Project Management 2002: Powerful Forces Have Affected the Practice of R&D Project Management in the Past Decade. Here's a Review of the Most Fundamental Ones

Article excerpt

Since Paul Gaddis wrote his seminal article on the functions of the project manager for Harvard Business Review in 1959 (1), two simultaneous movements have rendered his words all the more meaningful. First, the field of project management has sparked enormous interest. A discipline that at one time seemed applicable almost exclusively to construction, R&D and defense-related work has branched out into business areas as diverse as insurance, banking and other service industries. Firm after firm has adopted the techniques of project management, hoping to reap its multiple benefits: the opportunity to be both externally effective (fast to market) and internally efficient (doing more, faster, with less).

The second movement is the tremendous expansion of research and writing on project management. With organizational interest at an all-time high, it is understandable that "traditional" project management topics such as scheduling, resource allocation and budgeting, and project control have recently been joined by such concepts as configuration management, critical chain scheduling, and risk management. To paraphrase a recent commercial slogan, "This is not your parent's project management any more!"

The purpose of this article is to offer an updated look at some of the new techniques and movements emerging in R&D project management research and practice. In the 13 years since Klimstra and Potts first provided readers of Research * Technology Management with a "state of the art" assessment of project management (2), a number of new developments, techniques and research studies have emerged to make it necessary, even vital, that readers are brought up to speed on where the discipline is today.

In offering this glimpse of the more significant recent events, I am mindful of the need to provide an initial disclaimer of intent. Readers will recognize that by focusing on some aspects of project management at the expense of other advances, I run the risk of explicitly endorsing some techniques while implicitly downplaying others. It is not my intent to comment on disciplinary developments in this way; rather, it is important to recognize that in the face of so much change and innovation, choosing the definitive set of preeminent advances in project management may be next to impossible. Nevertheless, some breakthroughs have made such a profound impact on current project management practice that it is necessary to concentrate our efforts along those lines.

The Movement to Project-Based Work

The increasing fascination with project management techniques for research and development stems from a number of recent events/states of modern business. Among the most important influences promoting a project orientation in recent years have been the following (3):

1. Shortened product life cycles.--Products become obsolete at an increasingly rapid rate, requiring companies to invest ever-higher amounts in R&D and new product development.

2. Narrow product launch windows.--When a delay of months or even weeks can cost a firm its competitive advantage, new products are often timed for launch within a narrow time band.

3. Huge influx of global markets.--New global opportunities raise new global challenges, like the increasing difficulty of being first to market with superior products.

4. Increasingly complex and technical products.--As technical advances are diffused into organizations, and technical complexity grows, the challenge of R&D becomes increasingly difficult.

5. Low inflation.--Corporate profitability must now come less from raising prices year after year and more from streamlining internal operations to become ever more efficient.

The impact of these and other facets of the modern economic environment have created conditions under which companies using project management are flourishing. Their success has encouraged more and more firms to give the discipline a serious look as they contemplate how to become "project savvy. …