A critique of the PMI post-disaster rebuild methodology

Derek H.T. Walker, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia


The aim of this paper is to review the Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Methodology for Post Disaster Reconstruction (PMI, 2005). This is a critical review and so we will be evaluating that methodology in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. This will reveal gaps and we hope that any suggestions for improvement that are proposed will enable future versions to take these suggestions into account. We intended to primarily provide a critique and review of the literature not only of traditional project management (PM) literature but also of relevant general management and social science literature. These bodies of knowledge have significant impact upon filling identified gaps in the methodology book.

The paper is structured as follows. The introduction sets the paper's context with a discussion of typical disaster scenarios and their strategic needs that could benefit from a PM approach to managing their recovery. Potential responses are highlighted. The next section provides an overview of the PMI Project Management Methodology for Post Disaster Reconstruction (PMMPDR), its aims, its ontology, its cultural and historical perspective, and its content. The next section provides a critique of its strengths. This is followed by a critique of its weaknesses. The elements that have been identified include: the value perspective; the project response in terms of being a transformation or restitution aim; strategic questions about the project selection aims; people and culture issues, and the project as a learning opportunity. That leads into a section on identifying gaps in the methodology document. The paper concludes with some suggestions relating to improving the PMMPDR.


We wish to acknowledge the support of the PMI for its funding of the related research project entitled “Understanding the Antecedents of Project Management Best Practices: Lessons to be Learned from Aid Relief Projects” under their ‘Open Topic’ call for competitive research grants awarded in 2007.

A Post Disaster Rebuild Context

Disasters prompt action to rectify their detrimental impact and to obviate ongoing problems. Disasters can be caused by either natural or human means. Natural disasters include obviously natural non-human causes such as earthquakes, volcanos, and tsunamis—like the one that that struck the South East Asia region on December 26, 2004, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving more destitute and homeless. Other natural disasters may be human influenced through global warming (Stern, 2006), for example, Hurricane Katrina1 in the United States of America (USA). One could add to these pollution disasters such as blue-green algae blooms due to human intervention in biological systems. These later type disasters may not require restoration projects to return the situation to previously dangerous situations of what Loosemore (2000) calls a creeping crisis. Purely natural disasters may require pure restoration, or perhaps (as is the case for devastation of communities from a tsunami or volcano) it may be wiser to restore communities in alternative locations rather than just replacing what was previously there.

Man-made disasters occur from another set of conditions, for example, wars, terrorist attacks, pollution through oil spills, or catastrophic events like the nuclear ‘accident’ in Chernobyl. In these cases, restoration to the previous dangerous situation is unwise. So the premise that we must respond in order to restore the status quo because a disaster occurs is not sensible. Other project vision or goals would be appropriate and these would vary with the nature of the pre-existing risk situation and the motivation of various stakeholders in creating a better post-disaster situation.

This brings us to the delivery strategy context to deal with disaster recovery-type projects. Repair could be one strategy to just get the situation back to a business-as-usual, pre-disaster condition that is rectifying an easily fixable fault. Restoration could be another, that is, to bring the situation back to its previous state, though measures may be needed to take into account the risks associated with the source of the fire to obviate future risks. Alternatively, we perceive disasters as change opportunities and make no attempt to restore or repair them but to make systemic changes that can involve significant strategic change responses. These are three examples, there is no doubt that more of these than can be envisaged.

One can see the post-disaster recovery as a project (restoring, rebuilding, or recovering) or see the task as a program of changes or projects. It is unlikely that any disaster is a single cause event; rather it is more likely to be a systemic failure that involves behaviors and risky/faulty assets. A tsunami recovery project or a disaster similar to Hurricane Katrina will have social as well as physical infrastructure elements.

