A variety of organic models for systems development have been recommended for more than three decades. These models rest on the assumption that the uncertainty is high and additional team capabilities have to be developed during the project life-cycle. In contrast to the single-pass and document-driven waterfall model, organic models impose less rigid structure on the process, and they are geared toward exploration. We know little, however, about how uncertainties are managed over the life-cycle of organic systems development projects.

In response to this challenge, we adapt task uncertainty theory to conduct a qualitative study of management practices in a project based on two-phase funding, staged delivery, and a combination of prototyping and specifications. We provide detailed narratives of how uncertainties emerged, interacted, and were addressed in the project. The subsequent analyses suggest that the adopted organic model facilitated management of uncertainty, but it also introduced surprising and demanding management challenges that were not accounted for in the model.

The study adds to our understanding of management practices in organic systems development. It shows how combinations of offensive and defensive responses can help managers address the uncertainties they face. In addition, managers are advised to differentiate between developing know-what and know-how capabilities and to dynamically adapt their uncertainty response mode to fit a project’s evolving context.