Building theories of project management: past research, questions for the future (Söderlund, 2004)

Theories of Project Managment

Söderlund, Jonas: Building theories of project management – past research, questions for the future; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 22 (2004), No. 3, pp. 183-191.

Söderlund reviews the ideas around building a theory of project management. He identifies the roots of project management research in the scheduling technique school of Gannt, CPM, and PERT. He argues that these are basically applications of engineering science and optimization theory. Furthermore he identifies two different philosophies right from the beginning. The first one is Gaddis with the notion of a project as an organizational unit devoted to attain a single goal. The second philosophy is Miles et al. who see a project as an organisational form.

Subsequently he identifies three streams of theory building. (1) Universal theory building which focuses on the temporariness of the project as an organisational form and action researc. (2) Normative (Positivist) tradition which is concerned to generate best practices and generic factors of project success, which results in a multitude of textbooks, check lists, and literature on how to optimize the project’s processes. (3) Contingency theory approaches which value the context of projects. These efforts lead to studies into categories of projects and industry specifics of project management.

Söderlund concludes with a set of questions for future research

  • Why do projects exist?
  • Why do they differ?
  • How do project organisations behave?
  • What is the function of the value-add of a project unit?
  • What defines success?

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