ICE James Forrest Lecture

“Science, objective knowledge, and the theory of project management” Peter W.G. Morris Professor of Project Management, UCL Executive Director, INDECO (International Management Consultants) Ltd.

Abstract Though there is now reasonable agreement on most of the formal tools used for managing projects, there is still a spread of views on what constitutes the discipline of project management. This paper examines the nature of the knowledge we have on the discipline and in particular, how testable and public this knowledge is, in the sense that scientific based knowledge is, and how predictive a theory, or theories, of project management we have. It examines the success of systems thinking in introducing the scientific approach, both in management generally and in project management specifically. It suggests that while the ‘hard systems’ approaches of systems engineering and decision support have had a seminal impact on the development of project management, ‘soft systems’ thinking also has an important role, particularly at the front-end of projects. The human side of our actions in project management, and knowledge of them, is also extremely important. One implication is that predictability therefore becomes much harder. Another is that much of our knowledge about how to manage is tacit, that is, private and non-scientific. There are limits therefore to how much we can explicitly formalise the knowledge required to manage projects effectively. Nevertheless, there is increasing activity to try to do so, and to use this as a component of project management competency development. Though understandable, we should be wary of thinking that we will be able to identify causal relationships between knowledge of project management actions and predictability of project outcomes. We can certainly identify good project management practice, and knowledge of various aspects of project management, that if applied is more likely to result in successful project outcomes. But there will never be an overall theory of project management. Indeed, the very notion is mistaken. Introduction It would be fatuous to contend that the scientific method has been applied to the management of projects only relatively recently. There are countless examples of engineering and science being applied to the management of projects right back to ancient times, most very well known to members of the Institution of Civil Engineers, not least because so many of them were major construction projects. It is a popularly held view that project management originated in construction. If we are talking about modern project management, as now generally understood,

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ICE James Forrest Lecture this is not strictly true. Virtually all the practices, concepts and language of project management can be shown to have had their origins largely in the US aerospace agencies in the mid-1950s, though with antecedents pre World War II1. They were developed primarily on programs2 such as Atlas, Polaris, Minuteman, and Apollo, in response to the need to develop new ballistic missile capability on a highly urgent basis to counter perceived Soviet threats; and thereafter via Department of Defense (DOD) initiatives that capitalised on these, not least those following the arrival of Robert McNamara as US Secretary of Defense in 1960 [Morris, 1997]. Apollo was hugely influential in promoting modern project and program management practices3. The objectives were clear: classic project ones: in President Kennedy’s words of 25 May 1961, “to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”. (The budget was less publicised: $20 million, of which $7 million was contingency.) The resulting effort by NASA and its contractors was a heroic example of engineering ‘systems’ management. A strategy of how to get to the moon, and back, had to be developed (the initial idea was first to build an orbiting space station and to depart from there), engineering of the rockets, landing modules and support infrastructure had to be developed, and astronaut biobehaviour in space understood and designed to; and all within highly determined schedule and cost constraints. The program objectives were substantively achieved; (the cost was $21billion) [Morris, 1997]. The resulting project management approach was hailed as the new management paradigm: the answer to how to tackle many of mankind’s problems. “The first
It is true that the Critical Path Method was developed by DuPont in 1957, almost at exactly the same time as PERT was developed on Polaris, but the engineering project management practices developed in the DOD and NASA were far in advance of construction management practices at this time. By the mid 60s much of construction in the broadest sense – civil and building as well as process engineering – was using some of the new project management techniques, most notably network scheduling. The process engineering industries however were organisationally more aligned to project management than building and civil engineering. They had a much more ‘through-project’ integrated approach to engineering project management, with engineering [design], procurement and construction typically being performed by the same management team. As is now well recognised, the building and civil engineering industries, with their effective split of management responsibility between the Engineer (or Architect) and the Contractor, had no single person actively managing the shaping and delivery of the project from its earliest phases through design into construction and operation. The new US defense/ aerospace approach to project management presented a much more integrated approach to the definition and delivery of engineering systems. 2 The so-called American spelling of program is in fact the one given first in, and recommended by, the Oxford English Dictionary. 3 A program is used here in accordance with normal, contemporary project management terminology, namely as a collection of projects related to a common aim, and often using shared resources. Projects are single shot undertakings, in the sense of having a single project life-cycle. Subprojects may exist within projects. In reality of course the relationship between subprojects and projects is similar to that between projects and programs and the distinctions should not be taken too literally.
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1971]. A major theme running through the conference was. It does so in four parts. and partly because the question of the theory of project management is one to which the project management community is now itself increasingly addressing. 1982]. in corollary. as an example of the scientific method applied to project management. 1998. These questions are asked partly in response to the terms of reference of the 2001 James Forrest lecture for which this paper has been prepared. & Pinto J K. A. first. c) what the role of systems thinking is. 2001]. indeed. The paper explores the nature of our knowledge of project management. is the theme of this paper. what is ‘the theory’ of project management [Hunt. Yet in reality. 2000. namely to explore the contribution of science to civil engineering. we can envisage a theory of project management. d) how useful formal knowledge of project management is in achieving successful project outcomes. to scope’ or is it a much broader discipline concerned with the whole business of defining. in budget. Peter Morris Page 3 16/01/2004 . and executing projects. Cleland.) What is project management? An obvious place to start is to understand what we mean by. addressing: a) what project management really comprises: is it primarily about delivering something ‘on schedule. a project. for Apollo had been a ‘closed’ systems program in the sense that the program was substantially shielded from external changes such as funding cutbacks or environmentalist opposition. management. and the efforts we have been making to adapt and enlarge upon it to better deliver projects successfully. The history of the limitations of this application. and. D I. This ‘systems approach’ to the management of projects was one that hailed directly from the application of modern scientific methods to management. and asks whether. b) how objective and scientific our knowledge of project management is. Horwitch. promoting. whether we could define project management as a coherent discipline.ICE James Forrest Lecture management approach born of the nuclear age and the electronics age” [Sayles & Chandler. DP. and second. 4 SuperSonic Transport – the US competitor to Concorde. (The US headquartered Project Management Institute organised a conference on research in project management in June 2000. Slevin. ultimately. and in particular the role of the scientific approach to the discipline. the NASA approach was fundamentally limited. such as was to kill the US SST4 in 1968 and cause such interruption to so many major projects in the 70s [Morris.

