Walker, D. (2016), "Editorial", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 710-715. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-07-2016-0060Download as .RIS
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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
From the editor
About this issue
This final issue for 2016 contains a selection of special issue (SI) papers on “Reflections of 10 years of thinking project management – legacy and future.” This is also my last issue as editor after nine years in the role and having been the founding editor of this journal. It is with great pleasure and confidence that I hand over the role to Professor Nathalie Drouin from UQM in Montreal, taking over from Volume 10 Issue 1 onwards. She is committed to continue to encourage, support and welcome innovative PM paper content.
This issue celebrates an important milestone for the PM community. Ten years have elapsed since the re-thinking project management (RPM) research network published their report and several seminal paper that were presented in the SI of Issue 8 in Elsevier’s International Journal of Project Management in 2006 (Winter et al., 2006). It is also ten years since the publication of the influential book Making Projects Critical (Hodgson and Cicmil, 2006) in which a number of authors, who also participated in the RPM network, made contributions to that book. These two research networks were supported and encouraged by earlier published work from what is often termed the “Scandinavian school of project management” which was formed with its first research group meeting in 1993 and widely cited from their SI publication in 1995 (Lundin, 1995) in the Scandinavian Journal of Management. It seemed timely to celebrate ten years on for two of the groups and the birthday of the third group; now over two decades old. I was a bystander to these events and, like many readers of this journal, benefited from its ground breaking impact that consolidated a lot of leading work by Professor Peter Morris with two books that proved to be highly influential (Morris and Hough, 1993; Morris, 1994). Professor Rodney Turner also supported these foundations of PM re-thinking through his co-authoring of several books and as particularly as editor of the International Journal of Project Management responsible for promoting and enabling the RPM SI in 2006. Clearly the RPM network tipping point outcome in 2006 had its genesis a decade earlier but it often takes a decade for radical ideas to take root in academia and practice.
This IJMPiB SI recognizes the contribution made by three research networks that collaborated and influenced each other, together with others whose ideas and research work supported and extended the boundaries of PM theory and thought leadership. We hope that when researchers and practitioners are searching for the roots of the general expansion in PM thinking and re-thinking, that this SI will be a valued resource that helps them understand the context and zeitgeist leading up to that tripping-point period that led to the legitimization and support for its extension in today’s PM-related research.
The SI contains 11 papers that provide a mix of historical perspective, examples of changes in thinking about PM theory and practice and illustrations of where PM research and practice is heading. It is too early to say that another tipping point is, or has been, approaching but we can be confident that we are seeing exploration of new and exciting perspectives on what PM is, what a project is (or even if it exists at all) and how that is changing society. This SI should provide readers with a rich source of food for thought and reflection.
Paper 1 written by Derek Walker and Beverley Lloyd-Walker, is entitled “The rethinking of project management: its influence on the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business.” It sets the scene for the SI by undertaking an analysis of the content and impact of the three major research networks on all papers published in this journal from its inception in 2008 in Volume 1 through to the end of 2015. Their paper was inspired by the Svejvig and Andersen (2015) analysis of the RPM influence on the PM literature but Svejvig and Andersen’s focus was on RPM only and their intentional focus limitation left a gap in considering the other two interwoven research networks. However, their paper provided an impetus to expand the analysis to the three PM research networks for this journal’s SI. This Walker and Lloyd-Walker paper provides background history of the three research networks as well as analysis of 309 papers to assess the impact and influence of these three research networks on those papers.
Paper 2 by Damian Hodgson and Svetlana Cicmil entitled “Observations and reflections from 10 years of making projects critical” provides an authoritative account of how the “Making Projects Critical (MPC)” research network was formed in the summer of 2001. This group were informed, as they point out, by earlier work from the 1990s including a strong influence from the “Scandinavian school of project management.” New ways of perceiving PM arise out of conflict and paradox, not in a negative way but through conversations that explain how different people perceive their reality. This MPC network added another dimension to the RPM explorations of theory and practice and so it was a vital element to the legitimization of today’s diverse PM research agenda. I spent a lot of time many years ago trying to track down papers that explained the evolution of this group to be able to correctly cite the work and found it very difficult. Fortunately I knew Damian and Svetlana so could gather some background from various conversations with them. This paper is very important to readers because it provides one very well packaged explanation of the network’s history and philosophical growth. I am sure that this paper will be cited extensively as a valuable historical piece.