The PMI Post Disaster Rebuild Methodology

The book (PMI, 2005) begins with a foreword that acknowledges the roots of this document as being prompted by finding better ways to project manage the aftermath and recovery of two severe disasters; the 2004 Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people and Hurricane Katrina that deeply affected the U.S. national psyche. The foreword of the book states that

“PMI's methodology was developed by nearly 80 project management volunteers and subject matter experts representing 20 countries around the world. With the support and assistance of the PMI Board of Directors and senior management, as well as PMI professional staff members, the methodology contained in this document is designed to serve as a comprehensive framework, grounded in time-tested project management knowledge and skills, to assist in the completion of individual, rudimentary projects, such as the reconstruction of one-story homes and schools, simple irrigation systems, basic roads, etc. following a disaster event” (PMI, 2005, p. v).

This defines the intended scope, broad though it claims to be, but is nonetheless aimed at rudimentary projects so one assumes that major reconstruction projects that would comprise much of the effort required after these two disasters may be excluded by this document. We do find some significant gaps in its applicability, perhaps this is due to the scope limitation. And the foreword also invites critical comments and feedback so we hope that this paper will be welcomed. The stated intention of the methodology (PMI, 2005, p. 1):

“is to enhance collaboration and consistency, as well as quality and accountability, of projects undertaken in a crisis/disaster rebuild environment. It can also apply to development projects aimed at building sustainability. This methodology is, based on PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Third Edition. Unless otherwise noted, it should be assumed that the source of the information in the Methodology is the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition.”

The authors of this methodology then go on to say that it was developed specifically for developing countries with minimal infrastructure.

The remainder of the book then follows the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition approach being highly focussed upon project management processes such as Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and closing out a project. This is not inconsistent with PRINCE 2 for example (Bentley, 1997). In the initiating process it explains that all projects should have a charter and it highlights the elements of one such as: summarized mission, vision, values; a project brief; a statement of benefits to identify who will benefit and how and what resources it will take to do so; specified constraints; identified risks; identified stakeholders; high level budgets and milestones to enable the ‘iron triangle’ of cost, time and fitness for purpose to be measured and controlled for. The document then provides templates for users to follow and, in fact, from pages 31 to 66, a whole series of templates are provided with pages 67 and 68 comprising checklists and pages 70 to 75 providing a glossary of terms. This is very helpful for those familiar with the PMI approach or who have a systems-thinking approach to using processes to convert inputs into outputs, for example, plans with defined performance measurement metrics that can be used to monitor and assist control to deliver the desired and specified project aims.

The methodology's list of plans, taken directly from the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition may look impressive and comprehensive. Anyone who is a project management professional, particularly those with PMI certifications or who have undertaken higher learning degree courses, would be familiar with the philosophical underpinning of this document. Indeed the ‘feel’ of this book is that it is a cut-down version of the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition (PMI, 2004). However, while this is consistent with the developed best project management practices as being consciously developed for around five to six decades (Morris, 1994) this book does represent and conform closely to the prevailing rationalist world view of the project management discipline and so it would be a mistake to assume that this is the only valid project management world view. A number of leading academics have argued for a broader appreciation of what project management may be and how the management of projects of any kind should be approached (Hodgson & Cicmil, 2006; Winter & Smith, 2006; Smith, 2007). Thus, for those undertaking projects coming from a different world view, the ease of following the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition or the other forms of project management bodies of knowledge that have been produced by other project management organizations, the natural ability to follow the cultural mindset of the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition may not be easy to achieve. If the cultural foundation of a book, such as the one being examined in this paper, is not concurrent with that of a reader then it may make little sense. It is worth questioning the assumption that PMI's PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition is the best practice or whether it is valid.

