Developments in project management

structures, systems and influences

Introduction

In recent years the project management literature has described various new developments. In these descriptions authors have introduced new terminology. In the United States, the term “Modern Project Management” (MPM) was introduced (Cleland, 1994; Kerzner, 1994). In the United Kingdom, “Management-by-Projects” (Hayden 1997) and “Projects (Project Management) culture” (Chaffey, 1997; Firth & Krut, 1991; Lane, 1993) are described. The terminology itself is not important; of more interest are the project management developments described. (Although it is worth noting the potential for conflict and confusion through misunderstanding and misuse of any new terminology.)

Cleland and Kerzner provide personal perspectives, in the form of academic colloquies, on project management developments linked to the growth of MPM. Their descriptions suggest the main development has been an increase in the use of cross-functional project teams (and, hence, a development in the structures, methods, tools and techniques to support such teams). Cleland and Kerzner argue that as organizations use such teams more extensively, and, indeed, “nonproject-driven” organizations use them for the first time, there is a broadening of the areas in which project management is used. In addition, as organizations become mature in MPM, they will be increasingly handling more and more projects.

This trend of an increase in the number of projects carried out within organizations is also described in Hayden's discussion of management by projects. Hayden suggests management by projects is a tool for “the integration, prioritization, communication and continuous control of multiple projects.” Management by projects has project management systems and methods that are “enterprisewide” and a “strategic issue,” while systems and methods in project management are traditionally “projectwide” and a “tactical issue.” While drawing upon a wealth of experience, Cleland and Kerzner do not report the results of any specific empirical research. Likewise, Hayden's discussion of management by projects is based on a personal perspective and does not report the findings of a particular research study.

Firth and Krut also use their own experiences as management consultants to describe the growth of project management cultures. There are clear similarities with the descriptions of MPM and management by projects. Companies with a project management culture are “organized around one-off tasks rather than sequential activity” and have flat, flexible multifunctional team-based structures. Project management supports such structures. Lane describes the growth of such a “culture” in an organization providing banking and financial services. Firth, Krut, and Lane describe similar characteristics, such as the existence of companywide project management training and a structure providing support for project work; however, Firth, Krut, and Lane does not report the findings of any research studies into the extent to which such characteristics exist in organizations.

Chaffey does report the findings of a survey. In discussing the characteristics of a projects culture, Chaffey considers the extent to which organizations have business structures and systems, an infrastructure, and the people, aligned to project work. Whilst being based on some research, Chaffey's survey does not provide details of the nature of the organizations included in the survey. As such, the influence of organization factors, such as the business sector and the type of products and services provided, on the existence of project management structures and systems—that Chaffey equates with a projects culture—is not considered.

Clearly, the literature describes a trend in the development of project management that, regardless of the terminology, has common elements. This trend is perhaps summarized by Fangel (1993), in another personal perspective, as “…the broadening of its (project management) application, concepts and methods.” Clearly, also, there is a lack of empirical study of the extent to which such a trend is evident within organizations. In addition, there is a lack of research into the extent to which the development of project management structures, systems, methods, tools and techniques—equated to MPM, management by projects or projects cultures—are influenced by the environment in which they are being used. This lack of empirical study provides the rationale and focus for the research study carried out, of which the main findings are reported in the remainder of this paper.

Research Strategy

The introduction discussion highlights the broad nature of the project management developments and, hence, the need to collect data covering a variety of project management related topics. In addition to this requirement, the research study needs to consider project management practice across a variety of business, organization and work environments. Given the amount, variation and potential complexity of the information required, the research method chosen was a survey, with an interview-administered questionnaire used to obtain quantitative and qualitative data.

The general themes of investigation for the study can be expressed in terms of a number of research questions (which in the study were accompanied by a number of supporting hypotheses):

How do organizations use project management?

How do organizations establish structures for the management of projects?

How do organizations establish systems for the management of projects?

In order to study actual practice it is necessary to consider the target areas in which the survey needs to collect data. The first issue is the choice of organizations to include in the survey. It can be hypothesized that organizations in different business sectors will face different pressures within their environment. For example, an organization in the automotive business might be under intensive pressure from overseas competition, while a public-sector organization might be under pressure from decreasing funding from central government. Therefore, in order to explore the influence of these, and other, pressures on project management developments it is necessary to ensure heterogeneity in the sample of organizations in terms of their business environments.