Paper 3 follows in this historical vein. “Towards a multi-perspective research program on projects and temporary organizations: analyzing the Scandinavian turn and the rethinking effort” by Mattias Jacobsson, Rolf Lundin and Anders Söderholm provides a wonderful historical and authoritative account of how the “Scandinavian school of project management” was formed and how it evolved. This traces the formation of the “International Network on Organizing by Projects” (IRNOP) in 1994 after conversations by leading individuals in that group in 1993 and explains the philosophy and underpinning concepts that shaped the research work and ontological perspectives of that network and how it has evolved. As with Paper 2, this paper provides immensely valuable insights for readers about what influences shaped the thinking of what is without question a seminal PM-related intellectual powerhouse of ideas that has helped shape todays diverse views of what PM may be. They cite the literature and research work that influenced the network and this provides a powerful source for readers who need to cite seminal work. The paper also contains results from a survey of leading academics from this school of thought that provide insights and comments on what prime characteristics shape that school of thought and where the research interest may be heading. The paper is a must-read one, as with Paper 2, for writers of PM who need to explain the context of PM thought and how it evolved.
Paper 4 is written by two leading scholars firmly associated with the Scandinavian School as well as the re-thinking network who also bring fresh perspectives to the nature of PM work. Many readers will be familiar with papers that are considered seminal by Jonas Söderlund and papers that explore project complexity by Joana Geraldi-Stäblein. In the paper by Joana Geraldi-Stäblein and Jonas Söderlund entitled “Project studies and engaged scholarship: directions towards contextualized and reflexive research on projects” they developed a conceptual framework circumscribing three types of project research, which are used to craft future research directions, in the five re-thinking research directions and offer a sixth, call for engaged and, ambidextrous scholars, whose “job” goes beyond the writing of articles and research applications, and includes shaping discourses of project research, nurturing new project scholars, contributing to project practice and carefully considering the legacy of projects and project studies in society. Joana and Jonas were Guest Editors for the SI in 2012 Issue 4 in which many leading academics in the PM field contributed papers that discussed seminal work that informed their ways of thinking about PM and its application. That SI, like this one, provides rich context and access to seminal ideas and so is highly valuable to PM scholar. This particular paper provides deep insights, based on Habermas’ three ways of knowing, their “Type 3” PM research project areas category and description provides us with a forward looking perspective of where RPM (reconceptualised as project studies) has taken us based on their sixth research direction for “reflective, ambidextrous and engaged scholars,” who are able to reconcile rigor and relevance. This will be another highly cite-worthy paper for scholars and emphasis the pragmatic relevance criterion for sound research.
Paper 5 from Darren Dalcher is entitled “Rethinking project practice: emerging insights from a series of books for practitioners.” He was, as series Editor of Gower Publishing’s Advances in Project Management book series, able to identify major contributions published in the book series and identify research theme and approach trends within the context of the findings and outputs from the RPM Network. More specifically his key aim was to address the concerns of project practitioners and explore alternatives to the assumed linear rationality of project thinking. The paper also is useful to readers because it offers a guided catalogue to some of the key ideas, concepts and approaches offered to practitioners through the book series. Dalcher’s research-practice-knowledge dysfunction model offers a wider schematic depiction of the gap between theory and practice and he explains how the book series provides opportunity for a number of reflective practitioners and industry engaged academic writers to explore research directions and publish relatively concise and focussed specialised topic books. As a researcher and teacher I personally found these to be invaluable resources to better understand the growing and emerging list of topics and to suggest to my students and PhD candidates these books (a number of them having been reviewed in the journal over the years) that they study them. They are ideal, due to their condensed and specialised nature. If readers of this paper do nothing else than peruse it, especially Table 3 in the paper that identifies 22 book titles and their authors, they will gain a ready-made must-read list of short books to develop their understanding of PM. This paper further enhances that aim because he provides a very useful classification and analysis of how many of these books fit into focus areas such as stakeholders, risk, governance, ethics, complexity and a number of other areas of emerging theory and theory about practice. This is also a paper that could be very useful to refer to and cite.
