A memetic paradigm of project management (Whitty, 2005)

Memetic approach to project management

Whitty, Stephen Jonathan: A memetic paradigm of project management; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 23 (2005), No. 8, pp. 575-583.

I am quite fascinated by Richard Dawkin’s ideas and among them the Meme (cultural analogy to Darwin’s genes) is quite an old and a bit controversial one. When I studied Knowledge Management at university a meme was an abstract unit of information which we tried to store meaningfully in some über-cool XML data bases and after a while we might have been able to even find it again, then we retrieved it, and gave it to someone knowledge-worker to think about and to put it in use thus creating knowledge. According to Memetics this process is equivalent to sex in the animal kingdom.

Whitty reflects on project management as a memeplex. He illustrates what that means for  project management in 6 areas (1) project management, (2) bodies of knowledge, (3) project managers/teams, (4) the profession, (5) knowledge creation, and (6) project organisation. In a memetic sense project management is absolutely self-serving and evolves for its own good without serving a higher purpose.
Secondly the project management meme (aka PMBOK) evolves to increase the maximum number of projects and is not a conscious expert design, thus it favours fuzzy definitions and positivist ideas over hard, falsifiable facts.
Thirdly project managers are just a meme created by memes of project management [sounds esoteric but holds some truth, it’s a little like Russell’s chicken] and not some consciously crafted tactics to implement a strategy.
Fourthly the profession of project management is not consciously constructed and skilfully designed but evolved mainly to spread project management memes.
Fifthly knowledge is not created by a social systems (think academia and practitioners) but knowledge processes = memes construct social systems which in turn spread new project management memes.
Lastly project organisations are not human constructs but creations to replicate behaviours of project management memes. [I wrote earlier about Structuration and that according to to this theory: „Repetitions of acts of individual agents reproduce the structure“ – I guess it is time for Occam’s razor.]

Whitty concludes with two recommendations for research practice (1) benchmark ideas and develop best practices, thus spreading project management memes more quickly, and (2) unify the bodies of knowledge letting only the fittest memes survive.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.