Archive for the ‘Context’ Category

Integrating the change program with the parent organization (Lehtonen & Martinsuo, 2009)

Dienstag, April 28th, 2009


Lehtonen, Päivi; Martinsuo, Miia: Integrating the change program with the parent organization; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 27 (2009), No. 2, pp. 154-165.


Lehtonen & Martinsuo analyse the boundary spanning activities of change programmes.  They find five different types of organisational integration – internal integration 1a) in the programme, 1b) in the organisation; external integration 2a) in the organisation, 2b) in the programme, and 3) between programme and parent organisation.

Furthermore they identify mechanisms of integration on these various levels.  These mechanisms are

  Mechanism of integration
Structure & Control Steering groups, responsibility of line managers
Goal & content link Programme is part of larger strategic change initiative
People links Cross-functional core team, part-time team members who stay in local departments
Scheduling & Planning links Planning, project management, budgeting, reporting
Isolation Abandon standard corporate steering group, split between HQ and branch roll-out


Among most common are four types of boundary spanning activities – (1) Information Scout, (2) Ambassador, (3) Boundary Shaping, and (4) Isolation.  Firstly, information scouting is done via workshops, interviews, questionnaire, data requests &c.  Secondly, the project ambassador presents the programme in internal forums, focuses on quick wins and show cases them, publishes about the project in HR magazines &c.  Thirdly, the boundary shaping is done by negotiations of scope and resources, and by defining responsibilities.  Fourthly, isolation typically takes place through withholding information, establishing a separate work/team/programme culture, planning inside; basically by gate keeping and blocking.   

The resource allocation syndrome (Engwall & Jerbant, 2003)

Mittwoch, April 22nd, 2009


Engwall, Mats; Jerbant, Anna: The resource allocation syndrome – the prime challenge of multi-project management?; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 21 (2003), No. 6, pp. 403-409.

Engwall & Jerbant analyse the nature of organisations, whose operations are mostly carried out as simultaneous or successive projects. By studying a couple of qualitative cases the authors try to answer why the resource allocation syndrome is the number one issue for multi-project management and which underlying mechanisms are behind this phenomenon.

The resource allocation syndrome is at the heart of operational problems in multi-project management, it’s called syndrome because multi-project management is mainly obsessed with front-end allocation of resources.  This shows in the main characteristics: projects have interdependencies and typically lack resources; management is concerned with priority setting and resources re-allocation; competition arises between the projects; management focuses on short term problem solving.

The root causes for these syndromes can be found on both the demand and the supply side.  On the demand side the two root causes identified are the effect of failing projects on the schedule, the authors observed that project delay causes after-the-fact prioritisation and thus makes management re-active and rather unhelpful; and secondly over commitment cripples the multi-project-management.

On the supply side the problems are caused by management accounting systems, in this case the inability to properly record all resources and projects; and effect of opportunistic management behaviour, especially grabbing and booking good people before they are needed just to have them on the project.

Learning and acting in project situations through a meta-method (MAP) a case study: Contextual and situational approach for project management governance in management education (Bredillet, 2008)

Dienstag, Oktober 28th, 2008


Bredillet, Christophe N.: Learning and acting in project situations through a meta-method (MAP) a case study – Contextual and situational approach for project management governance in management education; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 3, pp. 238-250.

[This is a relatively complex post that follows – the article goes into epistemology quite deep (What is knowledge? How do we acquire it?) without much explanation given by the author. I tried to put together some explanatory background to make the rationale for the article more accessible. If you are just interested in the curriculum Bredillet proposes for learning project management on the job, skip these parts and jump right to the end of the post.]

In this article Bredillet outlines his meta-method used to teach project management. This method’s goal is to provide a framework in terms of processes and structure for learning in situ, namely on projects, programmes and alike. Bredillet argues that this method is best in accounting for complex, uncertain and ambiguous environments.

[Skip this part if you’re only interested in the actual application of the method.]