Paper 6 entitled “The Danish agenda for rethinking project management” by Per Svejvig and Sara Grex analyses similarities and differences between the Danish RPM initiative named Project Half Double (PHD) and the RPM research stream and also discusses how PHD and RPM can inspire each other in research and practice. Per Svejvig was one of the authors that proved a highly informative paper (Svejvig and Andersen, 2015) for the first paper in this issue. One useful aspect of this paper is a framework identifying ten leading stars as an intellectual foundation for PHD that was developed as an industry academic partnership primarily driven by industry as well as the lean thinking conceptualisation of the “impact, leadership and flow method” (ILF method). The ILF method suggests several tools for working with impact in projects such as “impact case with success criteria” and “monthly pulse check” supported by impact reinforcement activities. In a practice-focussed way, this paper compliments Paper 4 as well as indicating how the RPM agenda has led this particular Danish group.
Paper 7 by Neil Turner, Elmar Kutch and Stephen Leybourne entitled “Re-thinking project reliability using the ambidexterity and mindfulness perspectives” provides a practice turn influence to RPM. This paper brings together two seemingly disparate bodies of literature – ambidexterity (the ability both to exploit and explore) and mindfulness – to take a fresh perspective on the management of uncertainty. The authors differentiate between “rule-based” and “mindfulness-based” reliability and explore project risk responses in environments characterized by varying degrees of uncertainty. They studied five case organizations across a range of industries to illustrate how uncertainty may be prepared for and suitable responses activated, thus adding to our understanding of the nature of ambidexterity, by investigating managerial actions and how they act as “switches” between modes. The data consist of initial survey responses to indicate the level of mindfulness under conditions of normality, followed by interviews studying particular incidents and the nature of the responses. The paper explains how it fits into the RPM research agenda and offers a framework for managers to evaluate their own context in terms of uncertainty and provide suitable response options offering insights into more nuanced, thoughtful and flexible approaches to managing as called for by the RPM research agenda. This paper provides a good example of how the RPM and other two research groups have shaped the current research agenda.
Paper 8 entitled “Continental thinking: a tool for accessing the project experience” by Bronte van der Hoorn provides another example of a paper that has been inspired by the RPM and MPC agenda and like Paper 7, it provides an excellent illustration of how the research agenda has radically changed over the past decade. The paper argues from a continental philosophy world-view that significantly contrasts to the currently dominant analytical philosophy viewpoint and can have significant impact on our interpretation of our observations of the “reality” that we perceive a project to be and the actions taken as being project management work. It was rare to see any legitimacy afforded to a philosophical stance in the PM literature prior to 2006 and the notion of discussions of questions about the existence of projects as a reality was generally relegated to the fringe of the PM community. This paper provides a very insightful explanation of how continental thinking evolved from the MPC and RPM roots to become a valid way of explaining actions and observations of may be termed project work. I only know of two PhDs that have taken this kind of stance (Sewchurran, 2008; Whitty, 2009), they may be more but they are a rarity. The paper investigates the links between the PM literature and an Heideggerian paradigm of project work that is strongly aligned with the continental perspective to illustrate the impact that the three research groups discussed in Paper 1 has had on recent PM literature. It adds another valuable dimension to our understanding of project work and how this has been influenced to access diversity in our interpretations of the project phenomena that would remain inaccessible through a purely analytical lens. The paper provides some rich and expressive illustrations that could be very useful for readers to help them explain this interesting perspective of PM to other reflective practitioners or reflexive scholars.
Paper 9 provides several interesting insights. Michelle Turner’s paper “Beyond the iron triangle: reflections of an early career academic” provides insights on how the RPM agenda has influenced her from three perspectives: project practitioner, project educator and researcher in project management. This is a valuable and interesting paper as it captures the essence of how this new thinking about PM has been liberating for her in a number of ways. It is a highly personal paper and is not intended as a research paper as such, but she explains in the paper how the legitimization these new of ways of thinking about PM essentials has influenced the range of available research methods, how a PhD may be examined and what analytical approaches have opened up over this last decade. Perhaps her final statement in the paper suggests the contribution that the three research groups described in Paper 1 and other researchers who have also influenced the agenda sums up the impact that has resulted from their contribution. She says “As both an educator and researcher, my understanding of project management continues to be a work-in progress as I grapple with increasing complexity, a globalized workforce, economic uncertainties and disruption caused by the evolution of technology. The RPM research agenda provides a critical platform from which I can respond.”