money. The Gower Handbook of Project Management states that “a project is a cycle of activities with the purpose of supplying. undertaken by an individual or organisation to meet specific objectives within defined schedule. Build. one of the gurus of project management. and Hand-over – or words to such effect: several different life cycle models exist [Project Management Institute. 2000.e. Development. funding limits (if applicable). This sequence is invariant5. 1996] – that truly distinguishes projects from non-projects. Kerzner. The one single thing which distinguishes projects from non-projects is that all projects. defines a project as “a unique set of coordinated activities. A project can be characterised as a ‘unique’ endeavour – in the sense of a one-off – undertaken to accomplish a defined objective. Though one could argue.) But it is the act of going from Concept through Definition. no matter how complex or trivial. (See Figure 1) Figure 1: the project life cycle. within definite start and completion dates. a unique product. (The Apollo program office was not a project. go through a common life cycle development sequence. with defined start and end dates. British Standards Institute. with the “definite start and finish” idea. Stage gate review point Stage gate review point Stage gate review point Stage gate review point Concept Feasibility Definition Execution Operation and Review It is useful to note that the same life cycle sequence can be nested within each stage of the overall life cycle. characterises a project as having “ a specific objective to be completed within certain specifications. 2001]. the gist is probably clear.. Whole organisations can be set up to achieve specific objectives within given time and cost constraints and that will consume resources. people. A Guide to Project Management. PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – PMBOK® – defines a project as “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or service” [Project Management Institute. for reasons that will become evident during this paper. just as subprojects nest within projects which can nest within programs 5 Peter Morris Page 4 16/01/2004 . with definite starting and finishing points. 1998]. service or set of information to a specified quality and cost” [Locke. namely the life cycle. 2000. BS 6079. Dixon. Forsberg et al. and which consume resources (i. 1996. cost and performance parameters” [British Standards Institute.ICE James Forrest Lecture There is a surprising diversity of views on what a project is. 2000]. Yet in reality the most fundamental characteristic of a project is something which is a direct result of this uniqueness and yet which is hardly mentioned in these definitions (pace Gower). equipment)” [Kerzner. 1996].

about using resources. and probably value7. and commissioning. Before long though. 1998] 7 Peter Morris Page 5 16/01/2004 . 1974] – words which we shall come back to later in this paper. It is the activity of planning. 2000]. and cost and resource management. There is no point in progressing through the life cycle is the result is not successful. will need managing on a systematic basis too. This surely is the case. at a minimum. It is the extent of application of these practices. in its project management context. In the words of the leading management thinker. something that is not well covered in RAMP [ICE et al. the role of the project manager.ICE James Forrest Lecture Management is an activity. “it is a practice not a science. how does one define (and measure) success? What in fact precisely comprises the discipline of project management varies depending on the nature of the project. and the nature of the integration. construction. and the stage of the project life cycle at which the project manager is operating. arguably the only thing that distinguishes project management from other forms of management therefore are the management skills and actions involved in going successfully through that life cycle. Managing people is generally an important aspect of most management. Thus managing say the landscape contract for a power station will involve fewer issues than being the owner’s project manager of the station’s overall definition. organising. At its most basic. adding people management. probably gives the basic set of project management skill requirements. The PMBOK® defines scope as “product scope – the features and functions that are to be included in a product or service – and project scope – the work that must be done in order to deliver a product with the specified features and functions” [Project Management Institute. leadership and teamworking. activity scheduling (time management). directing and controlling (Fayol etc). technical and commercial issues will probably be seen to be affecting the chances of a successful project outcome and these too will need addressing. project management involves some combination of scope management6. 1997] – (b) the application of certain project management practices. it originated. about deciding. though the word “successfully” is crucially important here. Value (as in Value Management or Value Engineering) can often be treated integrally with Risk. Risk. there is (a) integration of the work of others needed to assure project success – the “single point of integrative responsibility” [Archibald. that leads to differences in definition. It is about communicating. This is in effect basic project control. Peter Drucker. But the issue is. including communications. If the only thing that really distinguishes projects from non-projects is the life cycle. 6 The term ‘scope’ seems to be less comfortable in the UK than the US where.. It is not knowledge but performance” [Drucker. Most definitions of project management would agree that.