Whitty (2005), while not detracting from the value of the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition's view of project management, makes a strong argument that this view, indeed the standard project management association's view of project management as a discipline, may well be self serving. He draws upon the idea of a meme from using a biological metaphor where a meme is a ‘selfish gene’ that replicates itself and manages to manipulate its environment to survive. Memes, in this way, can also be seen as self perpetuating (but not necessarily validated) theories or even ‘truths’ that through perpetual and strident assertion are accepted as fact whereas they perhaps should be seen as contestable (if not temporarily reliable) reasonable ways of making sense of situations. The PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition principles of project management good practice have been tested by practice and research that has been presented for decades in the literature as being valid for some types of projects (notably the more tangible ones like construction) but certainly not all types and certainly project management failures have been abundantly evident in the literature (Standish, 1994, 2003) to lead us to believe that project management practice has a somewhat patchy overall success rate. Whitty & Schulz (2007) trace traditional project management (expressed in the standard project management literature journals and sources) to a Puritanical ideology that has colored the world view and drawn those people who are attracted to this deterministic mindset to accept the cultural artifacts and assumptions to be the dominant and ‘true’ view to accept as valid and practical. This approach sees project management practice as being heroic to some extent and highly action-oriented, practical one might say. It is highly associated with its roots embedded in engineering and engineering optimization as well as systems theory, whereas an emerging view of project management theory stresses its link to social science and organizational behavior theory as the way that projects are seen (Hodgson, 2002; Söderlund, 2004; Winter, Smith, Morris & Cicmil, 2006).

PMI Post-Disaster Methodology Strengths

We do not wish to give the impression that this book is of little value. On the contrary, in terms of specific types of projects within the scope of purely rebuilding simple infrastructure (or even more technically complex infrastructure for that matter) this book has much to offer.

The focus on traditional project management virtues of sound planning, intelligent project scoping, effective performance measure definitions and sound monitoring and control has been reinforced in the project management success factor literature (Pinto & Slevin, 1987; de Wit, 1988; Cooke-Davies, 2002). These factors, impacting upon construction and IT projects amongst others in Australia over the past two decades, have been shown to be consistent in a report on an ongoing study of project management success factors in Australia (Steinfort & Walker, 2007). The key to success on these projects supports the same rigorous application of planning, monitoring and control processes as espoused in this methodology book (PMI, 2005). Points of departure in these findings reported by Steinfort & Walker (2007) from the PMI methodology relate to the importance and stress laid upon understanding the organizational culture of client groups and stakeholders and the rigorous application of these principles in project scoping, briefing, planning, and developing stakeholder engagement in bringing influential stakeholders within the project governance structure. The PMI methodology has some strengths in that it flags these processes as important, but much of the knowledge in applying these principles requires deep project management skills and knowledge and a great deal of application of tacit knowledge that has developed in competent performers, or expert or virtuoso project managers (Cicmil, 2003; Dreyfus, 2004). The PMI methodology provides the advantage of templates providing explicit knowledge of how to use relevant tools that this level of PM competence can muster, but it does not, and can not, deliver any of the tacit knowledge required to effectively make this work. The Steinfort and Walker (2007) findings suggest that this level of sophistication is pivotal.

PMI Post-Disaster Methodology Weaknesses

In this section, we suggest three weaknesses that exist in the methodology book which present barriers to it achieving its stated outcomes.

1. Project Type—Project or Program?

The book's methodology is geared to responding to highly visible and tangible projects such as those found in the construction, aerospace and shipbuilding industries. Interest in appropriate project management practices and approaches has also been focused on project types for many years (Turner & Cochrane, 1993; Shenhar & Dvir, 2004). There appears to be an appreciation that management of some projects, particularly those with difficult to define sub-goals (beyond the obvious highest level goal) requires managing complementarities (Whittington et al., 1999) - achieving high levels of flexibility while maintaining structure. Managing projects in a chaotic environment best characterizes the experience of one of us in delivering aid projects in post-disaster situations.

This dominant approach to project management practice assumed by the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition, as it is currently evolving in the commercial project management world, illustrates weaknesses that the above thought leaders have identified in project management, and is also mirrored by observations in the field of how aid projects function. A growing body of literature that is critical of project management techniques being applied in what may be viewed as inappropriate situations, suggests that there are a range of project planning and performance measurement approaches better suited for ambiguous or poorly defined aid or social service delivery projects (Sigsgaard, 2002; Earle, 2003; Ramage & Armstrong, 2005).

