CRC Press


Advances in Project Management
Is there a universal theory of project management?


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire


Introduction to the January PMWJ Article by Michael Hatfield

Teaching project management is a challenge. First, there is the question of where to position the faculty. Should it sit within engineering? Or might it fit better in a business school? Or perhaps it needs to be positioned as a generic discipline, which applies in all domains and endeavours. Then, there is the question related to the philosophical underpinning: namely, is project management a science or an art? The award students obtain should reflect that orientation in its title. Once these aspects are out of the way, all that is needed is the body of knowledge (and the evidence that supports it).

Now, it might be tempting to settle for a set of processes and procedures as they help us to perform tasks more skillfully. Reducing skills into a set of procedures is appealing from a pedagogic perspective as it offers a natural structure that can be translated into a lesson plan and ultimately pared down to a set of steps to be memorised.

However, in reality we all know that the craft and discipline of project management cannot be reduced to chunks of knowledge. The skills, behaviours and interactions of successful project managers rely on understanding the complex interplay between people, organisations and change. Lessons from project failures have taught us to take heed of relationships, expectations, trust, communication, politics, conflict and even human follies and imperfections. Yet these aspects are not included in the formally published bodies of knowledge.

Practitioners increasingly talk about a mismatch between project management theory and practice. Some papers published in the academic literature even contend that project management theory is harmful to project management practice. In an ideal world the two would be intertwined so that practice is the source of theory, and theory leads to improved practice. Drawing on experience could thus become the source for generating the new knowledge required to make sense of the experiences and find their meaning. Continuing to explore and discover enables one to make sense of the environment and begin to address the challenge of uncertainty.

The question is what knowledge can we draw upon? The author of this month ‘s column is offering to take us on a daring journey. Michael Hatfield, author of Game Theory in Management, recently published by Gower, is well known to many project managers for his insightful perspective on the discipline. In his article he challenges us to rethink the received knowledge and evaluate its effectiveness.


To read entire article (click here)

Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ by Gower author Dr Lynda Bourne on the subject of “Communicating Upwards with Effect.”  Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.

About the Author

darren-dalcherflag-ukDarren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Series Editor

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.  Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.  He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.  Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at d.dalcher2@herts.ac.uk.