and so on. communication. nor as having sufficient time. and that vary from one context to another. the broader the range of issues that one will find oneself dealing with: issues of strategy. and procurement.ICE James Forrest Lecture In general. environmental or even commercial issues. Their core competence. go do it. scope. time. PMI’s PMBOK®. Deploying these project management areas alone is almost certainly no guarantee however of ensuring the accomplishment of the project ‘on time. There can be no doubt that many of the people who are employed to manage projects do indeed find themselves having to address just such a broad range of issues. many of the business schools. control. for example – seen by many as one of the most authoritative guides to what a project manager should know – identifies nine ‘knowledge areas’: integration. to scope’. as project managers. Such a broad view of the discipline is actually rather daunting in its implications. people and culture. human resources. in budget. cost. For example. Here project management is not seen as covering project definition. commerce and contracts. This view of the domain – the discipline – of project management is certainly more than that normally put out by most of the basic textbooks on project management. 1987]. of course. process and timing. most classically defined as accomplishing the project ‘ on time. to scope’: here is the objective. poor design Peter Morris Page 6 16/01/2004 . in budget. technology problems. they will generally not see themselves as expert enough. the nearer to the definition stage of the project (the nearer to the ‘Front End’). For what we are saying is that project management. and typically does not treat with technology. community and environment. Instead they will act as integrators of the work of functional specialists. in order to meet the project’s objectives. organisation. research that carried out at Oxford and in the USA in the 1980s showed that many of the factors that cause projects not to meet their schedule or cost targets are not covered by the PMBOK® type model [Morris & Hough. quality. finance. technology. These align well with this view of project management as primarily execution management [Project Management Institute. Critically. Here the normal view is one which aligns project management with ‘execution management’: the accomplishment of stated objectives. to work alone in all these different areas. will be knowing how to integrate the work of others. at anything other than the basic level. risk. 2000] – Figure 2. Among the factors which this data showed typically cause projects to fail to meet their baseline targets are things like client driven changed specifications or order quantities. and even the Project Management Institute itself. and the higher the organizational level. might have to deal with an enormously broad range of issues – all the issues that present themselves as one moves from concept to completion. one gets. as the project evolves through its life cycle.

ICE James Forrest Lecture Figure 2: the Project Management Institute’s nine major knowledge areas Project Management Project Integration Management • Project Plan Development •Project Plan Execution •Overall Change Control Project Cost Management •Resource Management •Cost Estimating •Cost Budgeting •Cost Control Project Communications Management •Communications Planning •Information Distribution •Performance Reporting •Administrative Closure Project Scope Management •Initiation •Scope Planning •Scope Definition •Scope Verification •Scope Change Control Project Quality Management Project Time Management •Activity Definition •Activity Sequencing •Activity Duration Estimating •Schedule Development •Schedule Control •Quality Management •Quality Assurance •Quality Control Project Human Resource Management •OrganiztionalPlanning •Staff Acquisition •Team Development Project Procurement Management •Procurement Planning •Solicitation Planning •Solicitation •Source Selection •Contract Administration •Contract Close-out Project Risk Management •Risk Identification •Risk Quantification •Risk Response Development •Risk Response Control management. environmentalist and/or community or political difficulties. will invariably lead either to inappropriately selected objectives or inoptimal strategies for accomplishing them. Much of the PMBOK® material is helpful in managing projects. And it was this broader view of the domain of project management that informed the research at UMIST undertaken in developing the 4th edition of the Association for Project Management’s Body of Knowledge in Other research of the time produced similar findings [Lim et al. weather. many do not like the section on ‘Quality’. but is not sufficient to managing them successfully (and may not always even be necessary9). Few if any of these factors are even today addressed in much of the project management literature. others do not deploy ‘Procurement’. 8 Peter Morris Page 7 16/01/2004 . 1988. without due consideration to context and strategy. geotechnical problems. 1987. The research needs updating however.. 1989]. 1997]: managing them to achieve business success: managing – or at least influencing – the project’s environment. external price changes. as well as the intra-project processes and practices of definition and delivery. History is littered with examples. or context. and labour problems8. This should be no surprise: focussing on execution alone. NAO]. NAO and GAO reports on government procurement projects illustrate a similar pattern [GAO. Pinto & Slevin. that can so affect outcome success. It was this insight that led to the enlarged view of project management that led to the term ‘the management of projects’ as a broader way of representing the discipline: managing projects within their business or social context [Morris. 9 For example. 1998.

0 O rg an isatio n al Business C ase 6.5 Value Engineering: 4. 2001a]. (Figure 4 compares the PMBOK® and APM BOK) Figure 3: The APM BOK (4th Edition) 1.8 Personnel Ma nagem ent: Pro d u ctio n Po st-Pro ject Ev alu atio n O peration & M aintenance / Integrated Logis tics. Earned Value Management 36. The Project Management Framework 1.3 Portfolio Man agem ent: 1.4 Estim ating: 4. 2001.2 Strate g y/ Projec t Manag em ent Plan : 2. Time Scheduling/ Phasing 32.2 D esign & Procurem ent: D e velopm ent Bidding: 6.2 Program m e M anagem ent 1.0 C o n tro l: 3.4 D ecision Ma king: 7.1 D es ign.4 Bu dgeting & C os t Ma nagem ent: 3.3 Lea dership: 7.4 R isk Ma nagem ent: 2. Change Management 35.1 Project Mana gem ent 1.6 Perform ance Ma nagem ent: 3. Project Integration Management None 11. Project Context 20. Design.1C om m unication: 7.3 Pro duction C ontract Ma nagem ent: 6.5 C han ge C ontrol: 3.0 Strateg ic 2.5 5. Information Management 40. Project Human Resource Management 7. The APM’s view of project management (Figure 3) is thus considerably broader than PMI’s [Morris.1 Project Succ ess C riteria: 2. Safety & Environment 30.4 5.1 W ork C ontent & Scop e Man agem ent: 3.1. Project Quality Management None 5. S tart-up Figure 4: Comparison of the PMI and APM BOKs PMI PMBOK® 1.6 5.0 T ech n ical 4.2 5.1 Life C ycle D esign & Marketing & Sales: Ma nagem ent F inanc ial 6. 2000.7 Inform ation Ma nagem ent: Op p o rtu n ity Id en tificatio n 4.3 R esource Ma nagem ent: 3.1. Program Management 12.ICE James Forrest Lecture 1998-99 [Dixon.3. Health.2 T im e Scheduling/ Ph asing: 3. Project Scope Management 6. P roject R eview s / Learning From E xperienc e C oncept/ M arketing Feasibility/ B id M ake.7 C onfiguration Ma nagem ent: D esig n & D ev elo p m en t D esign.0 5.4 Project C onte xt: 2.3 O rganisational R oles H an d -o v er 7. Project Success Criteria 21. Project Management 11. H ealth & En vironm ent 2.7 Ethics 3.1 5. Quality Management 25.1. Project Time Management 9.4 H an d-o ver Leg al Aw areness 6.5 (Post) Project E valuation R e view [O & M/ILS ] : 6. Work Content & Scope Management 31. Project Integration None 2. M odelling & P rocurem ent 5.6 Safety.6 C onflict Ma nagem ent 7. Performance Reporting Included in 4. Project Management Framework 4.1. Strategy / Project Management Plan 22. Project Integration Management 10.2 O rganisation Structure: 6.1 O pportunity Ma nagem ent: 6. Project Management Context 10.2 R equirem ents Ma nagem ent 4.0 G en eral: 1.5 Q uality Ma nagem ent: 2. Implementation and Hand-over Management Peter Morris Page 8 16/01/2004 .2 T eam w ork: 7.1.3 Value M anag em ent 2.3 T ec hnology Ma nagem ent: 4.2 Tools and Techniques for Information Distribution None APM BOK 1. Project Risk Management 8. Project Cost Management 4. B uild & Test Tes t. Risk Management 24.3 5.0 Peo p le: 7. C om m iss ion. Performance Reporting Small section in 10. Value Management 23.5 N egotiating & Influe ncing: 7.6 Mod elling & T esting 4. Morris.a]. Production & H and -O ver Ma nagem ent: 4. Budgeting & Cost Management 34.7 C o m m ercia l 6. General 10. Resource Management 33.3.7 Project Mana gem ent C om petenc y D e velopm ent: 7.

