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Examining project learning, project management competencies, and project efficiency in project-based firms (PBFs)

Wise Mainga (Department of Business Studies, Papua New Guinea University of Technology, Lae, Papua New Guinea)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 6 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to use survey data to rank the relative importance of perceived factors that inhibit the transfer of knowledge across projects and examine the statistical relationship between various “higher order” dimensions of project management competencies and project efficiency among a sample of project-based firms (PBFs).


The research philosophical approach adopted was post-positivism, a half-way house between positivism and phenomenological approaches. The author used a largely structured survey questionnaire with an inclusion of few open-ended items. The survey data collected were largely based on the “perceptions” of mostly experienced project management practitioners, whose perspectives on project processes and performance are likely to be more dependable. Because of budget limitations, a total of 260 questionnaires were mailed to randomly selected PBFs (with an enclosed self-addressed and stamped return envelope). Of the 260 questionnaires sent to PBFs, 58 questionnaires were returned, representing a return rate of just over 22 percent.


Results indicate that “high time pressures towards the end of the project,” “too much focus on short-term project deliverables,” and “fear of negative sanctions when disclosing project mistakes” were three top-ranked factors that inhibited knowledge transfer across projects. Some “higher order” project management competencies like “dynamic competencies” have relatively a greater impact on predicting project efficiency. Dynamic competencies will only continue to increase in importance as today’s project environments are characterized as continuously evolving, turbulent, and complex and require the need to be effective in dealing with various uncertainties. Once included in the regression equation, the “ownership variable” dominates all other explanatory variables in predicting project efficiency among a sample of PBFs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), most likely driven by the project management competencies of multinational corporations (MNCs). However, the project efficiency of state-owned PBFs did not differ significantly from that of “international firms that were not MNCs.” Specific conditions may have led to such an outcome. The author shows that enhancing project efficiency requires the reinforcement of multiple but specific factors.

Research limitations/implications

As the study was largely conducted on a limited budget and time frame, the author was not able to employ a multi-method approach. The inclusion of a few case studies would have facilitated triangulation of the current findings. In addition, the study captures “perceptions” and practical experiences of project management practitioners. Future studies could possibly develop what may be seen as “objective” measures of project learning and project management competencies. A larger survey supported by a larger budget would be one option in which some of the findings could be tested across PBFs located in different sectors and countries.

Practical implications

The author argues that the creation of a client-led “no-blame culture” within PBFs can ensure the development of a “safe” environment in which project team members can acknowledge project mistakes without the fear or danger(s) that may come with such admission. This may require changes in project organizational culture that reduces power distance, lowers sensitivity to hierarchal power relations, enhances team building efforts, and fosters a “learning climate” that tolerates “trial and error” experimentation. It may also require strengthening clients’ specific capabilities. Such change may require time and patience but could take advantage of “positive” aspects of participatory practices, personal relationships, and consensus decision-making approach that is prevalent in the UAE culture. One managerial implication points to the need to tailor scarce resources in building up multi-dimensional “higher order” competencies like “dynamic competencies” that have a relatively higher significant impact on enhancing project efficiency. Linking MNCs with local PBFs as collaborative mega project delivery partners may lead to enhancing project management competencies of the latter, conditional on their absorptive capacity.


The contribution of the paper is in providing survey-based empirical evidence that goes beyond case studies to highlight the importance of enhancing “higher order” project management competencies, such as “dynamic competencies,” that have a stronger predictive power of project efficiency in PBFs. The study also ranks the relative importance of various factors that inhibit the transfer of new knowledge across projects. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first study that has demonstrated the statistical relationship between “higher order” project management competencies and project efficiency. Project efficiency is a multi-faceted construct. Its strengthening is determined by a configuration of multiple but specific factors. A more “nuanced” understanding of the relationship between project management competencies and project efficiency in a particular context may be required.



While doing the research in UAE, the author received encouraging support to keep pressing on, from a lot of kind and generous individuals so many to identify by name. Special thanks go to the staff that worked at the American University of Sharjah Library, for allowing the author to access up-to-date journal articles using their library’s electronic databases. The author will forever be grateful for your cheerful encouraging words: “We will always help you as long as you have made the effort to come this far.” Your encouraging and insightful wisdom made the one hour drive during the weekends to your library all the more worthwhile. The author is also very grateful to the author’s former employer in the UAE, for the office space while doing the initial part of this research. The western educated former Dean of the College of Business Administration created a relaxed atmosphere that allowed colleagues to do some research during free weekends. Doing this research helped the author to understand the UAE and its complex culture in a much deeper way than before. The author is also grateful to two anonymous referees for their probing and illuminating comments. The author fully funded the whole research. The views represented in this paper are entirely those of the author and do not represent the views of the organizations or institutions, the author is currently or has previously been affiliated with. Omissions and errors are the sole responsibility of the author. There is no conflict of interest.


Mainga, W. (2017), "Examining project learning, project management competencies, and project efficiency in project-based firms (PBFs)", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 454-504.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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