptance 0.207** 0.101 2.9% 0.025
Open Communication 0.298*** 0.124 14.2% 0.001 1.221
Team Members
Customer Outcomes:
Constant 3.144 0.457
Ambiguity Acceptance 0.474*** 0.132 17.2% 0.001
Open Communication 0.055 0.159 0.0% 0.693 2.915
Organizational Outcomes: 3.056 0.473
Ambiguity Acceptance 0.486*** 0.137 15.2% 0.001
Open Communication 0.104 0.164 0.6% 0.464 2.915
**p 0.05. ***p 0.01.

Table 5: Multiple regression analysis.

This research helps to solidify open While the variances explained how and why some projects fail while
communication between the team between ambiguity acceptance and others thrive.
leader and team members as highly customer and organizational outcomes It is important to acknowledge the
important to both customer (internal within the team member group are impact that individual projects have on
and external) perceptions of results and large (17.2% and 15.2%, respectively), overall quality initiatives when the
project results that are related to orga- the team leader groups explained vari- results of this research are placed within
nizational performance, such as project ances are smaller (6.4% and 2.9%). the quality improvement framework. If
impact organizational strategy and Considering the differences between Juran (1989) is correct in his assessment
project cost savings. Tolerance for the two groups and their perceptions of that quality improvement must take
ambiguity, or ambiguity acceptance, is what may impact the results of a proj- place on a project-by-project basis and
an important piece in leadership litera- ect, it is apparent that team members in no other way, then, in order for quali-
ture and has been used as an effective perceive outcomes to be more strongly ty improvement to take place, individual
way to predict effective and ineffective tied with project outcomes than do projects must be successfully completed;
leaders (Ghosh, 1994; Lane & Klenke, team leaders. This result could be related without the successful completion of
2004), but has had little testing within to several factors including differences individual projects, no quality improve-
the area of project management and in the overall perception of leaders and ment program is sustainable. The results
project leadership. Again, this research leadership styles within the project of this research indicate that the greater
helps to establish the relationship context, among other possible explana- the ambiguity acceptance and willing-
between a team leaders ambiguity tions. Causes notwithstanding, given ness for open communication that a
acceptance and the outcomes of a the sheer volume of possible and prob- team leader possesses, the greater likeli-
projectboth customer outcomes able contextual elements related to hood that the project he or she leads will
and project-related organizational out- project outcomes, even small variances have positive results in terms of cus-
comes. explained help us to better understand tomer and organizational outcomes.

April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj 61


PAPERS
Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

A great deal of literature has team processes, thereby encouraging be included in critical success factor
attempted to define success in terms creativity and innovation within the proj- research. With areas such as ambiguity
of project management, and success ect environment (Kirton, 1981; Tegano, and ambiguity acceptance as rich
within the project management context 1990). The selection of appropriate Six sources of information on teams, team
is seen as a multifaceted and complex Sigma candidates is critical to the suc- leadership, and team dynamics, it is
issue that is difficult to measure cess of a project (Zimmerer & Yasin, also suggested that research using qual-
(Besner & Hobbs, 2006; Dvir et al., 1998; 1998). Given this result, one may suggest itative and/or interpretive methodolo-
Fortune & White, 2006). This research that team leaders be assessed for his or gies be considered. Research such as this
helps to establish the importance of her tolerance for ambiguity as well as may help to expand the knowledge in
leadership on perceived outcomes his or her propensity for open commu- these areas and help us understand the
from the perspective of both project nication, either before or during the Six impact of ambiguity, communication,
customers and the larger organizational Sigma training process. This assess- and general leadership more deeply.
contexts. And this, in turn, provides an ment can help to choose acceptable While the concept of ambiguity
organization with the fuel needed to candidates, as well as guide the devel- acceptance has been largely ignored
gain further traction for its Six Sigma opment of training for potential Six within the project management critical
program. Sigma candidates. success factor research, this may be the
This research also helps to clarify result of some difficultly developing a
the importance of training in areas Implications for Future Research standardized set of identifiable, behav-
beyond the traditional statistical The way a team is managed has much ioral or psychological traits in terms of a
methodologies that are often the core impact on the outcomes of that project. construct (Furnham, 1994; Furnham &
of Six Sigma preparation. A review of Importantly, this research helps to con- Ribchester, 1995). Given this, practi-
communication and communication firm the importance of open communi- tioners may have a difficult time identi-
skills may help to develop those project cation and ambiguity acceptance as fying this trait, among the many others,
leader skills. In order for performance important traits for project leaders to when asked to list and describe success
improvement to take place within a possess. However, although many factors on a broad scale. While this
project team, it is essential for team scholars agree that open communica- research shows the correlation between
leaders to communicate with team tion is an important piece of project project leaders ambiguity acceptance
members on a wide range of topics, management; little mention is given to and project outcomes, the develop-
including project goals, project scope the impact of ambiguity acceptance. In ment of a list or observable behaviors
and project design, and project infra- fact, a thorough review of the writing on or attitudes within the project manage-
structure (Cooke-Davies, 2002; Dvir, critical success factors within the proj- ment literature may help both scholars
Raz, & Shenhar, 2003; Hyvari, 2006); ect management literature reviews and practitioners to more fully identify,
these communications skills can be reveals no mention of ambiguity and thus understand, how this trait
learned within Six Sigma training and acceptance as critical to project success impacts project outcomes. This research
transferred to team leadership behav- (Belassi & Tukel, 1996; Cooke-Davies, has explored ambiguity acceptance
iors (Graham, Wedman, & Garvin- 2002; Dvir et al., 2003; Fortune & White, within the Six Sigma context, but look-
Kester, 1994). This strategy helps to aid 2006; Hyvari, 2006; Pinto & Slevin, 1987; ing at it in other project management
in the development of a stronger learn- White & Fortune, 2002). Given that contexts and in multiple settings and
ing environment within the project much of the critical success factor situations would help to further clarify
team, as described by Ellinger, Ellinger, & research is based on survey research of its impact on project management
Keller (2003), ultimately leading to bet- team leaders and team members who processes and results.
ter performing teams. are asked to either rate or rank a preset
A team leaders tolerance for ambi- list of possible success factors, or list Limitations
guity also improves the outcomes of a Six the factors without a predetermined This research has several limitations to
Sigma project. There has been little list, the way this research is conducted its generalizability, and research results
prior research to test the impact of lead- should be examined. For ambiguity must be applied carefully, as the context
ers ambiguity acceptance on project acceptance, it may be difficult for indi- in which the research was conducted
outcomesespecially those outcomes viduals to identify this characteristic delimits its reach. First, while some
that involve customer and strategic con- within other individuals, as suggested important and theoretically substanti-
texts. The current findings help to further by Zaccaro (2007). ated variables, such as ambiguity
establish how ambiguity acceptance can Thus, we suggest that going for- acceptance and open communication
positively impact team outcomes by ward, ambiguity acceptance, along with were incorporated into the research,
allowing for a level of flexibility within an explanation of the concept, should the research was not inclusive of all

