Müller, P. (2014), "Guest editorial", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 7 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-03-2014-0026Download as .RIS
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Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Volume 7, Issue 4
IJMPB special issue on: “Ethics in Project Management”
Ethics is rarely a topic in project management research, despite its increasing popularity in the general management literature in recent years. Many of the recent scandals are traced back to questionable ethical behaviors of individuals or organizations. The work of these individuals and organizations is done to a large extent in projects. Thus, a better understanding of ethics and its implications in the context of projects helps building awareness about ethics within the project management community and helps preparing project managers to tackle ethical issues when they arise. Ethics – the justification of actions and practices in specific situations – is a reasoning process, a philosophical reflection on the moral life and the principles embedded in that life and their application to a given situation. The moral life and its principles develop from the traditions or beliefs that have evolved over several years or even centuries in societies concerning right and wrong conduct (Buchholz and Rosenthal, 1996). Thus, the moral principles is what we bring with us to projects, and their application to project situations constitute the ethical reasoning process.
The idea for a special issue on ethics in project management was triggered through a study initiated by Erling S. Andersen at BI Norwegian Business School and his work with the Norwegian Centre for Project Management. In this study, which I took over after the retirement of Erling Andersen, we looked at the different types of ethical issues in projects, how project managers react to them, and their appearance in different governance structures. Not much was published about ethics in projects and their management by the time the study started. To our surprise the subject gained immediate attention among scholars. In addition to the project team in Europe, a second team was formed by a group of Australian scholars. Both teams collaborated in the first phase, a qualitative study. Through this popularity our first paper on the study had no less than nine authors (see Müller et al., 2013a). More specialized papers followed by subgroups of the team, such as case studies (e.g. the paper by Walker and Loyd-Walker in this issue), or quantitative papers about the corporate and project level antecedents of different types of ethical issues (Müller et al., 2013). The papers showed not only the variety of ethical issues in projects, but also the different approaches that organizations pursue to prepare their project managers for the handling of such issues.
This study added a dimension of types of ethical issues and their context to the translational stream of research on ethics in projects. This stream also focusses on aspects such as ethics as a competence or skill of project managers, which will increase in importance in the coming years (e.g. Ingason and Jonasson, 2009), training for ethics, for example, by use of vignettes (Loo, 2002), ethical human resource management in project-based organizations (Huemann et al., 2007), or the development of codes of ethics of professional organizations (Messikomer and Cirka, 2010). More theoretical approaches to ethics in project management attended to the particularities of ethics due to the temporary nature of projects (e.g. Godbold, 2007), or the reconciliation of project management work with theories on ethics (Jonasson and Ingason, 2013).
The majority of work on ethics in project management takes a normative perspective by linking moral philosophy and management in addressing what can be done or is done in given situations. Relatively little published work in the realm of projects takes a behavioral ethics perspective by looking at the reasons why people or organizations behave (un-)ethically in projects. The latter is often investigated by social scientists and psychologists. More research taking this perspective is needed in project management to build awareness and understanding of the drivers for unethical behavior in order to prevent it.
The paucity of ethics research in project management is also reflected in the small number of submissions to this special issue. Of the five papers that were submitted, three were accepted through the review process. They nicely represent three of the above-mentioned streams. The first paper is conceptual and addresses the theoretical reconciliation of ethical philosophy with project management by reflecting Aristotalian ethics on the codes of ethics of professional organizations. The second paper provides empirical insights into the variety and types of ethical issues using a case study. The third paper focusses on one particular aspect of ethics in projects, that of dishonesty. This paper expands on the most frequently reported ethical issue in projects – dishonesty in reporting. In this order the papers address the theme of ethics from the general to the particular, starting from a broad philosophical base to lay the foundation for the theoretical understanding of ethics in projects, then turn to the variety of ethical issues in practice, exemplified through a case study, and end with an in-depth investigation of one of the main ethical issues in projects. Each of the three levels of granularity calls for expansion through future research.
The first paper is by Christophe Bredillet and looks at a classical dichotomy in ethics: shall one focus on acting right (deontological ethics) or creating the right outcome (consequentialism). By way of that he addresses the fundamental question of process vs outcome orientation in organizations, which is also found, for example, in the classical work on organizational control by Ouchi (1980). Using an Aristotalian approach Christophe Bredillet introduces a third perspective to bridge the dichotomy. He does that by asking: why should one undertake his or her duty? Taking the codes of ethics from professional organizations as examples, he illustrates how the Aristotalian approach supports the development of good practices and practitioners (which are inseparable from ethics) by integrating the questions of why and how one should do his/her duty, rather than what his/her duty is. Thus, integrating means and ends through a higher-order why. This raises new questions for the design of professional standards and codes of ethics, which should be addressed in the future.
The paper by Derek Walker and Beverley Lloyd-Walker takes a contingency theory perspective by focussing on the ethical issues that emerged in the particular governance structure of an internal consulting organization of a large Australian University. Four distinct ethical issues emerged in this case: (a) fraud or bribery or corruption, for example in accepting and providing gifts; (b) favoritism of, for example, suppliers or projects; (c) duty of care, such as not serving the commissioning agency; and (d) lack of professionalism and respect for others, such as the attitude toward clients. Issues types (b) and (c) are especially traced back to the particular governance structure and the nature of the service provider business. The paper goes on to provide hints on how to mitigate these issues and thereby provides hands-on suggestions for practitioners in similar situations.
The paper by Øvind Kvalnes addresses honesty in projects. This conceptual paper goes beyond the traditional understanding of honesty as a personality trait and takes a psychology perspective toward dishonesty of project managers. He shows how project managers may develop excuses that neutralize their original moral convictions of being honest, to the extent that they find it acceptable to be dishonest in reporting their project's performance. Øvind Kvalnes describes five neutralization techniques: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of condemners, and appeal to higher loyalty, before he outlines the ways to establish honesty in projects, among others through analysis of project members’ talk and the establishment of an environment that does not accept the neutralization techniques as an excuse for dishonesty.
Collectively the three papers cover only a small but important portion of the wide field of ethics and its application to project management. A Chinese proverb reminds us that even the longest journey starts with a first step. Let us aim for this special issue being that first step for a long journey of studies on ethics in projects and their management.
Professor Ralf Müller, Department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway
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