We also we raise questions about the assumption of post-disaster rectification (or rebuilds) being a project. We would like to propose that it may be more fruitful to consider these as a program of projects. The idea of a project is very much tied up in the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition (PMI, 2004) as a temporary endeavour that delivers benefits using temporary teams that mainly come together for short bursts of time to deliver a result that has a defined phased life cycle moving from initiation through design, delivery to closeout and while these phases may be recursive they are generally well defined. That is well accepted for tangible projects such as construction (or rebuild) projects; however there has been a vigorous debate and exploration of other types of projects. Post-disaster work for major disaster relief such as the 2004 Tsunami may well be better considered as being large scale programs of work that have extensive service providers considered working over decades on a range of diverse and integrated renewal programs of projects.

Turner (Turner, 1999; Turner & Cochrane, 1993) considered a range of project types over 15 years ago with intangible projects that have characteristics which require a different focus upon strategy and delivery approaches. Later, others such as Shenhar, for example in (Shenhar & Dvir, 2004) extended the question of project typology to include project characteristics such as pace, complexity of technology that defines the skills characteristics needed to manage the project and composition such as a single unit, a system or an array. This type of view of projects leads us to question whether aid relief projects are indeed simply of rebuild scope. If we take the Tsunami relief projects in places such as Aceh, for example, we can envisage a highly complex array of projects embedded with a very long term program of projects. In Pace terms (Shenhar & Dvir, 2004) the high speed to market aspects may relate to part of the program that delivers survival resources to affected communities, while slower scale pace aspects may be community social capital rebuild as well as longer term educational or governance catch up projects to bring these communities to be sustainable in a global economy.

One can also imagine other projects as psychological or even spiritual rehabilitation development (for people whose belief foundations may have been shaken by such catastrophic events) as forming the desired benefit of a rebuild and renewal project. We, therefore, argue that such projects may, in fact, be far more complex in their scale and scope to rectify rebuild and restore stakeholder social needs than is assumed by the PMI (2005) methodology. It may be better if non-government agencies, charitable organizations and government organizations that might use that PMI methodology were to carefully understand inherent relevant applications and limitations in that book so that they do not have unrealistic expectations of its potential to deliver the benefits that such groups may seek in projects outside of its present scope.

2. Cultural Bias

The Whitty and Schulz (2007) thesis argues that this PMI methodology and the entire PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition in fact, is heavily influenced by a Western Puritanical ideology seeing performance in terms of the iron triangle (time, cost, fitness for purpose) as being of paramount concern. We know that the world has a broad range of ways that people value performance and those cultural norms dominate perceptions of what is correct and proper (Hofstede, 1991; Trompenaars, 1993). Further, recent studies undertaken as part of the Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (GLOBE) study (House et al., 2002) also highlight marked differences in the way that Indonesians in Aceh, for example, would view as appropriate behaviour of project management team leaders to those of US or Australian project management teams for example. The situation is particularly marked in highly Confucian cultural societies where important barriers to project management effectiveness have been highlighted (Wang, 2001; Wang and Liu, 2007). In these types of societies, clan membership and contractual and social relationship issues are of fundamental importance to how business is conducted. This causes us to redefine the meaning of a project family for example in terms of Confucian culture and therefore the explicit and implied mutual obligations inherent in the guangxi and wulun2 concept. These provide just a glimpse of the complexity that post disaster aid projects may face. The risk management and stakeholder engagement templates in the Project Management Methodology for Post Disaster Reconstruction are silent on all these important practical examples that arise in a non-Western dominated project management situation.

3. Accountability for Project Success

In the measuring success study by Ramage and Armstrong (2005), they find that various historical methods for evaluating success have encountered barriers to performance measurement. Difficulties arise in ensuring that measurement instruments guarantee reliability, validity, and responsiveness. To assist in the categorization of factors impacting on these aspects, they extend the framework developed by de Lancer and Holzer (2001) to produce a more comprehensive categorization of influences. These may align, coincidentally, with the antecedents to project management best practice or success necessary to be in place in the aid/relief project management research world. Their study provides confirmation that two distinct categories of influences, namely rational/scientific and political/cultural, exist. They further, and most importantly, state that it is not possible to fully understand rational/scientific factors without consideration of political/cultural factors. It is interesting that these points have not been studied in detail to any great extent in research in the primary project management area to date.