62 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


possible variables that can have an Ausburn, L. J., & Ausburn, F. B. (1978). Chan, A. P. C., Scott, D., & Chan, A. P. L.
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PAPERS
Ambiguity Acceptance as a Function of Project Management

learning, knowledge application, and and creativity. Psychological Reports, White, D., & Fortune, J. (2002). Current
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Marcia Hagen is an assistant professor of man-
Shenhar, A. J., Dvir, D., Levy, O., & acteristics of technical project leader-
agement at Metropolitan State University in
Maltz, A. C. (2001). Project success: A ship. Leadership and Organizational
Minneapolis, MN. She received her PhD in
multidimensional strategic concept. Development Journal, 20(5), 253261.
human resource development from the
Long Range Planning, 34(6), 699725. Toney, F., & Power, R. (1997). Best prac- University of Minnesota. Her research interests
Simonin, B. L. (1999). Transfer of mar- tices of project management groups in include quality management, performance
keting know-how in international strate- large organizations. Upper Darby, PA: improvement, project management, and Six
gic alliances: An empirical investigation Project Management Institute. Sigma. She welcomes your feedback and can be
of the role and antecedents of knowl- reached at marcia.hagen@metrostate.edu.
Turner, J. R. (1999). The handbook of
edge ambiguity. Journal of International
project-based management: Improving
Business Studies, 30(3), 463490.
the processes for achieving strategic
Suhr, D. (2006, March). Exploratory or objectives. London, England: Sunyoung Park is an instructional designer at
confirmatory factor analysis? Paper McGraw-Hill. the Kelley School of Business and was a post-
presented at the 2006 SAS Global doctoral fellow/visiting scholar in the
Forum, San Francisco, CA. Wageman, R. (2001). How leaders foster
Department of Instructional Systems
Swenson, J. (1999). Communication. self-managing team effectiveness:
Technology at Indiana University. Her research
In D. G. Langdon, K. S. Whiteside, & Design choices versus hand-on coach-
interests are organizational culture, workplace
M. M. McKenna (Eds.), Intervention ing. Organization Science, 12(5), 559577.
learning, leadership, knowledge sharing, per-
resource guide: 50 performance Ward, S., & Chapman, C. (2003). formance improvement, and instructional
improvement tools (pp. 9197). San Transforming project risk management technology. She received a PhD in human
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. into project uncertainty management. resource development from the University
Tegano, D. W. (1990). Relationship of International Journal of Project of Minnesota. She can be reached at suny-
tolerance for ambiguity and playfulness Management, 21(1), 97105. park@gmail.com.

66 April 2013 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj


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