Our title could be referring to progress in any field, but this is a project
management (PM) site and we are focusing here on real progress in the understanding
of the PM discipline. One might expect the powerhouse of this knowledge development,
"wisdom" is the popular term, to be out of the United States, but this
does not appear to be the case. In June last year  a ground-breaking paper
was published on the Internet by Mark Seely and Dr. Quang Duong, both Fellows
of the University of Ottawa, Canada.
As Seely and Quang observe, according to the Standish Group study of software
projects in both the public and private sectors, nearly 90% of the studied projects
failed, with more than one third cancelled before they were completed. This record
of failure is interpreted by most as evidence that PM tools and techniques have
not been effectively applied. The natural response is to apply further effort
towards educating and certifying more project managers in the established skills
However, Seely and Quang suggest that much of this failure may be due to a
failure to match learning, experience and skill, and consequent management approach,
to the complexity of the project at hand. Indeed, an individualās capability
may well be constrained by their current learning, which may be too restrictive
for the needs of the project.Ź They have therefore developed a learning curve
framework they call the Dynamic Baseline Model ("DBM"). It has essentially
four levels of competency: "Management by Rules"; "Management
by Methods"; "Management by Objectives" and "Management by
Values". Each level is described in some detail in their presentation which
may be found at http://www.governance.uottawa.ca/english/education/dbm/splash.html
The Dynamic Baseline Model is also presented in Issacons
#1150 through #1164.
Seely and Quang further suggest that as PM tools and techniques are more and
more applied as a one-size-fits-all solution, there is a need to explore beyond
these tools and techniques. Perhaps more fundamental issues are whether or not
classical project management concepts still apply and to what extent do they
they fit with the new business and industry realities? Now there is a new work
out of Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, that attempts to address these questions.
The findings are based on six years of on-going research led by Dr. Terence Cooke-Davies.
Terry is no stranger to project management literature. Ten years ago he wrote
these prophetic words: "Growth, change and projects go together. We face
an increasingly turbulent world in which business becomes faster paced more complex
and more competitive. In this environment the rewards will go to those organizations
which are more flexible, more in tune with their customers' wants, more focused
on their main product or service, and more professional in every aspect of their
business." (Management Today, May 1990)
Yet he continues to write today that "Projects are important to industry,
but project performance continually disappoints stakeholder expectations. Organizations
react to this performance problem in many ways, and purchase consultancy, training,
methods and tools as possible solutions [but] there is no published evidence
that any of these solutions are consistently successful in improving project
performance." So, Terry's doctoral thesis sets out to answer the question:
"What can be done to improve project management practices, and thus project
His work has resulted in a novel form of "continuous action" research
by a "community of practice" formed of practitioners from major corporations
commercially motivated to answer the question and implement changes. His thesis
starts out with the obligatory literature review which covers recent PM evolution
as it relates to project success. However, he quickly moves to what he calls
the project managerās "worldview", that is: What does the literature
tell us about what is distinctive about PM and how does the project manager approach
his or her task? Coincidentally, this review not only reflects the way in which
PM has developed in recent years but also how it extends to a much broader range
of industries. This section alone makes for fascinating reading as it reveals
(as weāve observed before in these pages) "an unbalanced worldview that
lacked coherent underlying theory."
Terry's thesis goes on to describe his unique research methods
based on a seven-step iterative process and its underlying theory.
Along the way, he discusses how we learn in both the natural and
social sciences, either of which on their own appear to be inadequate
to the study of PM. As a basis for the study, six research questions
- What aspects of project management are common to different industries?
- Which aspects of project management (such as practices or processes) are
sufficiently important to project-based organisations that they are felt to
be worthy of measurement across industries?
- What useful cross-industry "metrics" can be developed to measure
the relative performance of these practices or processes, and what constitutes
the "benchmark" for them?
- What evidence is there from actual project outcomes that the "benchmark"
practices translate into actual project performance?
- In the light of project performance, which practices and/or processes can
be demonstrated to have a determinative influence on project performance?
- How can metrics that are relevant to determinative practices or processes
be incorporated into useful predictive models?
Good questions indeed. To learn more about this study, and the answers to these
questions, contact Dr. Cooke-Davies through his web site http://www.humansystems.co.uk.