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Improving information system projects through the power of sense-making

Doctor Vivek Sharma

Digital DBA n°4, 2020-2024

Business Science Institute



Information system projects are crucial yet challenging to manage. Their dynamic nature and the involvement of various stakeholders make them complex. This research explores the idea of ‘sense-making’ in these projects, and how it can enhance their outcomes. By using sense-making frameworks, we can better understand how stakeholders perceive and make decisions, offering valuable insights to improve the delivery of information system projects.

Research impact(s)

Information system projects are key to achieving organisational success in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. However, their success hinges on a variety of factors, with the social context playing a significant role. When making decisions that affect an organisation’s information systems, it is crucial to consider not only the technical aspects, but also the wider implications. The social context in which an information system project operates can shape its outcomes. Factors such as organisational culture, stakeholder engagement, and employee buy-in can greatly impact the success of the project. This study sheds light on the importance of ‘sense-making’ in information system projects and highlights the critical role of different actors in shaping the decision-making processes and outcomes of the project.

The study emphasises the need for organisations to understand their specific information system environment and develop customised practices to address their unique challenges. Training programmes for decision-makers, ongoing information system governance, and establishing business forums for technology discussions are recommended to enhance project success.

Furthermore, the study suggests implementing ‘sense-making’ strategies to create a cultural shift that encourages a shared understanding of business justifications, ensuring that projects contribute to overall organisational success. Collaboration between project managers and sponsors is crucial in defining monitoring and control processes to align project objectives with stakeholder ‘sense-making’.

By integrating information intelligence capabilities to assess project situations and identify necessary actions, organisations can align stakeholder and team member ‘sense-making’ with project objectives. This approach improves decision-making effectiveness, refocuses project management efforts on delivering business outcomes, and ensures project scopes align with evolving needs of the organisation.

Research foundations

Over the past twenty years, ‘sense-making’ research has delved deeply into understanding how individuals interpret and attach meaning to organisational phenomena. This extensive body of literature has explored a range of social and cognitive aspects of the ‘sense-making’ process, especially within the context of organisations and information technology (Mesgari & Okoli, 2019).

‘Sense-making’ in the context of information systems refers to the process where individuals and teams extract, interpret, and organise information to make sense of their environment and make decisions. This is particularly important in information system projects, which often involve complex and fragmented information, multiple stakeholders, and conflicting perspectives.

Weick’s (1995) seven properties of ‘sense-making’ provide a framework for understanding how individuals gather information from their surroundings and use cognitive processes to form an understanding that goes beyond mere facts. These properties include (1) the involvement of the identity of the ‘sense-maker’, (2) continuous retrospective construction (‘post-action’), (3) the enactment of the environment by the individual, (4) the social or organisational context (real or internalised), (5) the extraction of cues from the context to enable the linking of ideas to broader networks of meaning, (6) the attribution of meaning from a continuum of simultaneously shaping and reacting to the environments, (7) plausibility (non-exhaustive and not necessarily exact) and  the sometimes embellished use of language (Weick, 1995).Weick's approach provides a valuable framework for understanding the complex dynamics and interactions of information systems projects.

Research Methodology

This research employed a holistic multi-case study approach, focusing on information system projects. Interviews were conducted with stakeholders from three different information system projects to gain insights into their experiences and perceptions.  The case studies were built using project documentation and narratives from stakeholders, creating a clear and coherent storyline. Weick’s (1995) ‘sense-making’ framework was used to pattern-code the data.  To further analyse the narratives and understand the cognitive processes and decision-making factors of the stakeholders, ‘sense-making’-related constructs (Maitlis & Christianson, 2014) and Power in Sense-making Processes (Schildt et al., 2020) were used.

Further reading and viewing

§  Mesgari, M. and Okoli, C. (2019). Critical review of organisation-technology sense-making: towards technology materiality, discovery, and action, European Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 205-232,

§  Maitlis, S.,& Christianson, M. (2014). Sense-making in organisations: taking stock and moving forward, The Academy of Management Annals, Vol. 8 No. 1,

§  Schildt, H., Mantere, S., & Cornelissen, J. (2020). Power in Sense-making Processes. Organisation Studies41(2), 241-265.

§  Weick, K. E. (1995). Sense-making in organisations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Keywords: Weick’s Sense-Making Framework, Information System Project Management, Information System Effectiveness (ISE), Power in Sense-Making.



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