MRS Shadi

Topics: Project management, Knowledge, Management Pages: 9 (8327 words) Published: October 20, 2014
Available online at

International Journal of Project Management 32 (2014) 1423 – 1431

Knowledge formation and learning in the management of
projects: A problem solving perspective
Terence Ahern ⁎, Brian Leavy, P.J. Byrne
Dublin City University Business School, Dublin City University, Ireland Received 8 July 2013; received in revised form 6 February 2014; accepted 13 February 2014 Available online 15 March 2014

In contrast to traditional projects, which are assumed to be fully specified and then executed with little learning anticipated, complex projects cannot be fully specified at the outset and require continuous learning over their life cycles. Nevertheless, the key role of knowledge formation and learning in managing complex projects is under-developed for expanding project capability boundaries to include knowledge uncertainty and indeterminacy.

Drawing inspiration from Karl Weick's enactivist ideas and an empirical study of two organizations that developed project capability for complex projects, the paper develops an integrated view of projects and project management that is grounded in problem solving learning and organizing. More specifically, a project is reconceptualized as ‘a mode of organizing to accomplish a temporary undertaking’ with intrinsic learning. This perspective views complex projects under knowledge uncertainty as learning organizations, with implications for project management theory and practice.

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. APM and IPMA. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Project management; Complex problem solving; Knowledge formation; Modes of organizing and learning (MOL); Practice

1. Introduction
In traditional project research, even when complex projects
cannot be fully specified and planned in advance, such as major infrastructure projects, normative expectations require the appearance of planning and control for these projects through management processes based on instrumental rationality (Sapolsky, 1972). This normative approach treats ‘complex’ projects, which cannot be fully specified in advance, as just ‘complicated’ projects that can still be managed and planned in the traditional way as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques … to meet the project requirements” (PMI, 2013, p. 5, italics added). Not surprisingly, this planning approach privileges static and explicit ‘known’ knowledge (designs, etc.) over dynamic and experiential ‘knowing’ knowledge (know-how, etc.), which leads to an

⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: + 353 1 7031752.
E-mail addresses: (T. Ahern), (B. Leavy), (P.J. Byrne).
0263-7863/© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. APM and IPMA. All rights reserved.

expectation of little learning during the execution of project plans as prior knowledge. In this project culture, the role of knowledge formation and learning in project delivery is downplayed, which is to the detriment of enhancing the boundaries of traditional project capability to include project settings characterized by knowledge complexity and indeterminacy.

Using the enactivist ideas of Weick (1979, 1995), this paper examines knowledge formation and learning as a key aspect of developing an organizational capability for delivering complex projects, which is based on an empirical study featuring two Irish state-owned organizations in the late 1990s and early

2000s. During this time, each of these organizations was
challenged to develop a project capability as a core supporting competence in order to deliver major infrastructure projects well beyond their project capability up to then (Thompson,
1967). While acknowledging the difficulty of distinguishing
between large projects and complex projects, Williams (2002) builds on Baccarini (1996) to highlight the indeterminacy and uncertainty of complex projects,...

References: Ahern, T., Leavy, B., Byrne, P.J., 2014. Complex project management as
complex problem solving: a distributed knowledge management perspective
Ahern, T., 2013. The Development Of Project Management Capability In
Complex Organisational Settings: Towards A Knowledge-Based View.
APM, 2012. APM Body Of Knowledge, sixth ed. Association for Project
Management, Princes Risborough, Bucks., UK (Orig
Argyris, C., 1977. Double loop learning in organizations. Harv. Bus. Rev. 55
(5), 115–125.
Baccarini, D., 1996. The concept of project complexity—a review. Int. J. Proj.
Bakker, R.M., 2010. Taking stock of temporary organizational forms: a systematic
review and research agenda
Berggren, C., Söderlund, J., 2008. Rethinking project management education: social
twists and knowledge co-production
Berggren, C., Järkvik, J., Söderlund, J., 2008. Lagomizing, organic integration,
and systems emergency wards: innovative practices in managing complex
Blomquist, T., Hällgren, M., Nilsson, A., Söderholm, A., 2010. Project-aspractice: in search of project management research that matters. Proj.
Bourdieu, P., 2013. Outline Of A Theory Of Practice. Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, UK (Orig
Brady, T., Hobday, M., 2011. Projects and innovation: innovation and projects.
Brady, T., Söderlund, J., 2008. Projects in innovation, innovation in projects
selected papers from the IRNOP VIII conference (editorial)
Bragd, A., 2002. Knowing Management: An Ethnographic Study of Tinkering
With a New Car
Bredillet, C.N., 2008. Exploring research in project management—nine schools
of project management research
Bresnen, M., Marshall, N., 2000. Partnering in construction: a critical review of
issues, problems and dilemmas
Brown, J.S., Duguid, P., 1991. Organizational learning and communities-ofpractice: toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organ.
Cattani, G., Ferriani, S., Frederiksen, L., Täube, F., 2011. Project-based
organizing and strategic management
Chia, R., 2013. Paradigms and perspectives in organizational project
management research: implications for knowledge creation
Cicmil, S., Hodgson, D., 2006. Making projects critical: an introduction. In:
Hodgson, D., Cicmil, S
Cleden, D., 2009. Managing Project Uncertainty. Gower, Farnham, UK.
Cleland, D.I., King, W.R., 1983. Systems Analysis And Project Management.
Cook, S.D.N., Brown, J.S., 1999. Bridging epistemologies: the generative
dance between organizational knowledge and organizational knowing.
Czarniawska-Joerges, B., 1992. Exploring Complex Organizations: A Cultural
Davies, A., Hobday, M., 2005. The Business of Projects: Managing Innovation
in Complex Products and Systems
Drouin, N., Müller, R., Sankaran, S. (Eds.), 2013. Novel Approaches to
Organizational Project Management Research: Translational and Transformational
Enberg, C., Lindkvist, L., Tell, F., 2006. Exploring the dynamics of knowledge
integration: acting and interacting in project teams
Enberg, C., Lindkvist, L., Tell, F., 2010. Knowledge integration at the edge of
technology: on teamwork and complexity in new turbine development
Engwall, M., 1998. The project concept(s): on the unit of analysis in the study
of project management
Engwall, M., 2002. The futile dream of the perfect goal. In: Sahlin-Andersson,
K., Söderholm, A
Engwall, M., 2003. No project is an island: linking projects to history and
Engwall, M., Steinthórsson, R.S., Söderholm, A., 2003. Temporary organizing—a
Viking approach to project management research
Flyvbjerg, B., Bruzelius, N., Rothengatter, W., 2003. Megaprojects and Risk:
An Anatomy of Ambition
Gherardi, S., 2006. Organizational Knowledge: The Texture of Workplace
Giddens, A., 2007. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of
Hällgren, M., Wilson, T.L., 2008. The nature and management of crises in
construction projects: projects-as-practice observations
Hayek, F.A., 1945. The use of knowledge in society. Am. Econ. Rev. 35 (4),
Hedlund, G., 1994. A model of knowledge management and the N-form
Ivory, C., Alderman, N., McLoughlin, I., Vaughan, R., 2006. Sense-making as a
process within complex projects
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Mr Bleaney Essay
  • Feminism in 'Mrs. Dalloway' Essay
  • Mrs. Dalloway Essay
  • Mrs. Dalloway Essay
  • Mrs. Fields' Cookies Case Study Research Paper
  • Mrs. Dalloway Paper
  • Mrs Fields Cookies Research Paper
  • The Women in Mrs. Dalloway Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free