Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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.

Investigating the use of the stakeholder notion in project management literature, a meta-analysis (Vos & Achterkamp, in press)

Dienstag, September 30th, 2008

 Investigating the use of the stakeholder notion in project management literature, a meta-analysis (Vos & Achterkamp, in press)

Achterkamp, Marjolein C.; Vos, Janita F.J.: Investigating the use of the stakeholder notion in project management literature, a meta-analysis; in: International Journal of Project Management, Article in Press, Corrected Proof.

Managing the stakeholders is an, if not the most, important part of the project manager’s job. Previously Vos & Achterkamp published articles focussed on the identification of stakeholders, which is a crucial and not so simple task.“Basic, but not trivial“, as one of my Economics professors always used to say.

In this article, however, Vos & Achterkamp reviewed 42 articles in terms of

  • Definition of stakeholders
  • Purpose of stakeholder notion
  • Identification issues
  • Role of stakeholders

Analysing the commonly used definitions of stakeholders the authors identify two key theoretically based definitions – stakeholders could either be persons with an interest in the project, or persons who can or are affected by the project. One or both of these two definitions are used in only 16.6% of articles reviewed, the remaining articles mainly deal with this topic without defining the object stakeholder at all.

Why look at stakeholders? The purpose of the stakeholder notion is first and foremost to sense-making and defining success. Further purposes of stakeholder management are risk management, use as source of information, and using stakeholders as a management instrument.

The review of the identification issue, a topic close to the authors, shows that most articles only recognise the issue, or explain it partly. Only a minority of 4 articles (out of 42) recognises and explains the issue.

Lastly Vos & Achterkamp review the roles of stakeholders. For reasons of not only simplifying complexity down to a managable level, but also for overcoming issues of stakeholder identification stakeholders the authors suggest an explicit, structured, role-based identificiation procedure. Whilst they acknowledge that stakeholder salience model, as discussed in this earlier post, is the leading theoretical model of identifying stakeholder; the authors argue that the role-based stakeholder classification model for innovative projects is more promising.

„Considering stakeholders in terms of roles of involvement in the context of projects then raises the question of whether there is anything new. Indeed, thinking in terms of roles is not new in project management. Could project roles perhaps be used for stakeholder identification?“ (p. 4)

Vos & Achterkamp review three articles in detail, which use a role-based stakeholder classification model. These three articles define the following roles

  • Callan et al. (2008)
    • Controller
    • Executer
    • Constraining advisor
    • Discretionary advisor
  • Turner (2008)
    • Manager
    • Steward
    • Owner
    • User
    • Sponsor
    • Broker
    • Resources
  • Vos & Achterkamp (2006)
    • Client
    • Decision maker
    • Designer
    • Passively involved

Strategic management accounting and sense-making in a multinational company (Tillmann & Goddard, 2008)

Mittwoch, September 17th, 2008

 Strategic management accounting and sense-making in a multinational company

Tillmann, Katja; Goddard, Andrew: Strategic management accounting and sense-making in a multinational company; in: Management Accounting Research, Vol. 19 (2008), No. 1, pp. 80-102.

Tillmann & Goddard analyse in a large German multi-national corporation how strategic management accounting is used and perceived. This is interesting as insofar they explore how managers work and get decisions made. The authors follow an open systems paradigm, which conceptualises the organisation as a set of ambiguous processes, structures, and environments. In such the manager is operating. Furthermore Tillmann & Goddard identify 4 major typically managerial activities (1) Scanning, (2) Sense-Making, (3) Sense-Giving, and (4) Decision-Making.

Sense-Making is of key interest to the authors. Sense-Making can be understood as constructing and re-constructing meaning, or simply as understanding the situation and getting the picture. Understanding is inherently linked to interpretations of real world events. In order to make-sense of events, simplification strategies are employed, such as translating, modelling, synthesis, and conceptualising/frameworking.

Moreover the authors propose a 3 step process model of sense-making.

  • Input – internal context, multiplicity of aspects, and external context which are individually internalised as information sets and ‚a feel for the game‘
  • Sense-Making – structuring & harmonising, compromising & balancing, and bridging & contextualising
  • Output – sense communication and decision-making

Nine Schools of Project Management (Bredillet, 2007-2008)

Dienstag, August 12th, 2008

 9 Schools of Project Management

In his series of editorials for the Journal of Project Management Bredillet outlines 9 different schools of project management thinking and when they were created. He also identifies research questions for each of them.