The second issue is ensuring there is diversity in the sample in terms of the characteristics of those organizations selected. Again, there are a number of organization variables that may influence project management developments; for example, the size of the organization, whether the organization is a service provider or a manufacturer, and whether the organization is in the public or the private sector. As well as at the business sector level, heterogeneity is required at the organization level.

In terms of the individuals selected for participation in the survey, one can view the target area as employees of organizations involved, either directly or indirectly, with projects. This is a broad area, potentially including employees who are full-time practicing project managers, and employees who are involved on a part-time basis (perhaps as members of project steering committees).

Given that the purpose of the sample is to survey actual practice in project management, it is likely that some bias in the sample toward those with a direct involvement (and also a high level of experience) in project environments is appropriate.

However, this bias needs to be balanced by the heterogeneity required in the work and project environments of the employees selected. Without this heterogeneity it will not be possible to investigate the influence of these environments on project management developments. For example, within any particular organization, subjects may work in different environments, with a possible distinction being between employees working in functions that are directly involved in manufacturing products or supplying services and those in areas that provide support for these functions, such as IT, finance and personnel. Employees might also carry out different project roles (and be involved) in different types of project work. A further potential for variety is in the length and breadth of employees’ experience within project environments.

Sample

Twenty-two organizations were included in the sample. Within these 22 organizations the questionnaire was administered face to face to a total of 63 subjects. Interviewing more than one person in an organization allowed more complete information about actual practice (and opinions) within that organization to be obtained. Also, greater numbers of subjects, compared to organizations, were required to reflect the heterogeneity in the subjects’ work and project environments. The sample, in terms of business sectors, is as follows: Defense/Aerospace (1 organization/4 subjects), Chemicals/Energy (3/9), Automotive (1/2), Sundry Manufacturing (5/9), Information Systems (3/10), Banking/Financial Services (1/6), Education/Training/Consultancy (2/10), Public Administration/Services (4/11), Private Administration/Services (2/2).

The sample has representation from traditional project-focused organizations, such as “defense/aerospace” and from organizations that have no strong tradition of managing projects, such as public administration/services.” (Although care has to be taken in making such generalizations, as organizations not regarded as project-focused may have pockets of project management expertise in some specialist functions, such as information technology.)

Most subjects in the survey had been employed for more than five years in the organization. Although introducing some bias to the survey, this high level of experience ensures accurate and representative information is obtained from subjects regarding the development of project management in their organizations.

Subjects have been sampled from the following functions: Project Management (21 subjects), Service Operations (20), IT (6), Production (6), Marketing/Engineering/ Logistics (1 each), Other (7).

Likewise, the subjects surveyed carry out a variety of main project roles. These are: Project Manager (27 subjects), Member of Steering Committee (8), Program Manager (5), Developer of Project Management Processes (5), Manager of Project Organization (5), Project Team Member (4), End User (3), Functional Manager supplying People (3), Sponsor (2), Functional Support (1).

The sample highlights the fact that the majority of subjects carry out a number of different roles (the average being between 5 and 6). This leads to a distinction between main project role and project involvement. (This multi-role characteristic is noteworthy and has possible implications in terms of the selection and development of people in a project environment and in terms of research studies that are based on people carrying out only one project role.)

The sample has diversity in terms of the main type of project work carried out by subjects. These are: Strategic/Mission Planning (15 subjects), New Product Development (15), New System Development (7), Construction (5), Operational Planning (3), Manufacturing/Engineering (3), Education/Training (3), Administrative/Procedural (2), Plant Maintenance/Commissioning (2), Business Process Reengineering (2), Relocation/Restructuring/Research (1 subject each), Other (3).

The survey results indicate a variety of customer-supplier relationships in relation to the environment in which projects are undertaken. The most common situation is subjects managing projects on behalf of internal customers, either for a subject's section or department or for another department or section within a subject's organization. However, the sample also contains subjects managing projects on behalf of external customers.

Results and Discussion

Uses of Project Management

With only one of the subjects surveyed stating that projects were not, to a lesser or greater degree, important to their organization, the survey results suggest that projects are becoming increasingly important to all types of organizations. This confirms a trend of a new focus on project work in organizations with no history of managing projects. (Although there is a possibility that the degree of project-focus may vary between different parts of an organization and may even reduce over time.) However, building upon the work of Firth (1995), this trend leads to the conclusion that more and more organizations will look to utilize project management as a way of dealing with this increase in project focus.

