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Management Science methods and methodologies for Project Management: What they model, how they model and why they model

FEATURED PAPER

By Dr. José Ramón San Cristóbal

University of Cantabri

Santander, Spain


Nowadays there is an enormous variety of methods, techniques and methodologies within the broad field of Management Science, all having very diverse characteristics and stemming from various paradigms based on different philosophical assumptions, and, to a lesser or greater extent, drawing on particular bodies of theory. Whilst this plenitude can enhance practice, it also poses problems for project managers who often tend to restrict themselves to one paradigm or even one methodology. The aim of this paper is to assist project managers in understanding both the implicit and explicit assumptions underlying management methods and their principal aims and purposes. Thus, project managers will be able to make a choice as to which methodology is more appropriate for a particular situation.

INTRODUCTION

Project management is anything but universal (Senhar 1998). For sixty years, organizations have increasingly been using projects and programs to achieve their strategic objectives (Bredillet et al 2015). Projects have traditionally been the prerogative of the engineering disciplines, but with the dynamics of business, project management has moved into business’ main street. Today project managers have gained recognition and employment opportunities beyond construction, aerospace and defense, in pharmaceuticals, information systems, and manufacturing. In this context, project managers must not be limited to a monitoring and reporting role at an implementation level. They must be involved at strategic levels with the possibility and authority to effectively influence the direction and course of a project. A good Project Manager must have the skills needed to make sound decisions, consistent with the global strategy of the project, taking into account, not only the relationships of the different actors involved in the project, but also the possible impact of his/her decisions on project performance.

The aim of this paper is to assist project managers in understanding both the implicit and explicit assumptions underlying management methods and their principal aims and purposes, in order to be able to make more informed and critical aware decisions. The paper begins by differentiating the terms methodology, method and technique. Next, the main management science methods classified according to three questions: what they model, how they model, and why they model, are presented. Finally, there is a concluding section with the main findings of the paper.

METHODOLOGY, METHOD AND TECHNIQUE

The terms methodology, method and technique can have several overlapping meanings. A methodology can be the general study of methods of research or intervention, or the particular methods used in a specific project, or a generic combination of methods that is commonly used as a whole. In other words, a methodology is a structured set of methods or techniques to assist project managers in undertaking research or action. Generally, a methodology will develop, either explicitly or implicitly, within a particular paradigm and will embody the philosophical assumptions and principles of the paradigm.

A method is a specific activity that has a clear and well-defined purpose within the context of a methodology. Examples of methods are developing a simulation model, a PERT network or the earned value management method. Methods may be complementary within a methodology if, for example, we combine together statistical analysis, building a simulation, and sensitivity analysis; or methods may also be substitutes. The relation between methodology and method can be seen as the relation between a what and a how (generally, each what has a number of possible hows). Whereas the methodology specifies what type of activities should be undertaken, the methods are particular ways of performing these activities. Finally, a technique is a tool that can be used to perform a particular method, for example a linear programming optimizer.

Although project managers, implicitly or explicitly, use these three concepts, it is only by reflecting on their relationships that helps to assess the scope of the management science method used. As Mingers (2003) states, one way of seeing the interconnection between these three concepts is to realize that the paradigm gives the philosophical support to the general question of why we act and intervene/no intervene in a particular way; a methodology sets out the guidelines on what activities need to be carried out in the intervention, and methods/techniques will describe how the activities are going to be carried out (Mingers 1997, Paucar-Cáceres 2010).

MANAGEMENT SCIENCE

Project Management is discussed both in management science and in operations research. Application of operations research and management science started more than half a century ago, although historically, operations research came first. The scope and ways in which management science, the application of scientific method to management, are conceived and used have changed enormously. Its methods and methodologies have been applied to a large variety of management situations. Management science is not only viewed as the application of classical operations research techniques. It is a recognized discipline that tackles a wider scope of managerial problems with a number of sophisticated approaches and has influenced the field of management and, at the same time, has been influenced by adjacent fields borrowing and adopting frameworks and models from other areas of management (Paucar-Cáceres 2010).

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About the Author

 

pmwj39-Oct2015-Cristobal-PHOTOJosé Ramón San Cristóbal

University of Cantabria
Santander, Spain

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Dr José Ramón San Cristóbal has been a teacher at the University of Cantabria, Spain, since 1998. He obtained his PhD in 2004 and leads the Project Management Research Group at the University of Cantabria. His area of work is management science/operations research applied to project management. His research has focused on fields such as investment criteria; linear and goal programming models; multi-criteria analysis; game theory; network models; etc. He has authored many papers and two books. Dr. San Cristobal can be contacted at [email protected]