(The idea of improving performance rather than just achieving the initial baseline targets is now being captured in new ‘Maturity’ models of project management11. Marketing & Sales 52. Negotiation None 75. where project priorities are being managed in a sponsor’s business environment. within budget. The point 10 Peter Morris Page 9 16/01/2004 . Leadership 73. Communication 71. perspective. 1998. Fincher & Levin. fourth. for example.ICE James Forrest Lecture None 7. Organization Roles 70. important in its implications. fifth level. Business Case 51. or owners’.pmi.. Organizational Planning 10. www. Configuration Management 50. Project Management Context 9. Project Management Context 9. and to scope. and the risk.1. Legal Awareness 60. 11 The Maturity idea is both simplistic and powerful: dangerous if naïvely used.1. Teamwork 72.org/opm]. It is in fact much more closely aligned with the project sponsors’10. Modeling and Testing 46.3 Team Development 2. it has an almost revolutionary impact on the way one thinks about the relationship between performance and the project objectives. Estimating 43. Financial Management 53.1. then to defined practices which can be taught.Influencing 2. SEI proposed that an organisation’s ability to manage software could be categorised into five levels: the lowest is where there are no stable practices. Value Engineering 45.) To some.2 Cost Estimating None None None None None None None 12. schedule or scope targets. but whether the business success – the success in meeting the project’s key performance indicators (KPIs) – justifies the effort. Organization Structure 67. www. Personnel Management None Not only is this management-of-projects view of project management broader. Requirements Management 42.sei. These ideas are now being adopted and applied in project management more widely [Hartman.4 General Management skills . The initial idea of Maturity Models arose from work at the Systems Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University in the software industry.edu]. Procurement 54.4 General Management skills 2.Problem Solving None Glossary 41. at the final. Here the issue is not so much simply whether the project will be accomplished on time. expended in undertaking the project. optimum performance is continuously improved [Paulk et al. Life Cycle Design & Management 66. Indeed. Organizational Planning 2. Organizational Planning 2. then one moves to having repeatable practices. Communications Management 9. the perspective is closer to that of Program Management or Portfolio Management. it could be that the original baseline targets are no longer relevant: that it is in the sponsor’s business interests for the project to exceed its baseline cost. uses the term ‘the management of projects’ to refer to what is a primarily Program view in its PROPS project management methodology.cmu. 1997. 1993. these practices are then managed to achieve balanced and consistent performance. Project Management Context 9. Ericsson.4 General Management skills . Procurement None 2. Technology Management 44.

A professional engineer must understand and really is that at the upper levels project organisations consciously and continually aim to improve their performance. Engineering is more than just developing design concepts: it entails also the efficient realisation of designs. Demand for project management training from commercial consultants continues to grow. With contemporary moves towards much more integrated supply chain (partnering. in so many different situations. almost certainly ‘not entirely’. with the knowledge of the sponsor’s business objectives and operating characteristics. etc. Is the discipline now becoming so broad that it is still really tenable? Can any one person understand the features of managing projects at such a strategic breadth. it is also mirrored in BOT. and work. It is also critical in New Product Development and in Information Systems projects (focussing on Requirements Management). framework contracts. There is much interest. 13 UMIST is experiencing a strong rising demand for education in project management. it brings the whole project organisation into a more sophisticated view of what successful project accomplishment means12. The APM and PMI continue to grow exceptionally fast: APM grew at between 7 and 15% in the 1990s. Peter Morris Page 10 16/01/2004 . Exciting though such an opening-up of project management might be. 12 We can see this trend clearly in much of the attention now in the oil and gas industry. etc. PFI. of defining and delivering a successful outcome as it evolves through the project life cycle.).ICE James Forrest Lecture Establishing these targets at the front-end and managing the evolution of the project to achieve optimal business success is increasingly a theme of contemporary project management practice. And in building and civil engineering not only do we see it in partnering and alliancing (as in retailing or manufacturing facilities). Not only does this new. it adds further urgency to the question of what the discipline really comprises. broader view take project management further into the front-end (Concept) – and indeed the back-end (Operations and even Decommissioning) – of the life cycle. in practice. so that we can truly expect to discern and articulate generic best practice for the discipline as a whole? Should the scholar of the discipline be expected to understand the whole range of its application? Should the practitioner be expected to be competent in all of its aspects? If the answer is. then how far do we go? If the need to understand how to manage projects successfully is genuine – and there is ample evidence to suggest that it is13 – what are the elements of the subject? How is it to be codified and learnt? Can we be predictive in the usual way that knowledge enables us to be? What is the theory of project management? Scientific Knowledge and Project Management Engineering applies knowledge of mathematics and the sciences to develop ways to use economically the materials and forces of nature for the well-being of society. in melding traditional project management knowledge.