The authors starts with reviewing the three dominant project perspectives. a) Instrumental Perspective, which defines a project as a temporary endeavour to create something. b) Cognitive Perspective, which defines projects as exploitation of constraints and human/monetary capital in order to achieve an outcome. c) Political Perspective, which define projects as spatial actions which are temporarily limited, thus interacting with their environment. Bredillet argues that project management education does not reflect these perspectives according to their importance in the real world.

Bredillet argues that project management, knowledge creation and production (epistemology) have to integrate classical scientific aspects (Positivism) as well as fuzzy symbolisms (Constructivism). He says: „that the ‚demiurgic‘ characteristic of project management involves seeing this field as an open space, without ‚having‘ (Have) but rather with a raison d’être (Be), because of the construction of Real by the projects“ (p. 240).
Without any prior indulgence into epistemology (‚What is knowledge?‘ E. v. Glaserfeldt, Simon, Le Moigne etc.) this sentence is rather cryptic. What Bredillet wants to achieve is to unify the Positivist and Constructivist epistemology. Positivist epistemology can shortly be summarised to be our approach to understand the world quantitatively (= have = materialism, with only few degrees of freedom, e.g., best practices, OR, statistical methods). On the other hand Constructivist epistemology tries to understand the world with a qualitative focus (=be = immateriality, with many degrees of freedom, e.g., learning, knowledge management, change management). Bredillet summarises the constructivist epistemology citing Comte as „from Science comes Prevision, from Prevision comes Action“, and the positivist epistemology according to Le Moigne’s two hypothesis of reference – phenomenological („an existing and knowledgeable reality may be constructed by its observers who are then its constructors“) and teleological („knowledge is what gets us somewhere and that knowledge is constructed with an aim“).

Bredillet then argues that most research follows the positivist approach, valuing explicit over tacit knowledge, individual knowledge over team/organisational knowledge. To practically span the gap between Constructivism and Positivism Bredillet suggests to acknowledge tacit, explicit, team and individual knowledge as „distinct forms – inseparable and mutually enabling“ (p. 240).

How to unify Constructivsm and Postivitsm in Learning of Project Management?
Practically he explores common concepts always from both views, from the positivist and the constructivist standpoint, for instance, Bredillet describes concepts of organisational learning using the single-loop model (Postivism) vs. double-loop model, and system dynamics theory (Constructivsm).  Secondly, Bredillet stresses that learning and praxis are integrated, which is what the MAP method is all about:

„The MAP method provides structure and process for analysing, solving and governance of macro, meso, and micro projects. It is founded on the interaction between decision-makers, project team, and various stakeholders.“ (p. 240)

The three theoretical roots for the map method are (1) Praxeological epistemology, (2) N-Learning vs. S-Learning, (3) Theory of Convention. Thus the map method novelty is that it

  • Recognises the co-evolution of actor and his/her environment,
  • Enables integrated learning,
  • Aims at generating a convention (rules of decision) to cope with the uncertainty and complexity in projects.

Ad (1): The basic premises of Praxeological epistemology [in Economics] taken from Block (1973):

  • Human action can only be undertaken by individual actors
  • Action necessarily requires a desired end and a technological plan
  • Human action necessarily aims at improving the future
  • Human action necessarily involves a choice among competing ends
  • All means are necessarily scarce
  • The actor must rank his alternative ends
  • Choices continually change, both because of changed ends as well as means
  • Labour power and nature logically predate, and were used to form, capital
  • Technological knowledge is a factor of production

Ad (2): I don’t know whether n-Learning in this context stands for nano-Learning (constantly feeding mini chunks of learning on the job) or networked learning (network over the internet to learn from each other – blogs, wikis, mail etc.). Neither could I find a proper definition of S-Learning. Generally it seem to stand for supervised learning. Which can take place most commonly when training Neural Networks, and sometimes on the job.
Sorry – later on in the article Bredillet clarifies the lingo: N-Learning = Neoclassical Learning = Knowledge is cumulative; and S-Learning = Schumpeterian Learning = creative gales of destruction.