  1. Optimisation School (1950)
    Earned Value Management
  2. Modelling School (1960)
    Integrating hard-soft systems
  3. Governance School (1970)
    PMOs, portfolio management, project selection, regulatory compliance
  4. Behaviour School (1975)
    Virtual teams, HR management in project-oriented companies
  5. Success School (1985)
    Refinement of success criteria, stakeholder satisfaction, causes of failure
  6. Decision School (1990)
    Anchoring estimates, organisation strategy & impact on portfolio, portfolio management decisions
  7. Process School (1980)
    Project categorisation, refinement of processes, project audits & reviews, maturity models
  8. Contingency School (1995)
    Clarify differences in approaches, methods of adaptation, link to success criteria
  9. Marketing School (2000)
    Strategy/tactics for business success, linking projects and strategy, align senior level thinking to projects, CRM and PR on projects

Leadership Behaviours in Matrix Environments (Wellman, 2007)

Montag, August 11th, 2008

 Senior Leadership in Matrix Organisations

Wellman, Jerry: Leadership Behaviours in Matrix Environments; in: Journal of Project Management, Vol. 38 (2007), No. 2, pp. 62-74.

Wellman uses Grounded Theory to analyse his case study. Grounded theory is an „inductive method to understand the perspective of actors relevant practices“. Thus it combines the world of the structural researchers with the systems researcher’s world. Wellman applied a five step research process

  • Collecting (1) Interviews, and (2) Organisational Artefacts
  • Identifying (3) recurrent themes and concepts which are validated against empirical data
  • Follow-up (4) interviews to test conclusions
  • Construction of (5) meta-concepts and their relationships

Wellman investigates the senior management role in matrix organisations. He shows that Empowerment, Support, Decision-Making, Flexibility, and Communications are critical success factors for projects in matrix organisations. Moreover he identifies culture and competence as two basic requirements.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – Mapping the Strange Landscape of Complexity Theory, and its Relationship to Project Management (Cooke-Davis et al. 2007)

Montag, August 11th, 2008

Complexity Theory and Project Management

Cooke-Davis, Terry; Cicmil, Svetlana; Crawford, Lynn; Richardson, Kurt: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – Mapping the Strange Landscape of Complexity Theory, and its Relationship to Project Management; in: Journal of Project Management, Vol. 38 (2007), No. 2, pp. 50-61.

Cooke-Davis et al. describe the origins of Complexity Theory as it has emerged from the fields of Life Science, Physical Science, and Mathematics since the 1960s. The authors apply  a selection of interesting concepts first described by Complexity Theory onto Project Management. Among those are Non-Linearity, emergence of organisation, states of chaos vs. stability, stability & fractals, radical unpredictability, complex responsive processes.

What does this mean for project management? Firstly, project managers should be aware of patterns of communication and relating on the project and should engage themselves in these. Secondly project members need to learn to tolerate anxiety and to cope with not having control over the project. The authors recommend a goal driven, enabling organisation instead of a control focussed management.

Directions for future research in project management: The main findings of a UK government-funded research network (Winter et al. 2006)

Montag, August 11th, 2008

Directions of future research in project management

Winter, Mark; Smith, Charles; Morris, Peter; Cicmil, Svetlana: Directions for future research in project management – The main findings of a UK government-funded research network; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 24 (2006), No. 8, pp. 638-649. 

To start with Winter et al. give a short overview of the research history. In their conceptualisation of project management’s history research started as a hard systems model forked afterwards into two different foci (1) execution and (2) organisational design. The organisational design stream developed into research of ad hoc & temporary organisations. This stream forked into 4 different streams a) subsequently focussed on major projects and lately on a management of project’s framework, b) analysed strategic decisions, c) viewed projects as information processing entities, and d) researched critical management.

Winter et al. outline 3 distinctive directions for future research – Theory ABOUT, FOR, and IN practice. Theory about practice should focus on complexity theory. The theory for practice on social processes, value creation, and a broad concept of project management. The theory in practice should create practitioners who are reflective practitioners and not merely trained technicians.

A memetic paradigm of project management (Whitty, 2005)

Montag, August 11th, 2008

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.

Toward a typological theory of project management (Shenhar & Dvir, 1996)

Donnerstag, Juli 17th, 2008

Typological Theory of PM

Shenhar, Aaron J.; Dvir, Dov: Toward a typological theory of project management; in: Research Policy, Vol. 25 (1996), No. 4, pp. 607-632.

Basing their text on the metaphor of incremental vs. radical innovations Shenhar & Dvir develop a typological framework for projects. In their model the two factors System Scope (assembly, system, array) and Technological Uncertainty (low, medium, high, and super high tech) distinguish projects. Furthermore the authors give some example and characterise each of the 12 types of projects.

The changing paradigms of project management (Pollack, 2007)

Dienstag, Juli 15th, 2008

Changing Paradigm

Pollack, Julien: The changing paradigms of project management; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 25 (2007), No. 3., pp. 266-247.