The survey found some evidence that the increased importance attached to projects has been accompanied by a recognition that projects are an appropriate vehicle for managing all types of business-led change. For example, over 60% of subjects agreed that a project was a vehicle for tackling all business-led change (rather than being used exclusively for the management of major, one-off, capital-intensive activities). This recognition of the applicability of a project in new areas of work is not more prevalent in one type of business sector, organization or work environment. However, there is evidence that those subjects whose organization has corporate involvement in the Association of Project Management (APM) are more likely to recognize projects in this way. These results are consistent with the work of Fangel (1993)—introduced earlier—and others, who suggest that project management is broadening its area of application. The widespread perception that projects are the way to manage many different types of work suggests that organizations will be looking to develop organizational approaches to ensure consistent project management principles are used.

The survey found evidence that there has been an increase in the use of project management principles over the past five years.

Only one of the subjects surveyed stated that there had been a decrease in either the role of projects as a strategic tool, the use of project team structures, or the use of project management methods.

The survey results show the biggest increase is in the use of project team structures, with an increase in their use being witnessed by 62% of subjects. By comparison, only 45% of subjects had witnessed an increase in the role of projects as a strategic tool, and only 40% had seen an increase in the use of project management methods. This leads to the conclusion that project management developments currently focuses more on new ways of team working rather than on developing organizationwide project management methods. (This would confirm descriptions of MPM, by the likes of Cleland (1994)—discussed previously—that focus on multifunctional team working rather than on the use of standardized project management processes and procedures.)

Drivers

The discussion by subjects of the drivers of increases in the role of projects as a strategic tool, the use of project team structures or the use of project management methods, highlights the importance of three, possibly interlinking, factors. These factors are more demanding customers, a new business strategy and increased competition, identified in the survey as the three most commonly cited single factors influencing the increases (by 34%, 17% and 15% of subjects respectively). A common thread joining these factors together is their focus on the external environment. For example, 75% of the subjects identifying increased competition as the most important single driver of increased use of project management principles were working in highly competitive business environments. Given this influence of the business environment, one can conclude that the underlying driver of the increased use of project management principles is the need to survive and prosper in ever-changing external environments. As stated by Kerzner (1994)—see introduction—the more an organization recognizes the need to develop ways of dealing with the “threats” from outside the more likely it is that project management will be utilized more fully.

Classes of Use

The survey results indicate that, in broad terms, the increase in the importance of projects, the broadening of the work areas applicable for projects and the increases in the use of project management principles has been matched by an increased perceived usefulness of project management. However, in terms of uses in specific areas, one can conclude that there are perhaps different “types” of uses for project management. These uses are classed as follows:

CLASS ONE USE: Currently core and well established, applied and useful in most project environments.

Coordination of work, Coordination of resources, Meeting time project objectives, Meeting cost quality objectives, Prioritizing work.

CLASS TWO USE: Currently secondary and less well established, though applied and useful in many project environments.

Building new knowledge, Eliminating competing ideas, Firefighting/Resolving crises, Setting new product/service specifications, Controlling management processes, Identification of business-related processes.

CLASS THREE USE: Currently marginal and not established, applied and useful in few areas.

Facilitating innovation, Facilitating creativity, Measurement of continuous improvement, Management of continuous improvement.

The areas regarded as most useful tend to be those traditionally associated with project work. By contrast, the areas regarded as least useful are those one might expect included as project management principles broaden into new areas.

The results of the survey suggest that, while there has been changes in overall perceptions as to the applicability of project management in the work environment, in practice, the specific uses of project management are still very much focused on areas associated with traditional project management.

The analysis of the associations between business, organization and work factors and the current uses of project management suggests that these factors do not have a great influence on the extent to which project management is perceived as useful. For example, subjects in situations where product or process innovation was a priority did not significantly disagree with the ranking of areas of uses compared to subjects where such a priority did not exist—and hence did not see project management as useful in facilitating innovation. Furthermore, running the chi-square test to investigate the influence of variations in subjects’ function, main project role and project involvement also failed to find any evidence of association with the ratings of areas of project management use. In some cases this is surprising and may, perhaps, reflect issues associated with the characteristics of the survey sample. For example, the lack of recognition of a particular use of project management may in part be the result of the nature of a subject's involvement in projects, i.e., a lack of first hand experience of managing projects.