Ad (3): Convention Theory (as explained in this paper) debunks the notion that price is the best coordination mechanism in the economy. It states that there are collective coordination mechanisms and not only bilateral contracts, whose contingencies can be foreseen and written down.
Furthermore Convention Theory assumes Substantive Rationality of actors, radical uncertainty (no one knows the probability of future events), reflexive reasoning (‚I know that you know, that I know‘). Thus Convention Theory assumes Procedural Rationality of actors – actors judge by rational decision processes & rules and not by rational outcome of decisions.
These rules or convention for decision-making are sought by actors in the market. Moreover the theory states that

  • Through conventions knowledge can be economised (e.g., mimicking the behaviour of other market participants);
  • Conventions are a self-organising tools, relying on confidence in the convention
  • Four types of coordination exist – market, industry, domestic, civic

[Start reading again if you’re just interested in the application of the method.]

In the article Bredillet then continues to discuss the elements of the MAP meta model:

  • Project situations (entrepreneurial = generating a new position, advantage) vs. operations situations (= exploiting existing position, advantage)
  • Organisational ecosystem [as depicted on the right of my drawing]
  • Learning dynamics and praxis, with the three cornerstones of knowledge management, organisational learning, and learning organisation

Thus learning in this complex, dynamic ecosystem with its different foci of learning should have three goals – (1) individual learning, e.g., acquire Prince 2/PMP methodology; (2) Team learning, e.g., acquire team conventions; and (3) organisational learning, e.g., acquire new competitive position.

The MAP model itself consists of the several project management theories and concepts [theories are depicted on the left side of my drawing], the concepts included are

  • Strategic Management
  • Risk Management
  • Programme Management
  • Prospective Analysis
  • Projects vs. Operations
  • Ecosystem project/context
  • Trajectory of projects/lifecycles
  • Knowledge Management – processes & objects; and individual & organisational level
  • Systems thinking, dynamics
  • Organisational design
  • Systems engineering
  • Modelling, object language, systems man model
  • Applied sciences
  • Organisational Learning (single loop vs. double loop, contingency theory, psychology, information theory, systems dynamics)
  • Individual learning – dimensions (knowledge, attitudes, aptitudes) and processes (practical, emotional, cognitive)
  • Group and team learning, communities of practice
  • Leadership, competences, interpersonal aspects
  • Performance management – BSC, intellectual capital, intangible assets, performance assessments, TQM, standardisation

The praxeology of these can be broken down into three steps, each with its own set of tools:

  1. System design – social system design (stakeholder analysis, interactions matrices), technical system design (logical framework, e.g., WBS matrix, and logical system tree)
  2. System analysis – risk analysis (technical/social risk analysis/mapping), scenario analysis (stakeholder variables & zones)
  3. System management – scheduling, organisation & planning, strategic control

As such, Bredillet describes the MAP method trajectory as

  1. Strategic choice with a) conception, b) formulation
  2. Tactical alternatives with a) alternatives analysis and evaluation, b) decision
  3. Realisation with a) implementation, b) reports and feedback, c) transition into operations, c) post-audit review

In praxis the learning takes part in form of simulations, where real life complex situations have to be solved using the various concepts, methods, tools, and techniques (quantitative and psycho-sociological) which are included in the MAP-method. To close the reflective learning loop at the end two meta-reports have to be written – use of methods and team work, and how learning is transferred to the workplace. Bredillet says that with this method his students developed case studies, scenario analysis, corporate strategy evaluation, and tools for strategic control.

Embedding projects in multiple contexts – a structuration perspective (Manning, 2008)

Freitag, Oktober 3rd, 2008

Embedding projects in multiple contexts – a structuration perspective (Manning, 2008)

Manning, Stephan: Embedding projects in multiple contexts – a structuration perspective; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 26 (2008), No. 1, pp. 30-37.

