Advances in Project Management: Learning to deal with emergencies: What the project management bodies of knowledge don’t tell us


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire


How should we respond to project emergencies?

Terms such as emergency, urgency or unexpectedness do not really feature in the traditional project management vocabulary or bodies of knowledge.

Conventional project management wisdom assumes a somewhat linear progression from problem understanding towards the development of a solution. Given that projects imply novelty and innovation, the process flows from a state of greater uncertainty, where little is known about the context and boundaries, to a point where implementation can occur with predictable impacts and outcomes. Knowledge is enhanced and accumulated during this journey. Consequently, in idealised form, the life of a project can be typified by a progressively decreasing level of uncertainty and a growing familiarity.

While it is impossible to legislate against surprises, accidents and misfortune, including those that results from lack of knowledge, the general approach makes an assumption that risk management will have identified and mitigated against most latent pitfalls. Yet, projects, and indeed organisations, networks and supply chains are not immune to emergencies. So how do we deal with such events? Indeed, even normal operations may be susceptible to events that require urgent projects to recover from emergencies.

When disaster strikes

In November 2012, a fire broke out in a fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killing at least 117 people and injuring over 200. In an unrelated accident on 24 April 2013 an eight story commercial building collapsed in another outskirt of Dhaka, killing 1,129 workers and injuring 2,515 people. It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history as well as the greatest accidental structural failure in modern human history.

Many companies outsource operations and production to cheaper markets to take advantage of labour and material costs. The factories involved in the accidents deliver products to major chains in the US, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands, including household names such as Walmart, Sears, Carrefour and IKEA.


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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. Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement 

About the Author 

darren-dalcherDarren Dalcher, PhDflag-uk

Series Editor

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire, UK

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 [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.