The exceptions to this general lack of influence of business, organization and work factors relate to different organizational experiences. For example, the survey results suggest that a failure to propagate a philosophy of continuous improvement, through a successfully managed TQM program, may have an effect on perceptions as to the use of project management for measuring and managing continuous improvement. Likewise, a history of success at managing projects leads to a common understanding as to the specific areas of uses of project management, while those in organizations with no such history do not have such common understanding.

Project Structures

The survey results highlight the fact that most organizations employ either a matrix structure, or some sort of hybrid structure with characteristics of the matrix and the dedicated team, for the management of projects. The characteristics of the structures found in the survey are not inconsistent with the concept of the networked organization, described by writers such as Ives et al. (1993), that is described in the project management literature. The survey results suggest that the role of the “broker” is central to the effective utilization of such structures. Not only does the broker manage ideas and coordinate activities within a particular group, but also they manage the interface between individual groups within an organization.

Centralized Support/Strategic Coordination

Theories suggest that structures are needed to effectively operate project management approaches within organization. For example, Ives et al. highlight the need for coordination of work across projects and for the assessment of projects across an organization. The survey found no widespread existence of structures to support such activities. Only 42% of subjects identified the existence of structures for the strategic coordination of multiprojects and only 34% of subjects stated that a structure for the centralized support of projects existed. Also structures for the strategic coordination of multiprojects were not found to be more prevalent in any one type of organization compared to another.

The characteristics of the organization were found to influence the adoption of structures for the centralized support of projects (with all 13 organizations adopting such structures being private sector organizations). Furthermore, the existence of structures for both the strategic coordination of multiprojects and the centralized support of projects were found to be much more prevalent in project-focused, private-sector organizations. Accepting that such structures are a characteristic of developments in project management, this suggests that there have been factors within private-sector organizations, which have not been present in traditional public-sector organizations, driving the adoption of such structures.

In terms of the specific functions of structures for the centralized support of projects, the most common could be classed as “lower power and low-influence.” This includes such activities as project administration, central repository for project information and project reporting. There was less evidence of these structures carrying out “high power and high influence” functions, such as project selection, project prioritization and people allocation and assignment. This suggests that, even in organizations that have adopted structures for the centralized control of multiprojects, these structures are not necessarily carrying out the activities commonly associated with such control.

Selection of People

Based on subjects’ discussions of methods for selecting people to work on projects, one can conclude that there is a widespread perception that the emphasis in terms of selection criteria shifts as a subject progresses in the field of project management. The initial emphasis in the selection criteria is on technical skills. This emphasis then changes toward project management experience, before finally focusing on skills/competencies. However, this perceived change in the emphasis of selection criteria has not been accompanied by any widespread adoption of formal structures. For example, only 12% of subjects identified the existence of a formal structure, such as a skills database, for selecting people to fulfill a specific project role. The absence of such structures is further exacerbated by the fact most of the existing formal structures are merely automating existing manual systems and, hence, do not necessarily imply selection criteria based on assessment of a wide range of technical and managerial skills/competencies. Furthermore, although the development of such structures seems to be driven by project-focused organizations, there is evidence of a lack of agreement as to their benefit within these organizations. This leads to the conclusion that as stated by writers such as Chaffey (1997)—introduced earlier—there are practical difficulties in setting up some business structures to support the development of project management.

Evaluation of People's Performance

The survey results on the topic of structures for evaluating performance in terms of project work shows that 28% of subjects did not have their performance evaluated against project-related objectives. Furthermore, only 11% of subjects had their performance evaluation directly linked to individual projects. (The remaining subjects had performance loosely linked to project-related activities.) From these results one can conclude that, as stated by the likes of Chaffey, the failure to link appraisal systems to project performance in many organizations may lead to problems in terms of exploiting opportunities for improvement in performance.

Features

The literature on the topic of developments in project management provides details of the specific features present when an organization moves toward project structures. For example, Kerzner (1994)—see introduction—identifies a common project language as being characteristic of organizations with project structures.

