Published here March 2013 & updated August 2016


Musings Index

Project Management Issues for Discussion and Research

From time to time I receive Email requests from post-graduate students for some suitable topics to study and research for their dissertation. More often, I suspect, do tutors visit this site looking for topics to suggest to their students for study or at least for discussion. So I decided to ask a few colleagues for their ideas.

Here is a list of their ideas in no particular order, but suitably edited for consistent form of presentation:

  1. Fundamental theory of project management. There is no accepted general underlying theory of project management, and it doesn't appear that many academics, if any, are working to remedy this deficiency. Why is that?
  2. First principles of project management. Many times first principles of project management have been put forward, see for example the paper on my web site.[1] However, no generally accepted first principles of project management have been established. Since this would obviously be beneficial to the project management community at large, why is this, how can this be remedied, and what would they be?
  3. Project planning. Most people seem to accept that a project should have a plan, but there is little agreement about when that plan should be developed, what should be in it, or how detailed it should be. What incontrovertible evidence can be established to resolve these issues?
  4. Project work versus operations work. What are the fundamental differences between project work and operations that makes the management of each profoundly different?
  5. Theory versus practice. Why do we not actually do what the standard project management knowledge courses teach us that we are supposed to do? Who is at fault, the tutors or the users?
  6. Project taxonomy or typology. Clearly, all projects are not created equal.[2] What are the most important attributes that would contribute to a better understanding of the differences and a better project management performance generally?
  7. Project management complexity. What is project management complexity, how does it impact projects and how can that knowledge lead to better project management performance?
  8. Project management language. The Wideman Comparative Glossary of Project Management Terms provides ample evidence that it is often difficult to discuss project management because we use the same word or phrase to mean different things, and use different words and phrases to mean the same thing. Yet attempts to standardize project management terminology appear to have failed. What is it about project management language that makes this so difficult?
  9. Project life cycle models.[3] The project life span models that govern projects to satisfy corporate governance requirements, i.e. project governance, and the models that best suit the management of the technological development of the product, i.e. product development management, are not the same thing. This distinction is not generally recognized in the practice of project management even though it has been explicit in the Project Management Institute's ("PMI") Guides to the Project Management Body of Knowledge ("PMBOK") since their beginning. What are those differences, how should they be integrated, and how best can this information be broadcast and accepted amongst project practitioners?
  10. Project life cycle versus process groups. It seems that even established institutions that support PMBOK do not understand the concepts that differentiate the two. This lack of understanding causes significant problems amongst project management practitioners, especially in the Information Technology domain. Perhaps this is partly due to the similarity and misinterpretation of the labels used in each case for project phases on the one hand and process groups on the other. What are these concepts and their differences, what revised labels might better serve these concepts and how best could such a proposal best be promulgated and become accepted?
  11. Project management certifications. Paul Giammalvo has done some work on the relative merits of different certifications. This area of interest could benefit from more research and comparison.
  12. PMI's Project Management Maturity (OPM3). Have the underlying principles supporting this philosophy been tested and validated? Is there room for improvement and perhaps even simplification?
  13. Project Management Office (PMO). What is a project management office? What does, or should, it do? And what is its value proposition, especially in comparison with Project Program Offices (PPO) and Project Portfolio Management Offices?
  14. Career paths. What career paths are available to project managers and what are the relative merits of each?
  15. Learning from history. Does general management have established theories that support it? If so, presumably the originators faced the same challenges of legitimacy as project management research faces to day. In which case, what can be learned from the original emergence and growth of general management?
  16. Community of practice. What influence can a self-determined Community of Practice have in the running of projects in a corporate organizational setting?
  17. Project exit strategy. To what extent do projects generally have an "Exit Strategy" and should this be a part of accepted project management philosophy?
  18. Triangle models. Why do so many people still cling to the triangle as a model of project management, when a triangle is clearly inadequate, and even misleading, when used to represent the project management process?
  19. Project management methodologies. What documented and statistically meaningful evidence is there that project management methodologies actually increase project success rates however that "success" may be defined?
  20. Project management soft skills. What documented and statistically meaningful evidence is there that the application of project management soft skills actually increases project success rates however that "success" may be defined?

  21. Sponsor responsibilities. In the real world, what do sponsors do in relation to projects and programs? What are their responsibilities in practice? Do they control the money flow, and if so, how? In general, do they help or hinder the progress of a project or program?

For these suggestions, many thanks to Janice Thomas, Bill Duncan, Jouko Vaskimo, and others. Perhaps some of these questions might even be suitable for general discussion on LinkedIn? If so, feel free to go ahead, but please do recognize the source. Any feedback would also be appreciated.

1. See
2. Aaron Shenhar, Max Wideman and others have done work in this area.
3. Russ Archibald, Max Wideman and others have done much work on these issues.
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