astronomy. with the aim of improving the model. organisation ‘theory’ (the contingency theory of organisation structure being correlated with its core tasks and its environment.ICE James Forrest Lecture apply the basic laws of mathematics. The problem for the later sciences in this sequence is that the number of variables – the complexity of the issue being treated – increases dramatically so that it becomes harder to apply the classical means of scientific enquiry. Some of the laws. management and operation of engineering works. chemistry. physics. But what about the softer ones? What indeed are the ‘laws’ of management? How objective and scientific is our knowledge of project management? Comte. Peter Morris Page 11 16/01/2004 . Management can also be aided by science through the applications of technology (computers. in the way say that physics or chemistry is. repeatable and refutable laws of management. b]. But management itself is far from being a robust body of scientific knowledge. proposed that sciences could be placed in a natural order in which each science presupposes the less complex sciences which precede it. measuring and evaluating. particularly the ‘hard science’ ones are very familiar to us. this order was mathematics. these may be validated in that they are repeatable. the biological sciences. There is a branch of management called ‘Management Science’ but this is about the application of scientific method to management – hypothesis building. Predictions may be extremely tenuous. telecommunications). and also the ‘soft’ sciences such as economics. what of management? No one claims there to be a science of management. and hence the performance of the thing being modelled. Indeed we do not necessarily even have agreement on what would constitute management. Repeatability is often very difficult or even impossible. team building). a. not least because of the vagaries of human beings and their propensity to act differently [Popper. These are those of acquiring publicly testable knowledge of the world through the processes of reductionism. chemistry and other ‘hard’ sciences. Some of the aids and insights into the practice of management can indeed be reduced to a repeatable and refutable form. There are many viewpoints by which the real world can be reduced to experimental form. Critical Path Scheduling and Work-Study are examples of management science applications that help us on a day-to-day basis in the management of engineering works. for example). repeatability. psychological tools (psychometrics. physics. the founder of modern sociology. and we build knowledge through refutation of our theories [Popper. The challenges in applying the scientific approach to sociology are several. and sociology. 1957]. but shows its own irreducible laws. If sociology has these difficulties. and refutation. in the sense that there can be reducible. etc. sociology and management. We reduce the complexity of the world into experiments. 1972. for the planning. modelling. For Comte. designing.

There are sociological. and project management is generally highly ‘goal orientated’ and deterministic. We can model a sequence of activities and predict when the whole set. 1999. 1997. 1987. for example. might there not be a greater possibility of a theory. McCollum & Sherman. Given the much more restricted intellectual scope of projects and project management compared with management in general [sic]. and importance. Morris. the breadth of application of management in general makes any claim to a general scientific basis particularly difficult. and in agreeing what objectively reality is. the result is likely to be better than if you do not. structured forms of organisation. Firstly. that of ‘systems thinking’ has probably been 14 This is not to say however that projects should always be organised on a full project basis. (We can also identify good/best practice principles – for example it is helpful to break the project into its component ‘work packages’ (WBS) when planning it – though there is little that is scientific or even theoretical about such statements. Dettmer. Might & Fisher. or at any rate organisational. We can even add risk (as of course Polaris did in 1957 with PERT [Sapolsky. will be complete. But this comment itself is an example of the argument. 1977. of this knowledge later in this paper. Peter Morris Page 12 16/01/2004 . to what extent can we develop a reliable public knowledge of project management.) So. care needs to be taken in interpreting any ‘theoretical’ assertion. 1991]. Organisation theorists have shown. insights too. the work package. We shall discuss the nature. 1997]) and develop contingencies. Network scheduling is a classic example. the comment on resource cost and portfolio optimisation can be tested using scientific principles [Davis & Lawrence. using probability theory to estimate the total contingency that should be put on the overall network. and how useful might such knowledge be? Consider first the history of the application of the systems approach to management.ICE James Forrest Lecture So. that projects tend to meet their baseline targets more frequently if organised on a full project rather than a matrix or functional basis [Gobeli & Larson. We can see clearly how over the last 30 to 50 years the hard science approach has accommodated the needs of the soft sciences in dealing both with the uncertainties that people bring in predicting outcomes. or theories. 1985]14. Significant parts of project management can therefore be developed along ‘theory’ lines with reasonable scientific rigour – if you do this. 1972. Doing so can be expensive on resources and inefficient at the portfolio level. The systems approach to the management of projects Of all the approaches that have consciously sought to bring the rigour of the scientific method to management. Second. But projects are in many ways quite specific. 1997]. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints is an extension of this thinking [Goldratt. of project management? There are certainly examples of project management benefiting from scientific knowledge.

