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Preparing project managers for the human aspects of project work: fostering sensemaking abilities

Bronte van der Hoorn (Management and Enterprise, University of Southern Queensland, Springfield, Australia)
Catherine P. Killen (Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 3 May 2021

Issue publication date: 9 August 2021




To prepare project managers for the human aspects of project work using a new classroom-based approach to foster abilities in collective sensemaking.


The authors developed an approach for fostering collective sensemaking abilities through three class sessions inspired by Merrill's First Principles of Instruction. The authors implemented the sessions in two cohorts of students, with a total of 57 participants, and evaluated its impact through a series of surveys.


Findings demonstrated how each component of the educational approach contributed to an increase in students' sensemaking understanding and ability. Through explanation, demonstration and application components, students reported increasing levels of confidence in their ability to facilitate collective sensemaking in practice.

Research limitations/implications

The authors’ findings are based on a sample of 57 students in one university setting. Further studies are required to evaluate the educational approach; such studies could use larger numbers of students or other education settings. Triangulating students' reported understanding and abilities would increase confidence in the effectiveness of this approach.

Practical implications

By explaining the authors’ approach to sensemaking education and providing initial evidence of its success, they provide educators with an example of how to foster collective sensemaking through classroom-based project management education. The approach has potential for teaching other interpersonal skills.


This research provides a novel classroom-based approach to foster sensemaking awareness and skills, and for dispersing contemporary project management thinking and tools to practitioners.



van der Hoorn, B. and Killen, C.P. (2021), "Preparing project managers for the human aspects of project work: fostering sensemaking abilities", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 14 No. 6, pp. 1314-1334.



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