Project Management

By Fretty, Peter | PM Network, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Project Management


Fretty, Peter, PM Network


As project management evolves, a new set of issues is demanding attention.

Project management is at a crossroads, with long-held traditions and practices challenged by promising newer approaches. As the profession matures, it will include even more of an emphasis on people skills, a push for more enterprise-wide infiltration and new ways to educate practitioners-and executives-on project management practices. The question is which areas of development and research will be embraced and which will fall to the wayside as mere fads.

A group called Rethinking Project Management has been seeking to identify directions for how the discipline might be extended and enriched for the 21st century. Funded by the U.K. government, this research network of academics and practitioners saw a gap between conventional project management theory and the developing practice, says Mark Winter, Ph.D., principal investigator of the group, which closed last January. He also teaches at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, University of Manchester, Manchester, U.K. "One of the key issues is that, in regards to project management education, there ought to be a significant shift from training to learning," he says. Project management must move toward "the development of reflective practitioners who can learn, operate and adapt effectively in complex project environments through experience, intuition and the pragmatic application of theory in practice."

The challenge of the future is not identifying or mastering a stagnant body of knowledge or standardizing practice, says Janice Thomas, Ph.D., program director of the online executive MBA in project management at Athabasca University Centre for Innovative Management, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada. Rather, the test will be developing master project managers capable of diagnosing flaws in current project management and developing new approaches.

"These new project managers will be innovative, creative professionals-not rigid, tactical technicians," she says. Organizations must invest in developing an understanding of what strategic project management looks like for them and then create the environment to support its development, she says. "Growing away from the quick-fix approach to a longer-term investment in the human and organizational resources necessary to support successful projects in complex environments will lead to long-term strategic advantage for many organizations."

A Failing Grade

Organizations should foster the mentoring of junior project managers by more experienced ones. "Classroom training and workshops provide theoretical knowledge, but experience is the best teacher," according to James Greene of Redtoo AG, Reinach, Switzerland. He also is vice president, communications for PMI's Switzerland Chapter. "A project manager who has a mentor will be more willing to assume responsibility and take calculated risks than someone who has had classroom training and then is left to [his or her] own devices."

Many large companies spend considerable money developing project management and system delivery methodologies, but fail when it comes to user education. Following the company's methodologies becomes an exercise in doing the paperwork without any real understanding.

Take the transition from the project phase into the operational phase, for example. "As project managers, we focus on our project, and on delivering in scope, on time, on budget and on quality," he says. "But we often forget or neglect the fact that the development is just the beginning. When we have finished the project, the product life cycle is just beginning. These two phases-project management and operational management-must move closer together."

A Better Blend

After a tremendous growth in project management tools, principles and tactics, expect a new push for improving people skills.

"Traditionally, the people side of project management . …

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