The stated aim of the PMI methodology is to provide templates that can help users achieve project management process success. The PMI methodology stresses accountability in terms of the iron triangle – time, cost, fitness for purpose. It does stress gaining stakeholder commitment in its initiation phase, but the templates and tenor of this book is one of these groups helping to develop plans that must and will be controlled. The risk contingency section (PMI, 2005, p. 16–17) provides some relevant local advice in terms of security issues, vaccination of project staff and having a sound demobilization plan that delivers a secure exit strategy. This is commendable, but it does not provide a great deal of guidance beyond general templates and no reference in its checklist (PMI, 2005, Appendix B). There has been a great deal written over the years about project success, project management success and performance management to deliver success. A number of papers relating to critical success factors emerged during the late 1980's—for example see (Pinto & Slevin, 1987) and de Wit (1988) who viewed success as being judged by the degree to which project objectives have been met. These views centered on success of project management delivery processes and also acknowledged that project success is also a matter of the project stakeholders' perception of the value (in their terms) of what was delivered. Cook-Davies' (2001; 2002) work describes 12 real success factors (Cooke-Davies, 2002, p. 186–189) that are highly managerial.

Shenhar et al. (2001, p. 717) associated four (4) dimensions of success with a timeframe of expected results. Dimension 1 has a short term goal of project efficiency (meeting cost time goals). Dimension 2 has a medium term goal of customer success (meeting technical specifications, functional performance solving customer's problem that triggered the project right through to matching intangible and tangible Nogeste (2006) outcomes). Dimension 3 has a long term goal of business success (commercial success and gaining increased market share that for aid projects could be generating confidence, satisfaction, and also influence). Finally, Dimension 4 has a very long term goal of preparing for the future (developing new tools, techniques, products, markets etc). The PMI methodology touches on aiming to facilitate long-term projects through projects in its short paragraph on a sustainability plan (PMI, 2005, p. 16) but it falls far short of indicating key elements or paths between this and future projects.

To conclude this section, we have identified three important weaknesses with the methodology. Closer scrutiny would reveal more or at least if space permitted, we could have elaborated further on these. Key issues surround its focus on a single type of project, its perceived cultural bias that leads to a focus stressing control rather than stakeholder engagement and it becomes clear that success needs to be viewed from the perspective of active project team stakeholders as well as from that of their client/benefit recipients. Success then becomes seen as a collaborative achievement involving joint-team action to identify problems and solutions to these problems and taking action to effectively deliver action, while learning from the process and fine tuning strategy and tactics employed in a constructive and reflective way. This leads to viewing project work that leads to successful outcomes as a process of problem solving, action research and learning that triggers a cycle of continuous improvement in project management practice. None of these later elements that emphasize learning are highlighted in the PMI methodology as the main tenor of it appears to be centered on accountability and control.

Improving the PMI Post-disaster Rebuild Methodology

Our intention in writing this paper was to further the work we are engaged in on behalf of PMI as independently investigating the antecedents to success in relief type projects and so this book drew our interest. Any endeavor is completely open to improvement and process iterations towards finalizing a document such as this required building upon the solid work of others. Each predecessor version contributes to the next. We therefore offer some suggestions.

Suggestion 1—Culturally Centric Programs of Projects/Work

Our first suggestion is that aid relief work should be considered as a complex program of work with different skills required for different distinct elements of the work. Further, these occur in cultural settings that can be diverse across nations, but also in a country such as Indonesia, India or Brazil (Ashkanasy, Trevor-Roberts & Earnshaw, 2002; Gupta, Hanges & Dorfman, 2002; Gupta, Surie, Javidan & Chhokar, 2002; Javidan, Stahl, Brodbeck & Wilderom, 2005) for example, intra-national cultures may be highly diverse. We have suggested through literature cited from the GLOBE study (House et al., 2002) that each culture has variances in the way that it might perceive appropriate stakeholder engagement. Further, in studies on gift giving and perceived corruption (Jackson, 2001), it was found that with aid projects and programs in many countries, accountability and culturally sensitive governance matters are highly complex issues that require a deeper understanding of what doing the right thing and ethical conduct requires. PMI, with its more global reach over recent years, needs to more seriously consider this aspect of project procurement, project control, and what the value proposition may be for stakeholders—the recognized raison d'être for projects, after all, has been the delivery of benefits. This would overcome some of the confusion that can arise when an inappropriate model for managing a project is required for the circumstances.

