Rethinking Project Management

Topics: Project management, Management, Knowledge Pages: 28 (9257 words) Published: October 10, 2011

International Journal of Project Management 24 (2006) 675–686

Rethinking Project Management: Researching the actuality of projects Svetlana Cicmil
a c

a,* ,

Terry Williams b, Janice Thomas c, Damian Hodgson


Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK b School of Management, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK School of Innovative Management, Athabasca University, 1 University Drive, Athabasca, Canada AB T9S 3A3 d Manchester Business School, Booth Street West, Manchester M15 6PB, UK

Abstract This paper puts forth the somewhat controversial position that what is needed to improve project management in practice is not more research on what should be done or the frequency and/or use of traditional project management practices. We argue that while a great deal is written about traditional project management we know very little about the ‘‘actuality’’ of project based working and management. This paper formulates a research approach that takes seriously practitioner’s lived experience of projects. We explore the ontological, epistemological and methodological assumptions underlying this kind of research and provide examples of some project management research originating from this perspective. We conclude by summarizing the findings from these studies and providing insights into the map ahead for future such research. In this kind of work the attention is refocused on praxis, on context-dependent judgement, on situational ethics and on reflexivity which enables social actors to see how power actually functions in context. Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. Keywords: Actuality; Practice; Rationality; Project management

1. Introduction The aim of the paper is to formulate and map a strand of research within the project management field that adequately addresses the ‘actuality’ of project based working and management. The paper draws on the aims, process and outcomes of the Rethinking Project Management Network, including the discussions that took place over its duration within and outside formal meetings, and on a number of joint initiatives among us, the authors of this paper, which resulted from our shared interest in methodologies and concepts relevant to this strand of research in the field. Our central claim is that a better understanding of project actuality – that is, of complex social processes that go on at various levels of project working, will inform equally beneficially the intended theoretical developments


Corresponding author. E-mail address: (S. Cicmil).

in the project management field and practical action in project environments, and will contribute to more satisfactory outcomes of contemporary projects. In the subsequent sections of this paper we will explain this claim by proposing a framework for conceptualisation of ‘project actuality’ and how we understand it. We do so by drawing on selected work in the field of sociology of management practice, on our own recent work in the PM field, on examples and insights from discussions and experiences generated from the ‘Rethinking Project Management’ Network meetings and sense-making papers, and on the aims and outcomes of the RPM Network, outlined and represented in Table 1 and Fig. 1 of the first paper in this special issue [1]. We will particularly outline two key aspects of the ‘project actuality research’ that we propose as unique in comparison with other strands of inquiry in the domain of project management: (1) the underpinning conceptual and philosophical considerations and (2) the methodological approaches and ‘treatment’ of empirical evidence. These are seen as complementary to (and not

0263-7863/$30.00 Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2006.08.006


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