In this respect the survey found mixed results. There was some evidence that the features of project-focused meetings and open partnerships with customers were present in most project environments. However, the survey also found that other expected features, such as a shared common project language and displays of project information, were largely absent.

In addition, the survey results suggest that the existence of specific cultural features is linked to the existence of other cultural features. For example, the failure to develop a common project language might well be influenced by a failure to develop open customer/supplier partnerships between different functions in an organization. Some functions in large-sized, multifunctional organizations have problems vertically integrating other functions into the customer/supplier chain. This leads to difficulties in establishing some of the features identified by writers as being characteristic of “MPM” or “projects culture.”

Project Management Systems

Evolution

The survey results broadly confirm the three stages of evolution, in terms of the development of companywide project management systems, described by the likes of McDowell (1995), Stokes (1995) and Firth & Krut (1991)—introduced earlier. Namely, the benefits of project management are sold, a companywide project management system is set up and, finally control is devolved within the context of having a companywide system. From this one can conclude that maturity in the use of project management increases as an organization moves through these stages. However, the survey results suggest some modification of this three-stage process.

First, as mentioned previously, an increase in the use of project management methods is not as widespread as an increase in the use of project teams. This is reflected in the fact that 60% of subjects stated there was no companywide system, of any sort, either in existence or being set up. Second, there was evidence that, even in organizations with well-established project management systems, the selling of the benefits of project management was still taking place. For example, project-focused organizations, with companywide project management systems with devolved control—according to theorists, the final stage of evolution—were also selling the benefits of using project management further. Third, some organizations with systems with devolved control were in the process of attempting to increase the level of centralized control to ensure standardization and consistency of approach across groups within an organization.

These results suggest that evolution does not necessarily involve a three-step sequential process. Rather, it involves the ongoing selling of the benefits of project management, in order to increase its levels of utilization. This selling of the benefits is combined with a constant reassessment, and, if necessary, realignment of the balance between centralized control of the project management and devolved control to groups at lower levels within the organization.

Models of the Project Life Cycle

Writers, such as Boardman (1994), suggest that developments in project management focusing on the use of models to guide and support the management of projects leads to “process understanding.” The survey results indicate widespread use of such models, although the survey found that the use of project life cycle models is much more likely to be found in organizations with a tradition of managing projects (with 14 of the 19 subjects “always” using such models residing in project-focused organizations).

Boardman describes how a process model “…provides a system of shared values, a baseline of understanding and a handle on the business culture.” The specific uses reported in the survey tend to confirm this primary use of project life cycle models. Although some subjects emphasized a model's usefulness in ensuring specific project management activities, such as stating client requirements, are carried out, the greatest emphasis was put upon uses that relate more to the wider organization culture. For example, the most common use of a model was in ensuring consistency of approach (mentioned by 33% of subjects using a project life cycle model). A number of organizations also described how the establishment of a process model helped in the development of a common project language—discussed in the previous section. Similarly, the role of a model in helping develop a culture of communication with stakeholders or a culture of demonstrable professionalism was highlighted (by 34% of subjects using a model).

There was also some indication in the survey that other factors in the work environment, such as the existence of a Quality Management System (QMS), or the demands of external funding agencies, influence the development of project life cycle models. The project management literature suggests that pockets of project management maturity can evolve due to the nature of the type of work being undertaken. For example, the Information Technology function of an organization with no strong tradition of managing projects may utilize project management principles more fully than other parts of the organization due to the fact that much of the function's work is project-driven. The survey results suggest that such pockets of project management maturity, as characterized by process understanding, may also evolve due to other influences (such as the development of a QMS).

Activities

The survey results in respect of the broad activities taking place through the project life cycle indicate a possible mismatch between theory and practice. The literature on the subject, see, for example, Barnes and Wearne (1993), highlights the importance of managing activities “upstream” of a project. Within this framework Turner, McLaughlin et al. (1994) identify the development and management of project success criteria and project critical success factors as key upstream activities. The survey results suggest there is a significant number of situations in which neither of these two key activities is carried out. For example, 28% and 33% of subjects did not carry out any activities, either formally or informally, in terms of defining success criteria or the factors influencing success. In terms of the approaches in this area consistent with “best practice” theories, the results of the survey indicate that both an individual's experience of managing projects and their knowledge of project management theories may be influential. For example, the nine subjects adhering to best practice, and formally developing and managing project success criteria and project critical success factors, either had a great deal of project management experience or had received formal education in the area of project management.