Using Africa as a case study, Muriithi and Crawford (2003) explore the applicability of project management approaches, as represented in the most widely distributed and accepted knowledge and practice guides (PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition, APMBoK (4th edition) and Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management) to projects in developing and emerging economies. Issues identified by them include: the need to cope with political and community demands on project resources; recognition that economic rationality and efficiency (assumed as a basis for many project management tools and techniques) does not reflect local realities; and that use of such tools and techniques will not enhance project success if they run counter to cultural and work values. They tested the findings from analysis of secondary data, against case studies of application in projects in East Africa and draw final conclusions and implications for project management of international development projects.

We identified previously some of the literature on project types and their assumptions. That literature suggests that strategic and tactical approaches should vary according to project type. For example, the way that scope and the entire briefing process may be conducted in a highly emergent research-type project would vary markedly from the types of projects addressed by the PMI methodology (2005). Aid relief program definition, for example, is a complex project of working out what the portfolios of projects are that can be considered as programs of work and how these should be prioritized and initiated. There has been recent work on this kind of strategic decision making and how benefits may be identified, measured and prioritized (Norrie, 2006). This requires a balanced score card and gateway approval system that is not mentioned in the PMI methodology.

Strategically planning the vast array of potential benefit realizations from, for example, a project that identifies stakeholders, their power and weakness to influence, their needs and aspirations and how their lives can be beneficially changed after a disaster, is a major project in itself. This exercise would reveal the many and various projects that we could envisage from tangible infrastructure projects addressed in part by the PMI methodology to social capital building projects and business sustainability and incubator type projects as well as environmental restoration and improvement projects. Any aid relief project should have a triple bottom line3 and holistic sustainability ethos at its core.

The methodology should address program/portfolio management issues to overcome its assumption that an intelligent and culturally calibrated definition of projects is in place.

Suggestion 2—The Project a Research and Learning Opportunity

Projects present unique learning opportunities either as learning from a project as a single opportunity or from a series of projects (March 1991; March, Sproull, & Tamuz, 1991; Roth & Kleiner, 1998; Prencipe & Tell, 2001). The value in this is that through taking this approach, a body of project management knowledge within an organisation can be developed and used to help improve performance and also help develop improved project management skills (Walker & Maqsood, 2008).

We can also draw upon the experience of McIntyre (2002) in aid-type projects involving capacity building projects through her work involving Australian indigenous communities. This alignment and commonality of core processes between projects, problem-solving, action research and learning is very relevant to program/project development. Her approach was utilization of an adapted version of a Community of Practice (COP) involving Participatory Action Research4 (PAR) with communities. McIntyre (2002, p. 57) suggests that other communities could benefit from the process that was developed for her project and that “Learning by doing” (through PAR) builds “spiritual wellbeing”. She also makes the point that PAR is potentially empowering if the participants who learn by doing own the process. She stresses the need for empowerment, that is, “helping people to achieve greater confidence and power in the following areas: resources, relationships, information, and decision making,” all of which are also key to project management success.

The initiation process described in the PMI Methodology (2005, p. 7) suggests that there is quite a degree of alignment/synergy/serendipity in the process of a research project, the process of the Project Monitoring And Evaluation, project management practice of aid projects (action and reflection) and the Action Research process and other change-related process projects. Action research is a process that starts with planning, then flows through to taking the planned actions, deeply reflecting upon the results of that action, consciously learning from that learning and then repeating the cycle (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988; Greenwood & Levin, 1998; McKay & Marshall, 2001; Smith & O'Neal, 2003; Coghlan & Brannick, 2005).