This article is closely related to the 2006 article by Atkinson et al., which are all based on the hard-soft-framework first published in

Crawford, Lynn; Pollack, Julien: Hard and soft projects – a framework for analysis, in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 22 (2004), No. 8, pp. 645-653.

In this article Pollack analyses project management literature in order to identify paradigms associated with project management research. He uses the concept of the paradigm as defined by Kuhn in 1962 as a „commonly shared set of assumptions, values and concepts within a community, which constitutes a way of viewing reality. Individuals within the community may embody these assumptions in different ways, and so paradigm is used in his context to refer to a general tendency for thought“ (Pollack 2007, p. 266).

Pollack then describes the hard and soft paradigm he helped establishing with research on best practice organisational change projects. The hard paradigm is characterised by

  • Predefined project goals
  • Positivist and Realist philosophies
  • Emphasis on control
  • Quantitative measures
  • Reductionist techniques
  • Emphasis on structure
  • No need for participation
  • Project Manager as Expert

Whereas the soft paradigm is characterised by

  • Ill-defined and ambiguous goals
  • Qualitative measures
  • Emphasis on learning
  • Need for participation
  • Interpretivist philosophies
  • Emphasis on social processes
  • Project Manager as Facilitator

Furthermore Pollack argues that most of the current research is deeply rooted in the hard paradigm, although the literature on the soft paradigm is growing significantly. He then argues that a paradigmatic expansion could provide increased opportunity for practitioners and researchers. Since choosing a paradigm automatically defines certain assumptions for the research and thus limiting it. Nevertheless he points out that neither one perspective is appropriate to all situations.

Beyond the Gantt chart: Project management moving on (Maylor, 2001)

Montag, Juli 14th, 2008

 beyond the gannt chart

Maylor, Harvey: Beyond the Gantt chart – Project management moving on; in: European Managment Journal, Vol. 19 (2001), No. 1, pp. 92-100.

Maylor argues that project management practice and research [which he analyses by it’s standard texts and bodies of knowledge] are stuck in a large-scale engineering mind set. He uses the advances in operations to show that knowledge in the project management realm is lacking behind. Maylor covers several key areas and challenges typical project management assumptions:

  • Project definition – projects are not a one-off effort; project managers need to be viewed as integrators of theories and knowledge and not as managers of plans
  • Manufacturing vs. Service – project management has no answer on the intangibility of service projects, thus expectation management and customer orientation are under represented; a SERVQUAL like paradigm change is needed
  • Project Management – the predominant focus on management activities and planning systems dilutes the importance of execution
  • Planning Process – Planning is somehow synonymous with network diagrams, freezes and baselines; Maylor encourages to make planning more visible, adopting lean tools from operations such as whiteboards and post-its
  • Conformance vs. Performance – Project management currently focuses on the conformance with budget, scope, and cost baselines; as operations did with TQM project should focus on delivering as soon as possible and as cheap as possible the maximal customer delight
  • Role of Strategy – Maylor cites Deming’s famous „defects are caused by the system“, to outline how argues that projects should not only be reactions to a company’s strategy but they need to contribute to and form part of the organisation’s strategy

A Roadmap for IT Project Implementation – Integrating Stakeholders and Change Management Issues (Legris & Collerette, 2006)

Freitag, Juli 11th, 2008

History of PM Theories

Legris, Paul; Collerette, Pierre: A Roadmap for IT Project Implementation – Integrating Stakeholders and Change Management Issues; in: Project Management Journal, Vol. 27 (2006), No. 5, pp. 64-75.

Legris & Collerette start with an overview of theories on IT implementations. Locating the roots of these discussion in technology adoption models rather than in project management. Furthermore they break down the typical IT implementation project in 5 phases – preliminary analysis, systems requirement, preparation, implementation, and consolidation. They outline key factors for each phase and offer scales on how to score each of these factors to assess the condition of the project.

Perspectives on Project Management (Kolltveit et al. 2007)

Freitag, Juli 11th, 2008

Perspectives on PM

Kolltveit, Bjørn Johs.; Karlsen, Jan Terje; Grønhaug, Kjell: Perspectives on Project Management; in: International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 25 (2007), No. 1, pp. 3-9.

Kolltveit et al. analyse the perspective of research articles and books published between 1983-2004 in the International Journal of Project Management. In total they mark 2977 observations of one of their 6 identified perspectives (task, leadership, business, transaction, systems, stakeholder). They characterize the average book on project management to contain 21% of knowledge on tasks, 51% on leadership, 10% on business, 8% on transactions, 5% on stakeholders, and 5% on systems.

Furthermore Kolltveit et al. describe theories of each perspective and key issues/research topics for each perspective. Plus they show the distribution over time, which shows a slightly decreasing trend for the task and systems perspective, whereas business and leadership perspectives are growing.