Project Management Institute

What will replace project management?

November 1991


David I. Cleland is currently Ernest E. Roth professor and professor of engineering management in the Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author/editor of nineteen books and has published many articles appearing in leading national and international technological, business management, and educational periodicals.

Dr. Cleland has had extensive experience in management consultation, lecturing, seminars, and research. The first edition of his book, Systems Analysis and Project Management, won the McKinsey Foundation Award as one of the five outstanding management books in 1968.

He was the recipient of the “Distinguished Contribution to Project Management” Award given by the Project Management Institute in 1983, and received the 1983 Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE)-Joint Publishers Book-of-the-Year Award for the Project Management Handbook. In 1987, Dr. Cleland was elected a Fellow of the Project Management Institute.

Dr. Cleland received the 1988 University of Pittsburgh, School of Engineering Board of Visitors Faculty Award in recognition of his leadership in the development of graduate research programs, meritorious recognition by peers at the national level, superb administrative performance, and special recognition as a teacher.

Success contains the seeds of failure. A successful product or process (marketing, manufacturing, quality, service, etc.) strategy continued without continuous improvement will become vulnerable to competitive alternatives. Project management, a recent innovation in management theory and practice, is no different. It has had rapid growth in the last two decades with many new applications such as in quality circles, simultaneous engineering teams, self-autonomous manufacturing teams, research consortia and strategic alliances to name a few. For example:

  • Corning Inc. was recently selected to receive an Industrial Design Excellence Award from Business Week magazine. The award was given for the company's dedication in promoting minorities to managerial rank, advocating cultural diversity, operating day care centers and fostering the use of self-autonomous teams in its corporate strategy.
  • A Detroit-based auto parts manufacturer formed a cross-functional project team to evaluate their operations. This team visited an affiliate in Japan and found that they had a more decentralized, flatter organizational structure and used project teams around products and technologies to improve machine performance, process yield, machine uptime, had had a culture of systems thinking in dealing with the interrelationships of equipment, people and material in the manufacturing processes.
  • At a computer manufacturer the use of project teams in concurrent engineering reduced assembly time needed for a terminal by 75 percent from the previous product. In addition, the parts count was reduced by 80 percent, testing time was reduced, and product packaging was improved.
  • At a food-products company a project team put a new snack on the grocery shelves in three years—a big jump over the typical product creation to distribution cycle of five to seven years.
  • A European manufacturer of luxury automobiles will open a new $1 billion plant next year that will use production teams to organize its 2,500 workers into more efficient manufacturing workers. The company estimates that a 15 percent savings of labor costs will be realized through the use of such teams.
  • Many major U.S. companies have entered into “strategic alliances” with foreign enterprises to share resources and reduce product development risk. Project teams were used by these companies to negotiate and consummate the alliances.

Will the use of teams become so important in the management of the enterprise that organizational hierarchies will become less important than a team-driven culture where organizational lines of authority and responsibility are blurred?

The use of project teams in the traditional engineering and construction activities is becoming “institutionalized” in the sense of being an established practice. Innovation continues in the project management community directed to doing things better in project management in engineering and construction fields. But the improvement of efficiency in the management of any project activity has diminishing returns. What are the practical limitations of being more efficient in project planning, organizing, and control? Are there some “efficiency limits” beyond which it is not worth the effort to be better?

Project management effectiveness means that you use your resources in the most substantial manner to maximize the return on those resources. It is in the pursuit of organizational effectiveness that substantial opportunities exist in contemporary organizations for the use of project management processes and techniques. The pursuit of such effectiveness means that organizational products and processes have to be changed to meet changing environmental and competitive conditions. The political, social, economic, and technological changes occurring in global circumstances have been, by any measure, awesome. Organizations and countries are scrambling to develop and implement strategies for dealing with and institutionalizing these changes. To do so means that an appropriate vision has to be adopted and implemented across many different circumstances found in our changing world today. Project management is an integral part of such a vision.

Project management is clearly an idea whose time has come. It is the principal strategy by which organizations can accommodate and institutionalize change in organizations leading to the ability to commercialize technology sooner, at lower cost and with higher product and process quality. When an idea for a product or an organizational process change emerges in an enterprise, the appointment of a project team to function as a focal point for evaluating that idea as it emerges throughout its life cycle has great value. During the evaluation of the idea's merit through its life cycle, senior managers of the enterprise can maintain surveillance to determine if the product or process has strategic or operational merit in contributing to those things of value offered by the enterprise.

As project management continues to grow as a philosophy of management it will tend to become more institutionalized and will have new applications. At some point it will lose its identity as a special case of management and will become simply a cultural consideration in “the way we do things in organizations.”

When this happens, something will have emerged that will overshadow project management-as a new application in the management of enterprises. Will the use of teams become so important in the management of the enterprise that organizational hierarchies will become less important than a team-driven culture where organizational lines of authority and responsibility are blurred? Will teams move about throughout the enterprise and build networks with outside stakeholders in order to get the job done? Will membership on teams become so commonplace that people participation in the operational and strategic affairs of the enterprise will be impossible to turn off?

And all of this started with project management whose success has created the need for new dimensions and philosophies in the management of organizations. What will evolve beyond project management?

See notice on page 46 regarding your response to Dr. Cleland's challenge!
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