• from engineering. Systems thinking stems from several routes. • the characteristics of system boundaries. particularly from work to do with control and communication (cybernetics). 1977] – to be an important theoretical explanation of the role of the project manager – uses the As for example one moves from studying lower organisisms. 1965]. then on to socio-cultural systems [Boulding. 1961]. differentiation [Katz & Kahn. Checkland. We can see the impact of systems thinking on project management both in ‘hard’ systems engineering and decision analysis ways (Systems Engineering and Systems Analysis). 1999. and illustrates both the possibilities and the limitations of the scientific method. conceptual or physical. Tavistock. In organisation theory. Bertalanffy. It is understanding the way that systems behave – particularly ‘open’ ones (those that purposefully interact with their ‘environment’ as opposed to ‘closed’ ones. Walker. 1967] • the contrasting of ‘mechanistic’ and ‘organistic’ systems – the latter being more appropriate to programmable type production. along with Galbraith’s work on types of integrating mechanisms [Galbraith. the systems approach underlies the work of the ‘socio-technic’ school based at the Tavistock Institute in London. as in biology. the former to more creative work (like front-end design) [Burns & Stalker. (The work of Lawrence & Lorsch on the role of the integrator – widely perceived. 1956. 1956]. Jordan. 1966] and boundary management [Miller & Rice. Two particularly strong ones are those: • from the study of complex organisational entities (systems). 1966]. and of interfaces (abutting boundaries) and their management [Miller & Rice. A system may be defined as any entity. 1968]. economics. 1970. to man. 1988. Its impact on project management has been enormous. 1965. and in ‘softer’ areas of organisation development and organisational learning. 1968. many of whose ideas can be – and have been [Morris. those that do not) – which has led to several revealing insights into the way systems organise and manage themselves (for example. 1972]. 15 Peter Morris Page 13 16/01/2004 . 1984] – imported directly into our thinking of project management16. 16 Examples include: • contingency theory of organisation design (one of the most important of schools of organisation theory)16 which shows how organisations need to reflect the needs of their technical work and their environment in meeting their goals [Emery 1969. for example.ICE James Forrest Lecture the widest and arguably the most influential [Boulding. 1967]). which consists of interrelated parts. through animals. the importance of feedback [Ashby. Beer. sociology and organisation theory where new and important characteristics emerge the higher the level of analysis – so called emergence and hierarchy15. 1956. & Trist. Many will also remember the work of Higgin and Jessop on communications in the construction industry in the 1960s [Higgin & Jessop.

1963. where objectives are not clear. Reliability Management (and the other –‘ilities’: maintainability. as we have seen. engineering driven approach to systems management previously advocated for project management [Johnson. more emergent view for these fuzzier aspects of projects and their management. the USAF and USN did with it. practices and approaches has been seminal.. for example. the (hard and decision support) systems approach had given rise to almost the entire vocabulary of modern project management [Morris. 1999]. where different constituencies have conflicting aims. Forsberg et al. 1967. of the discipline. but in that it was then so heavily promoted by Robert McNamara at the Department of Defense. and Rosenzweig.) The ‘hard systems’ approach is essentially an engineering one about how to perceive. operability. SSM builds and trials – tests – a number of potential models of ‘purposeful activity’ that appear relevant to making progress in a given situation. but the organisational context within which projects are conceived and delivered is increasingly decentralised and fluid (‘transformational’ [Banner and Gagné. etc. and not always even the appropriate view.). not just because of what NASA. The failure of the hard systems approach in the Vietnam theatre illustrates the point that is going to be made shortly regarding the limits of the Hard Systems approach in less determinate situations. and where the way forward requires vision and leadership as well as hard analysis and design. 1968. At the front end of project definition. It is highly congruent with the ‘execution’ view of project management – or the ‘closed’ project world of Apollo etc. 18 Examples include Work Breakdown Structures. design. By the mid 60s. interface management. Earned Value and Performance Management. SSM actually grew out of the frustration of trying to model the management of the Concorde project within the shifting political context of de Gaulle and Britain’s application to join the Common Market [Checkland. b]. Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) was developed for such situations. Kast. While the hard. The interesting point however is that. Value Engineering and Value Management. though without explicitly using Tavistock’s systems framework [Lawrence & Lorsch. 1997]18. In essence SSM becomes a learning system19. as we saw earlier. along with the management science type decision support tools that McNamara brought with him from Ford17. configuration management. Not only this. 1995]). the trick is to conduct this testing and learning within a timeframe that fits with the expectations of the sponsor and other stakeholders. There is not much direct evidence of the 17 Peter Morris Page 14 16/01/2004 . 1996 ]. we often have quite messy. 1962]. The testing is iterative. the ‘execution’ view of project management is increasingly being recognised as not being the full view. Cleland & King. PPBS (Program Planning & Budgeting System). poorly structured situations. 19 In projects. a. Integrated Logistics Support. is still generally appropriate. Its influence on the formulation of modern project management terms. we need to augment it with a subtler.ICE James Forrest Lecture same paradigm. evaluate and implement a system to meet a defined need [Hall. and so on.

(Leadership is not restricted: there doesn’t need to be just one leader on a project/ organisation. 1985].) Peter Morris Page 15 16/01/2004 . Project management. 1969]20. 1999. Senge uses five ‘disciplines’ for conceiving and effecting sustainable change: personal mastery. 1990]. 20 Senge notes how leaders shape perception and helps create motivation and commitment. building shared vision. repeatable. In doing so it is making Comte’s point that sociology (and management) can never generate the same reducible. What both Senge and the Soft Systems school insist upon is that where the system is not yet well defined. fuzzier stages in developing visions and models of the project. Organisational learning is the only viable. supply chain. is creating a broader systems approach to project management. can shape and add to a vision and powerfully create the means for its realisation [Senge et al. benchmarking. is thus not a science. and shape our perception of it. through mental models.) It is not that there is no place for hard systems and management science type tools at the front-end of projects – far from it – but that care needs to be taken in these early. Senge goes further. integration with corporate plans. application of SSM in the management of projects to date though research by UMIST with a leading energy company is exploring its applicability. Systems thinking is the ‘Fifth Discipline’: the integrator of the other four disciplines [Senge. Iteration is probably necessary. had already argued that we tend not to construct reality out of theory but out of experience: much of ‘organisational realities’ have a subjective origin [Weick. not least by recognising the active role that people play. then. Argyris. and systems thinking. particularly in generating vision[s] of the way forward (the emergent system). etc. and so forth.. 1997]. perceptual tools can be employed to help elicit viable visions and build consensus. he believes. we see the managerial world. to some extent at least. engineering. There is a need for inclusivity. team based learning. and leaders21. and refutable public knowledge as the ‘hard’ sciences can. self-sustaining means of achieving this. And. scheduling. The organisational psychologist. mental models. Our knowledge will always be. to some extent at least. in the full or proper sense of the word. modelling (financial. Senge is concerned with how organisations build effective long-term change. Karl Weick. The project manager needs to use these ‘softer’ tools.). like management itself. using Argyris’ insights to show how teams. The role of people in management puts limits on our ability to develop predictable outcomes.ICE James Forrest Lecture Senge and his colleagues have built on these insights but added greatly. but do so within a ‘hard’ framework of decision point milestones. requirements capture. This broader view of project management. and value optimisation (Value Management). (A practice that is increasingly familiar in the way that behavioural expectations and performance targets are set in alliance and partnering based projects [Browne.