One of the real values of this approach is that it can help aid agencies engaged in these types of project to share a great deal more knowledge than, anecdotally, we find is currently the case. Aid agencies that can convince their donors and recipients of the value of seeing project management process knowledge as a value outcome and a bankable benefit, could establish aid project management office (PMO) type structures that have been reported as valuable in the commercial project management world (Cartwright & Walker, 2008). This could extend to cross agency PMOs or a knowledge sharing directorate that can bring greater benefits from improved project management knowledge dissemination with associated cost savings and, more importantly, human and intellectual capital growth that can lead to better quality and effectiveness benefits.

Suggestion 3—Broadening Appreciation of Project Governance Tools

The PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition framework is seen as the leading guide to project management in the industrialized world, but not necessarily in other areas such as international development or government/governance in not-for-profit environments. There are, in this light, very well worked and used methods and the following are key ones used broadly and found in much more common reference by aid and not for profit or government groups universally.

Aid agencies are required to conform to stringent project reporting requirements in order to satisfy the wide range of stakeholders. Project Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) information systems (IS), frequently a requirement for funding, are believed to inform the reporting process (Shenhar and Levy, 1997; Crawford and Bryce, 2003). The logical framework approach (LFA) is another tool widely used throughout the aid industry for project design and appraisal (Baccarini, 1999), and although much of the literature also promotes the use of the LFA for the purposes of M&E, it has proved inadequate (Earle, 2003).

The nature of the research question that interests us is firstly Project Monitoring and Evaluation (P.M. & E.) as a process which is used extensively in the aid world and also has the potential to be brought to bear effectively on a whole range of projects previously submitted to the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition (product development/phases/management). What is outstanding about this form of project delivery is that it gives a lot more power to learn and drive to those at the working community level yet it is still able to be planned and managed effectively. The further point of interest here is the point of action research and involving not just project management experts in project management research. This can then be extended to action learning workshops and even action science (Greenwood and Levin, 1998).

It becomes clear that there are different types of projects with very different needs and demands upon them and very different characteristics and, yet, professional bodies continue to assume a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is appropriate—the PMI with the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition (PMI, 2004), or in many of the aid projects, the logical framework approach (Logframe) that stresses an hierarchical cascade of identified objectives linked to assumptions in terms of goal, purpose, outputs and inputs presented in a how-why chain (Baccarini, 1999) or variations on this theme that take into account means of verification and a time dimension (Crawford and Bryce, 2003).

Results-based management, also referred to as performance management, is best defined as a broad management strategy aimed at achieving important changes in the way project agencies operate, with improving performance on projects (achieving better results) as the central orientation in a comprehensive report by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Working Party on Aid Evaluation. The development co-operation (or donor) agencies whose experiences are reviewed include USAID, DFID, AusAID, CIDA, Danida, the UNDP and the World Bank. Results- based management with performance measurement is the process an organization follows to objectively measure how well it's stated objectives are being met. This document also addresses how to enable the effective incorporation of logframe and risk management into results-based management while, at the same time, keeping a critical eye to their limitations. It concludes by pointing out that the challenge is to balance project performance monitoring needs at all logframe hierarchy levels, without overburdening the monitoring system or having it displace evaluation or implementation activities. The related factor here is also that most NGO/Aid agencies are typically under-resourced and undertrained in project management or measurement of any critical form. Ramage and Armstrong (2005) looked at the Balanced Scorecard methodology (Kaplan and Norton, 1992) which analyzes an organization's overall performance from four perspectives: communities, learning and growth, internal processes, and financial. This approach to problem solving and research and improving governance and management is owned by the participants and supports existing initiatives and priorities, that is, good project management.

The PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition stresses the need for deciding what a project should deliver and how to plan to deliver that objective with a predominance for scoping the project using a work breakdown structure (WBS) approach (PMI, 2004). However, we see a tension between generally taking a top down and bottom up approach when defining the scope of a project. The bottom up approach essentially relies on a large number of well understood and well identified components that can be grouped into assemblies and these configured into subsystems, and therefore into systems. A project becomes the summation of these systems that delivers a need. The point here is that the scope of delivery moves beyond delivery of items to include services, that is, knowledge of how to most effectively use the item delivered and how to ensure that maintenance of performance standards are optimized on these highly customized project deliverables (Hobday, 2000).