In the context of defining roles and responsibilities, the survey results allow some possible conclusions to be drawn concerning the philosophy underpinning the use of project management systems. In terms of the most frequently occurring broad activities, including the two mentioned in the previous paragraph, 91% of subjects allocated roles and responsibilities to projects. Furthermore, the activity of role/responsibility allocation incorporated a disparate range of stakeholders.

These stakeholders included project manager, customer/client, project sponsor, customer liaison, program director, internal stakeholder, external stakeholder and user liaison.

The survey results relating to the importance of different project success criteria and to the relevance of different project critical success factors also confirmed the importance of the role of various stakeholders to the project. For example, the most important overall criterion of project success was client perception and the most relevant influences on project success were factors associated with the role of the project manager, team members or top management.

The results of the survey indicate that elements related to the project management system, such as project structure and project management processes or procedures, may be modified depending upon the type of project undertaken. For example, 68% of subjects might use different structures for different projects and 59% of subjects might modify the use of formal project management processes or procedures based on the type of project. These findings confirm the writings of Fangel (1993)—see introduction—and Payne and Turner (1999) who state the desirability of selecting appropriate project management methods within the context of organization approaches to the management of projects. In terms of the influences on the selection of different methods the survey found various criteria used. These criteria include the characteristics of the project, the impact on the business and the degree of risk. The underlying trend seems to be toward the selection of methods based upon an assessment of project management complexity, with complexity being a multi-attribute variable. In this context there are indications that such an assessment is being promoted by the existence of the classifications of project complexity developed by project management professional bodies, and its use is being led by corporate member organizations of such bodies.

Measures of Project Success

The survey provides results consistent with previous work stressing the multi-attribute nature of measures of project success, see, for example, Freeman and Beale (1992). Furthermore, one can conclude that, as defined by Pinto and Pinto (1991), important measures of success incorporate task-related outcomes, such as meeting cost, quality and time project objectives, and also psychosocial-related outcomes, such as the improvement in organizational capability.

Previous studies of project success criteria, such as Wateridge (1995), indicate that the relative importance of measures of success may be influenced by the role being carried out by a subject. For example, the manager of a systems project might have one set of measures, while the end users of the system might have a different set of measures. This raises the possibility that the relative importance attached to project success criteria might vary for different work-related factors. Testing the rankings of project success criteria for different groups of subjects, using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient, suggests that the business environment, the characteristics of the organization and a subject's work environment, do not have any significant influence on the overall ranking of measures of success. However, one would still expect the important measures of success to be, in part, contingent on the specific demands of the project being undertaken. This was confirmed by the discussion of the survey results in terms of the change in rank of individual project success criterion. For example, the level of disruption to the organization was a much less important measure of success in project-focused organization compared with nonproject-focused organizations. Likewise, own personal growth was a much more important criterion for evaluating success for project managers and project team members than for subjects with a more indirect involvement in project work.

Given that the most important measure of project success, across all groups of subjects, was client perception, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the survey found that the methods for managing success criteria focused on the issue of measuring perceptions. A number of broad conclusions can be drawn from an analysis of such methods. Firstly, organizations are looking at ways of measuring client perception, with customer questionnaires being the most commonly used method. Secondly, there is a distinction between those situations in which project success criteria are defined for each individual project in the pre-implementation stage and those situations in which a set of predefined criteria is used.

The survey found the first of these situations to be the most common, though predefined criteria might be used where a project organization had a long-standing relationship with a particular customer, leading to a clear understanding of their requirements. Finally, there was recognition of limitations in current methods for dealing with client perception. These limitations focus on two issues. The first issue is the validity of any measure of perception. The results of the survey suggest a belief that merely measuring perceptions once, at the end of the project, does not produce the most reliable results. There is, perhaps, a need to take measures both during and beyond a project's life. This links in to the second issue; namely, that current methods are reactive in their nature and, while they might give accurate measures of perception, they do not allow the project team to influence the client's perceptions. The survey results highlight the desirability of more proactive approaches to measuring and managing client expectations and perceptions.