Once said. Research at UMIST however shows that it is still in its early days in construction. Information is data interpreted in a given context. • Data is un-interpreted material on which a decision may be based. • Information is data interpreted in a given context. Spurred significantly by the need to ‘continuously improve’ it is increasingly being recognised as an important though often under-managed organisational asset [Davenport & Prusack. 1998]. But what is knowledge? How does it differ from information? Work we have been doing at UMIST on the use of IT in knowledge management in construction – the KLICON project [Morris et al. Nonaka and Takeuchi. it involves intangible factors such as personal belief. and values. Many argue that its value diminishes substantially when it is ‘downloaded’ and made explicit. and thus what was taken to be predictive knowledge in fact is not. It is a common mistake to assume that one understands the context when in fact one doesn’t properly. of project management Knowledge Management is a vogue subject22. 22 Peter Morris Page 16 16/01/2004 . Knowledge is thus the cognitive ability to generate insight based on information and data. In practice the distinction between information and knowledge is a lot less clear than that between both of these and data23. Of 10 leading construction companies recently surveyed only two had any really developed form of knowledge management system. How useful then is our knowledge to the practice of project management? What role does knowledge have in the discipline? Knowledge and the theory. Explicit knowledge is 'readily available'. 23 KLICON distinguished between data.ICE James Forrest Lecture personal and experiential. it can be codified and structured in a way that makes the knowledge easily transmissible. For what is information to one person may be knowledge to another. 1995]. The best we can do is to offer guidance in the form of tools. • Knowledge is a body of information. Different information may be gleaned from a single data source if the context is different. this seems obvious. and practice. knowledge is the cognitive ability to generate insight based on information and data. Knowledge is tacit as well as explicit [Polyani. Tacit knowledge is personal knowledge embedded in individual experience. coupled with the understanding and reasoning about why it is correct. insights – and some scientifically objective theory. 2001] – has shown the difficulty of pinning down such a ubiquitous and slippery concept.. 1966. and what was knowledge in one context may only be information in another. Much that is really useful in project knowledge however is in people’s heads: it is tacit. perspectives. information and knowledge as follows. heuristics. though all were beginning to create one. aids. approaches.

or ‘competency-based’. 24 ‘Externalism’ is a view in contemporary philosophy that is analogous. They are ‘guides’ to other knowledge. Peter Morris Page 17 16/01/2004 . or engineering. (It is analogous of course to the engineering institutions’ qualifications structures. that minds hook on to the world and cannot be thought of as confined to our brains. particularly where. In management. Indeed. according to Schon. 2001]. so much of valuable knowledge is not likely to be explicit. develop knowledge and learn. IPMA is the International Project Management Association. jobs.) Much of what is valuable knowledge about management. 1972b] – is explicit knowledge. APM. or out in the larger world of experience. The insight is telling. learn through practice [Drucker. like management. 1969]24. In practice-orientated jobs or domains. private knowledge. a federal association comprising the various national project management societies. There are thus limits to how far scientifically objective knowledge can illuminate our understanding of how to manage. Tacit knowledge is private knowledge.ICE James Forrest Lecture Scientific knowledge – publicly refutable knowledge [Popper. though off a base of more formal knowledge. AIPM and IPMA25 have gone down in establishing project management certification schemes.) There are many who will always question the effectiveness of certification programs in assuring competency. If there is no authority figure to turn to then. professionals work in continuous cycles of hypothesis development. (For scientific knowledge is public knowledge. formal knowledge – ‘authority’ – is important but is not the only means of learning. by definition. The point is that managers. Schon has examined the way that managers. 1972a]. as we have seen. like other professionals. recognise in fact that to be competent one needs a mixture of appropriate formal knowledge. the ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ produced by PMI. and particularly professionals.) Schon calls this “reflection in action” [Schon. and project management. skills and behaviours. (The classic scientific approach to knowledge generation [Popper. and reflection. 25 AIPM is the Australian Institute of Project Management. Weick’s point comes in again: in organisations people create their version of reality often more out of experience than from theory [Weick. action. Most professional. be that knowledge in books. is not scientifically testable. Knowledge is seen as a special kind of mental state. dependant on our relationship with the external world [Williamson. unless and until it becomes explicit and can be addressed according to scientific practice. 1983]. It proposes that mental states depend on their environment. is thus inherently not scientific. 1974]. And this is the route that the project management societies such as PMI. most people learn most effectively by doing (particularly when they get into their twenties and beyond). APM and IPMA (AIPM uses PMI’s PMBOK®) are in reality no more than frameworks outlining the ‘knowledge areas’ that the associations believe project management practitioners should be knowledgeable in.