It is interesting to contrast the aforementioned tangible projects with how project management and planning for control is handled in other industries where different workplace cultural paradigms prevail, for example in the areas where creative project management teams craft an emergent strategy (Mintzberg, 1987) through action learning rather than developing rigidly complete specification in a set design to address a particularly well-defined position.

The tools and techniques of project management themselves will not deliver successful projects if they run counter to the cultural and work values and therefore what governance structures are appropriate to that context. In Africa, for example, there is a particular need to cope with political and community demands on the project's resources. Muriithi and Crawford (2003) conclude that there is an urgent need for empirical work to: formalize a project management framework for Africa (or developing countries and aid projects in general in that context); to confirm which tools and techniques of the present project management orthodoxy work, which ones do not, and why; and articulate an effective indigenous approach to project management in differing cultural backgrounds. Each project operates in its unique external environment and parts of each project may likewise do so, particularly if spread over a culturally diverse area. Key aspects of national or local culture, political, power, economic, technical, nature, as outlined above can have a determining effect on the purpose, plan, and performance of a project. These aspects are wholly overlooked within the PMI methodology (2005), in fact, the definition of the outcome value of a project (as opposed to the benefits it may deliver) is neither addressed in the PMBOK® Guide – Third Edition (PMI, 2004) nor the PMI methodology (PMI, 2005) itself. The word “relationship” within either document does not appear as the relationship building between people or team leaders and stakeholders, but only in terms of the technical relationship between people.

Finally, we cannot leave this topic without reference to project/program vision, objectives, performance criteria and their measurement, as well as governance through monitoring, evaluation, and action being aligned with sustainable motivation of participants. The whole raison d'être of the exercise is value creation within the context of both survival and growth. For survival, projects mainly need to be geared towards restoration and meeting deficiencies for affected stakeholders. For growth needs, projects need to deliver value in terms of stakeholder higher-order self-actualisation needs suggested by Maslow (1943) and broader development of social capital. These two types of need will have different underpinning governance structures.


This paper is a critique of the PMI methodology (2005) and as such offers evidence based upon the literature, senior management project management experience, and field reflective experience of aid projects. The three weaknesses of the PMI methodology (2005) suggested principally center around a current mindset and cultural paradigm that the PMI book seems to be dominated by. These may be summarized as a limited view of the kind of value that relief projects could and we argue, should deliver; a cultural bias that may be inconsistent with the aid recipient's needs; and a rigid plan and control mentality that may not necessarily be focused on the best approaches, measures, and expected outcomes.

Suggested improvements center on reviewing the methodology to broaden its scope to help aid project participants better manage a program of works that encompasses a whole range of project types which are culturally mapped to meet the needs of recipients; of looking at these projects as learning opportunities so that improvements can be achieved at project aid organization and cross-organization level; and greater appreciation of a range of appropriate project governance approaches and tools rather than relying on approved project management ones.

The implications for project management practice in aid projects from this paper stem from our suggested contribution through all refereed research, literature, and field work. We hope to trigger debate and provide constructive criticism that will lead to an improved future PMI post-disaster engagement and benefits delivery guidelines.


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1 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina for more details on this.

2 Wulun is another Chinese concept related to obligations between people. Wang, X. and Liu, L. (2007). “Cultural barriers to the use of Western project management in Chinese enterprises: Some empirical evidence from Yunnan province.” Project Management Journal. 38(3), 61–73. The Chinese culture stresses family and kinship relationships in doing business. The majority of the five basic kinds of relationships in wulun directly involve family members (1) father-son, (2) husband-wife, and (3) older brother-younger brother but also include the relationships between non family members considered as honorary family members such as (4) ruler-ruled, and (5) friend-friend.

3 This refers to achieving commercial, environmental, and social outcomes. See for example, Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with Forks. London: Capstone Publishing.

4 PAR is a form of action research where the research actively takes part as a participant rather than being a bystander or advisor to others taking action (Action research will be discussed later).

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