Manning argues that projects are embedded in multiple contexts at the same time. These context facilitate and constrain the project at the same time and dynamically he describes this as „projects partly evolve in idiosyncratic ways as temporary systems, embedding needs to be understood as a continuous process linking projects to their environments“ (p.30).

Manning bases his analysis on Structuration Theory. It’s premise is to analyse action and structure (to interdependent concepts) in practice. Structuration Theory is defined by three key concepts – (1) structure, (2) actors, and (3) reflexive monitoring.

Structure is the set of symbolic and normative rules found in organisations. Furthermore the structure is set by authoritative and allocative resources. Actors are defined as potentially powerful and knowledgeable agents, who apply rules and resources in interactions, thus impacting the flow of events. As such structure impacts actions, which in turn impacts the structure. Reflexive monitoring is exactly this feedback loop from action to structure.

Applying structuration theory to projects Manning builds the concept of the project as temporary organisation, which is characertised by its tasks (=specification), times (=constraints), and teams (=relations). The author furthermore notices a constant process of disembedding and re-embedding into different contexts.

Which contexts are there? Manning identfies three. (1) organisations which are the collecitve actors engagned in coordinating projects, (2) interorganisational networks which are relations of legally independent organisations, and (3) organisation fields which are areas of institutional life by organisations and their members. Projects are embedded in all three of these contexts at the same time.

Lastly, Manning describes two embedding and re-embedding activities. Enactment of social contexts takes place top-down, that is from organisation fields –> interorganisational networks –> organisations –> projects, whereas the reproduction of social contexts takes place bottowm up.

The importance of context in programme management: An empirical review of programme practices (Pellegrinelli et al., 2007)

Dienstag, Juli 15th, 2008

 Context in Programs

Pellegrinelli, Sergio; Partington, David; Hemingway, Chris; Mohdzainb, Zaher; Shah, Mahmood: The importance of context in programme management – An empirical review of programme practices; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 25 (2007), No. 1, pp. 41-55.

Pellegrinelli et al. study actual practices on programs which mainly consist of projects. Surprisingly they find that the OGC’s Managing Successful Programmes framework (MSP) is not consistently adopted even when its use is mandated by the organisation. Furthermore they found that following MSP rigorously leads to a controlling dominated management agenda and not a empowering agenda. Their main findings for each MSP category are

  • Organisation & Leadership – mostly living on paper only, IT rather than business counterparts perform the roles needed
  • Benefits Management – mostly unquantifiable benefits or intangible benefits, general perception that this approach doesn’t fit RUP  (or any of the other unified processes of software development)
  • Stakeholder Management & Communication – n/a
  • Risk Management & Issue resolution – mostly risk management is missing completely on a program level
  • Program Planning & Control – often overruled by central head quarter
  • Business Case Management – Only symbolic artifact or only used to secure funding and never updated afterwards
  • Quality Management – are more adoptions of organisational practices already in place than the MSP processes

In short Pellegrinelli et al. revealed significant and on-going crafting of programme content, structures and processes to reconcile divergent aims and interests, to expedite progress in the face of adversity and to engage multiple sponsors, contributors and stakeholders. Thus the authors showed the importance and influence of context, namely the dynamic cultural, political and business environment in which the programmes operate, and the organisationally embedded nature of programme management.

No Project is an Island (Engwall, 2003)

Mittwoch, Juli 9th, 2008

No Project is an Island

Engwall, Mats: No project is an island – linking projects to history and context; in: Research Policy, Vol. 32 (2003), No. 5, pp. 789-808.

I read this article for it’s research implications. Engwall starts with the argument that a project’s success is not independent of the project’s context and the organisations history of previous projects. There is one great point in his argument: Projects become increasingly difficult if they are innovative. BUT innovativeness of a project does not depend whether the project manager has done something similar before, it depends on how new the sponsor thinks his project is.

Engwall’s implications are clear: extend the scope of research time wise and department wise. Furthermore he makes his stand for an open systems approach in researching projects.