Paper 10 takes a very practical and, for many readers, a thought-provoking perspective on the impact of changes in how PM work is conceived by employers and those engaged in PM work. Beverley Lloyd-Walker, Erica French and Lynn Crawford report in their paper “Rethinking Researching Project Management: Understanding the Reality of Project Management Careers” an investigation of the long term development of project workers, their career paths and their contribution to organizational success. Through that study, they identify issues in the long-term development of project workers, their career paths, their contribution to organizational success and their need for equity of opportunity. This paper highlights a poorly understood consequence of the explosion in understanding of the term “project management” as a career designation and its impact on the career choices and working conditions experienced by project managers. This is part of their ongoing study of capabilities, lived-experiences and human resource management implications and consequences of the PM emphasis that is so prevalent today. The way that project work is perceived by employers and employees (contractor or permanent) has a direct influence on what was previously taken-for-granted in term of working condition expectations. Lloyd-Walker, French and Crawford conducted 75 interviews across three industry sector groups: engineering/construction; information technology/business and the public sector. They undertook in-depth interviews with those in project roles such as construction managers, project and program managers and other project team members. They consciously engaged interviewees at various stages in their career journeys. The average age of those interviewed was 42, the youngest being 24 and the eldest over 65 years. This provides deep and broad insights into the lived reality of those interviewed and so contributes greatly to our understanding about the new reality of project work taken from the perspective of how the world has now re-thought the nature of PM work and what that means for career management. The quotes that are cited by respondents provide unique insights into their lived reality and make a powerful contribution to our fuller understanding of how the perceptions of PM work has changed and its impact over the past ten years.
The final paper, Paper 11, takes a unique perspective on re-thinking by reviewing the life’s work of the late Albert Hirschman (1915-2012) who was somebody who could have been perceived as a RPM practitioner many decades ago. Lavagnon Ika and Jonas Söderlund in their paper “Rethinking revisited: Insights from an early rethinker” takes us on a very interesting journey. They begin their paper with a description of an iconic Canadian project from 1826 and then weave in the story of a pioneer of international development project delivery and discuss his concept of the “Principle of the Hiding Hand” in a book published in 1967. This paper links RPM with mega complex projects and the aid-development PM world.
I am extremely grateful to the contributors of this issue. For me, it helps me understand the historical influences and trajectory of what PM work so that I can better explain (to others and to myself) the roots, influences and trajectory of the PM discipline, domain, field area or whatever we care to call it. I trust that it will be of great value for researchers and practitioners when grappling how to cite the sources of these ideas and legitimacy of this focus of research.
For readers who are interested in IRNOP, the 2017 conference will be held at Boston University, the web link to IRNOP that contains many useful links to innovative PM research matters is www.irnop.org/ this website maintains a valuable link to past conferences and related journal SIs and other useful information.
Hodgson, D. and Cicmil, S. (2006), Making Projects Critical, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke.
Lundin, R.A. (1995), “Editorial: temporary organizations and project management”, Scandinavian Journal of Management, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 315-318.
Morris, P.W.G. (1994), The Management of Projects: A New Model, Thomas Telford, London.
Morris, P.W.G. and Hough, G.H. (1993), The Anatomy of Major Projects: A Study of the Reality of Project Management, Wiley, London.
Sewchurran, K. (2008), “Towards a regional ontology for information systems project management”, PhD, Department of Information Systems, Faculty of Commerce, University of Cape Town, Cape Town.
Svejvig, P. and Andersen, P. (2015), “Rethinking project management: a structured literature review with a critical look at the brave new world”, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 278-290.
Whitty, S.J. (2009), “New philosophy of project management: an investigation into the prevalence of modern project management by means of an evolutionary framework”, Doctor of Philosophy, School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane.
Winter, M., Smith, C., Morris, P.W.G. and Cicmil, S. (2006), “Directions for future research in project management: the main findings of a UK government-funded research network”, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 24 No. 8, pp. 638-649.