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Notes on the relevance of contexts for
program/project management

By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


ABSTRACT

There has been substantial criticism in more recent times that some sections of the program/project management literature do not recognise the consequences of the more dynamic/complex contexts in which programs/projects are now being undertaken. In many cases such criticism is evidently reasonable. However, in spite of increased dynamics and complexities of modern environments, there are still many programs and projects which are undertaken in relatively stable/predictable contexts. This paper identifies and discusses some groupings of programs/projects in the latter category. Finally, a chart is offered which summarises some of the main consequences of each of these two types of contexts for both the practice of program/project management, and for relevant research.

INTRODUCTION

In a paper in PM World Today (Stretton 2011e) I discussed some consequences for both general management and program/project management in the broad movement from relatively stable, predictable environments in the past towards more dynamic, complex environments in more recent times.

There is some criticism in the literature of writers who allegedly assume that current environments are relatively static and predictable. For example, Pellegrinelli 2008:11, discussing programs, criticises PMI’s Standard for Program Management (PMI 2006a):

It shies away from recognising and addressing the management challenges associated with the complex, shifting and politically charged contexts in which many programme managers find themselves.

In like manner, Morris 2004, in discussing inadequacies of (then) existing models of project management, including PMI’s PMBOK Guide (PMI 2000), said,

What has changed however is the socio-economic business context in which projects are managed; the technical environment; and the commercial conditions. Project management, like all management, is contextual, and it is managing projects in their changing, modern contexts that is the real challenge.

In effect, these and other commentators are saying that certain bodies of knowledge and similar program/project management standards implicitly assume that the environments in which programs/projects are undertaken are relatively stable/predictable, but that those of the real world are dynamic/complex – and that therefore such standards are inadequate.

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About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD

Faculty Corps, University of Management

and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)

Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management. He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA. In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program. Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects. He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France). Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992. He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996. He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management. He has published over 100 professional articles. Alan can be contacted at [email protected].