Managing for knowledge creation in exploratory projects

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


During the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of research focusing on the management of exploratory projects in project management research. A characteristic of exploratory projects is that their goals are only broadly, if at all, defined at the beginning. This starting point is contrary to the traditional approach in project management in which a goal and plan for reaching the goal is clearly defined at the outset. Prior research has identified management principles and different strategies for handling exploratory projects, however, research on project managers' approaches and the challenges that they encounter in this context is still limited. Furthermore, the experiences of team members working on exploratory projects that require adopting an iterative (i.e. looping back in the process) development approach, in which developing knowledge through experimentation is a central activity, have also been hardly explored. With the overall objective of improving the understanding of the management of exploratory projects, this dissertation addresses the following research questions: 1) How do project managers approach exploratory projects and what types of challenges do they encounter? 2) How should experimentation be supported by the project manager in exploratory projects? The current dissertation is a compilation of five individual articles, each providing a complementary perspective on the two broader research questions. A qualitative research approach utilizing case study and action research approaches is adopted. The empirical data that appears in this dissertation was collected through semi-structured interviews and video recordings. In total, 81 interviews were conducted with project managers and practitioners novice to exploratory projects and experimentation, and 7.5 hours of video data was gathered on experimentation efforts. A critical realist perspective to the phenomenon was adopted by following an abductive process of data analysis. Through the longitudinal approach, the findings of the current dissertation provide new information about the dynamic nature of managing exploratory projects. Furthermore, by adopting a micro-level perspective in investigating how novice practitioners of the approach undertake experimentation, the findings of the current research offer valuable new insights into the management of experimentation, a key characteristic of exploratory projects. Finally, the findings suggest the central importance of process know-how in exploratory projects. The role of the project manager moves from managing the efficient execution of the project toward facilitating the iterative development process by ensuring that the project team does not converge (i.e. narrow the problem space by choosing the solution to develop further) too early and is able to extract learning from the experiments.
Translated title of the contributionTiedon luomisen johtaminen ekploratiivisissa projekteissa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Artto, Karlos, Supervising Professor
  • Aaltonen, Kirsi, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8637-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8638-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • exploratory project
  • project manager
  • experimentation
  • design thinking


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