The use of formal methods for managing project success criteria were more in evident in organizations with a history of managing traditional projects, such as construction, and aerospace and defense. This link between the use of methods and the type of work being carried out also seems to lead to pockets of project management maturity. For example, organizations with no strong history of managing projects, and little widespread use of formal methods for managing success criteria, have well developed, formalized methods for the management of a small range of projects, such as those relating to construction or, perhaps, information technology.

Influences on Project Success

The survey results in respect of project critical success factors in many ways mirrors that of project success criteria. In a similar fashion to measures of success, the results stress the relevance of a variety of project critical success factors. Using the framework of factor groups, devised by Belassi and Tukel (1996), one can conclude broad agreement that the factors associated with the project manager/project team, the organization, and the external environment are universally regarded as being important influences on project success. Where there is less agreement is in relation to factors associated with the project. Unlike Belassi and Tukel, the general opinion of the subjects sampled was that factors associated with the project, such as project size/value and uniqueness of project activities, had a relatively low level of influence on whether a project was successful or not. This contrasted with factors associated with the role of the project manager, project team members and top management, which were regarded as having a high level of influence.

Given that the influences on success are likely to vary from project to project, one might expect to find the rank given to individual factors to change depending upon the environment in which a project is carried out. In this respect the same broad conclusions can be drawn as from the discussion of project success criteria.

Testing the rankings of project critical success factors for different groups of subjects, again using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient, indicates that the business environment, the characteristics of the organization and a subject's work environment do not have any significant influence on the overall ranking of influences on success. There was evidence that the relative importance of some factors might change depending upon the project environment. For example, the influence of a project manager's technical competence or a project team member's technical knowledge might be greater on a project with a high technical component. This lends weight to the suggestion that, in some cases, the influences on success will be, in part, contingent on the specific demands of the project being undertaken.

The discussion of methods for managing project critical success factors highlights the fact that there are a variety of approaches used in practice. These range from formal methods to intuitive, informal methods, with a significant proportion of subjects (43%) using no methods at all. It is possible to conclude that the use of formal methods is the most highly evolved approach and the use of informal, intuitive methods the least evolved approach, discounting the approach of using no method at all. Those organizations using formal methods tend to be project-focused, private-sector organizations, with corporate APM membership seeming to be a predictor of the use of formal methods.

The formal methods tend to fall into one of two broad areas. First, those associated with project risk analysis and management. Second, those associated with stakeholder analysis. Even within this highly evolved approach there is evidence of a potential problem in respect of consistency of application. A number of subjects questioned whether the formal method was applied throughout the project life cycle. For example, risks would be identified at the start of the project but would not be controlled during the implementation stage. Furthermore, a number of subjects stated that the formal methods would not be consistently applied across all projects. From this one can conclude that, at the highest level of evolution, there is acceptance of the principle of formal management of project critical success factors, but also situations in which the principles are not put into practice.

Processes/Procedures

The results in relation to project management processes/procedures indicate a general consensus that, where such procedures are used, they are useful for the management of projects. In many cases, there were situations in which the project management processes/procedures were perceived as useful but were also not always used. In some cases the failure to use the processes/procedures was deliberate and reflects the open-minded selection of methods, described by Fangel (1993)—discussed earlier. However, in other cases the failure to adhere to documented processes/procedures was not intentional and tends to suggest that the problem of consistency of application, described above in the context of managing project critical success factors, is a pertinent issue in relation to other elements of project management systems.

The survey results suggest that there are two common approaches in terms of project management processes/procedures. The first common approach is to develop a process model of the project life cycle and to make adherence to this model mandatory. Other procedures are developed to support this model, but their use is at the discretion of the project manager. The second common approach is to develop a relatively large number of individual processes/procedures, often in excess of 30, and make many of these processes mandatory.

The need to adhere to related procedures from other parts of the organization, such as purchasing, finance, and health and safety, would supplement these mandatory procedures. There is no strong indication that one particular approach is more likely to be perceived as being helpful to the management of projects. However, from the experiences of those organizations with a large number of processes/procedures in existence, one can conclude that there may be an optimum number above which their usefulness becomes somewhat diluted.