Conclusion Is there then a discipline of project management? What part does knowledge play in the discipline? Is there a theory? There is a discipline in the sense that: • there is a substantial. Morris. and so do people’s roles on them.edu/pmroi] 26 Peter Morris Page 18 16/01/2004 . As one of the components of project management competence. particularly those charged with developing project management competencies within companies.ICE James Forrest Lecture Competency is generally defined as the ability to perform in an effective and consistent manner. We know the characteristics of projects and project management (pretty well). 1987. Crawford. 1988. (Though the professional societies believe that their examinations of experience. Ibbs & Kwak. Projects vary hugely however. 1989. and in places significant. is at least some evidence to show that the application of formal project management knowledge and practices produces better project outcomes. 2001a. knowledge should be important. ‘Best Appropriate Practice’. where this happens. • there are many people who believe that they practice it. The current data on this is only slight [Pinto & Slevin. But is there any evidence that having formal project management knowledge helps managers to perform effectively? Many believe so [Crawford. is central to our understanding of this discipline. together with INDECO.) What many practitioners are now looking for. The University of California at Berkeley and UMIST. • there are professional societies who promote it and who examine and qualify people in it. • there are defined ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ on it (and there are also many dozens of universities that research and teach it). we have some general lessons on what kinds of actions lead to projects having successful outcomes. Some research is underway. 2001]. particularly if trying to understand how ‘Best Practice’ should be best applied – that is. The overall scope of the discipline is thus quite dauntingly large. both explicit and tacit. are collaborating on a study of “the Return on Investment of project management” sponsored by PMI [www. we know what tools are helpful in the management of projects. though not enough. literature on it. 1997. Knowledge. does test accomplishment.berkeley. But is there any objective evidence that formal project management knowledge correlates with the ability to manage projects better? Hardly any in fact. There is none yet that demonstrates a causal relationship between the application of formal project management and project outcomes26. 2001].

1995. 1968 Cooper. there cannot be a single theory: project management. Indeed. is similar: some areas are susceptible to the methods of scientific enquiry to generate testable ‘public knowledge’. Boulding. then. L von. Beer. T E. T. & Prusack. and Defensive Routines. British Standards Institute. Change.ICE James Forrest Lecture So. like management itself. D K. Baker N R. The Management of Innovation. They have theories of particular things – the laws of Newton. if applied.) Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2000. 2001 Davenport. D I. 1956. Green. W R. R. References Archibald. 29-34. Harvard Business Review. Addison Wesley.Vol. 1998. 1999. D I & King. Project management. D I and King. S. Winning at New Products. The Brain of the Firm. Chapman & Hall. 1961 Checkland. Strategy. Not. C. Browne. & Pinto J K. Sage. T H. A Guide to Project Management. “General Systems Theory – the outline of a discipline” Management Science. W R (eds. K E. A S. 1968.2(3). P. 1997. Designing Effective Organizations. National Technical Information Services N-74-30392. D C. L. Determinants of Project Success. Working Knowledge. DP. Murphy. “Why R&D projects succeed or fail” Research Management Nov-Dec 1986. (eds. Harvard Business School Press. is there a theory of project management? No: as we have seen. both tacit and explicit. Argyris. Faraday and Einstein for example – but not one overall theory. McGrawHill. even the hard scientific subjects do not have a single theory. BS: 6079. Braziller. 1972. of Best Appropriate Practice that. Systems Thinking. 1974 – see also “Factors affecting Project Success” in Project Management Handbook Cleland. Wiley. S G. & Bean. Tavistock. Slevin. Van Nostrand Reinhold 1988. L. J “Unleashing the Power of Learning”. Bertalanffy. An Introduction to Cybernetics. W R. Banner. Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects. Cleland. N R. Profiling the Competent Project Manager in Project Management Research at the turn of the Millennium. General Systems Theory. R G. Crawford. a theory of project management – indeed the very notion is mistaken – but some theories. like management itself. 1996. And knowledge. 1997 Burns. 1993. pp. Systems analysis and project management. Systems Practice. Allen Lane Press. Wiley. should lead to improved chances of successful project outcomes. Cleland. September-October. 1956 Baker. D. & Fisher. Pitman. some are much less so and will always have a large element of unpredictability. 1985 Ashby. Peter Morris Page 19 16/01/2004 .). & Stalker. & Gagné. Project Management Institute. is too broad a subject for there to be a single theory. G M.

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P M. 1972 [b]. D. The Poverty of Historicism. Granada.). Peter Morris Page 22 16/01/2004 . Knowledge and its Limits. The Social Psychology of Organizing. K R. 1984 Weick. 1999. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books. (eds. Schon. Popper. D I. Oxford. & Smith. Roth. Doubleday/Currency. 1972 Sayles. Senge. DP. Williamson. Doubleday. Popper. Project Management in Construction.ICE James Forrest Lecture Popper. A. & Pinto J K. K E. Addison-Wesley. Slevin. The Dance of Change. The Growth of Scientific Knowledge Routledge and Kegan Paul. Project Management Institute. Conjectures and Refutations. 1983. C. K R. 1957. P M. The Polaris system development: bureaucratic and programmatic success in government. 1971. 2001 World Bank Operations Evaluation Department: various reports on World Bank project performance. T. The Fifth Discipline. Objective Knowledge. Project Management Research at the turn of the Millennium Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2000. 1972 [a]. Sapolsky. 1990. Senge. 1969. K R. 2001 The Tavistock Institute Interdependence and Uncertainty. L R & Chandler. G. Routledge and Kegan Paul. Kleiner. Roberts. M K Managing large systems: organizations for the future. A. Harvard University Press. Ross. B. Tavistock. Harper & Rowe. H. Cleland. R. 1966 Walker. Oxford University Press.

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