Systems Approach to Project Management

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All projects need simple processes in place to monitor and control cost, progress and quality. It is argued, however, that projects involving innovation and complexity, almost regardless of size, need a “systems approach” to project management. Discuss.

1. Introduction

This literature review will discuss Project Management and the apparent need for a systems approach when managing projects involving innovation and complexity compared to using a simple process. In order to conceptualise the discussion, the construction industry will be used to provide a framework for Project Management.

This literature review will firstly outline the context demonstrating the importance of the construction industry to the UK economy. Secondly, provide answers to the questions: what is a simple process and what is the systems approach. Thirdly, to analyse what constitutes a projects involving innovation and complexity.

This submission will identify the apparent need for a systems approach, not a simple approach, by reviewing project management, innovation, and complexity.

2. Context

Like most sectors within the UK, the construction industry has been the subject of many studies relating to theories on innovation, efficiency and productivity (Larsen 2010; Loosemore, Dainty and Lingard 2003). Growth or stagnation, changes in the industry affect many people.

The construction industry was estimated at £102,363 billion pounds with a workforce estimated at 2,216,000 people and worth approximately 10% of gross domestic produce by the Department for Trade and Industry (Dainty, Green and Bagilhole 2007). The industry remains crucial to the UK economy for two main reasons. * Firstly it is a key sector for society and culture because buildings and infrastructure are the basis for working, living and leisure (Konepfel 1992). * Secondly it is “one of the pillars of the domestic economy” and therefore is should not be allowed to stagnate (Egan 1998).

Dainty et al (2007) suggested that due to the size of the industry it is worthy of research, not just focusing on productivity but on the social element described as ‘human capital’. Systems theorists would view both the economy and the construction industry as open systems, meaning they are linked because they are dependent on each other. Having noted the importance of interrelationships and the cause-effect relationship; Ackoff (1974) suggests that one thing, or event can be taken, to be the cause of another. If this is accepted, the construction industries’ people, processes and practices are also significant to the economy.

The construction industry is a project-based industry and projects introduce changes within the core business of organisations. Projects are often temporary with a defined start and end; they also require a number of people from different teams to work together on a short-term basis. Project Management is how to manage a project.

Winch (2007) states Project Management adopted its own identity in nineteenth century, to meet the need for the clients, to have a co-ordinator of the different trades on site. In the last 30 years the application of Project Management techniques in construction developed, in response to an increase in complex projects, operating within a fragmented industry, with specialised contractors (Watts 2011).

Walker (2007) said that projects exist in a complex environment and success in construction depends on the way the Architect, Quantity surveyor, Engineer and Contractor work together with the Project Manager directing their perceptions of the project objectives. These contractors work within their own system but merge to form a coalition in order to achieve the project goal as specified by the client (Watts 2011; Walker 2007).

To reiterate, the construction industry should not be allowed to stagnate due to its financial and social value. How far can the systems approach go towards assisting...
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