The range of areas covered by the project management processes/procedures confirms current theories, see, for example, Turner (1993, pp. 17–33), that interpret the project life cycle as incorporating both pre- and post-implementation stages. For example, over 70% of subjects with documented processes/procedures described how they covered the upstream activities of conception, planning, definition and startup. Furthermore, over 60% of subjects stated that the processes/procedures included the downstream activities of performance review and closing down of a project. Earlier it was suggested that, although the principle of stakeholder management was perhaps a fundamental development in project management, there are practical difficulties in setting up some business structures, such as those linked to the selection of people, to support such a development. This is further supported by the fact that the area of people selection had the lowest percentage of subjects (less than 30%) indicating that it was covered by the documented processes/procedures.

In terms of other conclusions to be drawn from the areas covered by the documented project management processes/procedures, the area of “benefits” is noteworthy. The survey results indicate that for 80% of subjects with such processes or procedures they cover the topic of defining benefits. However, only 30% of the subjects stated that the processes/procedures incorporated benefit management. As was the case with methods associated with project risk, a common problem might not just be the failure to carry out pre-implementation activities, such as defining risks and benefits, but also the follow on activities through and sometimes beyond the implementation stage, such as controlling risk and managing benefits.

Earlier in this section the possible influence of a Quality Management System (QMS) on the development of project life cycle models was discussed. Such an influence is also evident in relation to the developing of documented project management processes. The survey results suggest that those organizations with a QMS are likely to document their processes/ procedures. Furthermore, those organizations with a culture of continuous improvement, through the implementation of a Total Quality Management-type program, were likely to update and amend their processes/procedures over time.

Benchmarking

Linked to the topic of amending processes/procedures is the topic of benchmarking of project management processes. The results found little widespread existence of benchmarking activities, with only 10% of subjects stating that such activities took place. Those organizations that did carry out such an activity were very exclusively project-focused, with most being corporate APM members. Indeed the survey found some evidence of a lack of agreement as to the benefits and validity of benchmarking project performance.

Project Management Software

The final area covered is that of project management software. The survey results suggest that current usage of such systems reflect the wider changes in the field of information technology.

The move of computer power from a central data processing function toward an individual's workplace is reflected in the low level of utilization of central mini/mainframe systems and the high utilization of standalone personal computer based systems. This decentralization of power has led, in some cases, to a lack of standardization and consistency across organizations in the use of project management software. In some organizations this conflict between the organization's need for standardization of packages, perhaps to allow effective management of programs, and the individual project manager's desire to retain control of the selection and use of project management software has led to tension. This tension is likely to be exacerbated in situations where there is a mismatch between the nature of the project management system and the characteristics of the information technology system. For example, there is the possibility of conflict if a centralized project management software package is introduced into an organization with a decentralized system for managing projects.

Conclusions

The paper has highlighted the current uses of project management. It has also discussed possible influences on these uses. The general conclusion one can draw is that some developments described in the literature have taken place. However, within the context of these developments, project management is still perceived, in its practice, as being particularly useful in the same types of areas as “traditional” project management.

The research considered the organization structures created for the management of projects. In general, one can conclude that the increase in the use of multifunctional project teams has led to an increase in the adoption of matrix structures (or hybrid structures incorporating elements of matrix and dedicated project team structures). However, there is evidence of problems in both setting up and operating structures to support the use of project management principles. This is the case in the areas of centralized support for projects, strategic coordination of multiprojects, selection of people to work on projects, and evaluation of people's performance on projects.

The paper has reported the findings in relation to the nature of project management systems. The survey has highlighted a trend of harnessing the power of process models to both manage individual projects and to support the development of project management in the organization. The survey has also highlighted the importance of stakeholder management in the context of both measuring and demonstrating project success. However, there is evidence of mismatches between theory and practice, particularly in terms of the absence of some activities upstream and downstream of the project life cycle.

In conclusion, the research reported in this paper suggests that certain generic project management trends, such as the use of project teams, matrix management structures and models of the project life cycle, are identifiable in all types of organization. Other trends, such as structures to support project work or for the strategic coordination of projects, are less evident, and are more likely to be found in certain types of organization. The research also suggests differences between project-focused organizations and those without such a focus, in terms of the project structures and project management systems adopted.

Clearly, project management as a discipline continues to develop. Whether this means that a simple distinction can be made between “traditional” project management and “contemporary” project management, with its labels of MPM, Management by projects or projects cultures, is debatable.

However, the challenge for organizations in the future will be to keep abreast of these developments, synthesize and use the “best practices” and, hence, utilize project management to its full potential.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2000

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