Managing project contexts


Series on project integration, interfaces and context management
Article 3 of 3

By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


This series of three articles is concerned with project integration. The first article (Stretton 2016h) was essentially an overview of the literature on project integration per se. In spite of its perceived importance to project management, materials specific to the subject are somewhat scarce, fragmented, and disparate, and do not provide good insights about the essential elements of project integration.

Many authors strongly associate project integration with project interfaces and their management, which was the subject of the second article (Stretton 2016i). Some thirty-odd project interfaces were identified, and broadly classified and accumulated into a table, which could be seen as a basic checklist for project managers who are establishing and/or managing this component of project integration. It also provided a listing of project contexts which are relevant to this third article.

The first article also noted that some of the differing broad viewpoints on project integration may be due to the fact that project management knowledge is not context free. Shenhar & Dvir’s NTCP model, and its four ‘dimensions’ and component ‘types’ were briefly discussed. The authors recommend a wide range of different integration approaches for each ‘dimension’ and component type. Although these are not contexts in their own right, they are largely determined by contextual factors in the project’s environment. Therefore the recommended integration approaches are indirectly relevant to this final article on project contexts and their management.


As Morris 2013 has noted, project management knowledge is not context free. Also, of course, in practice all projects have their own particular contexts. As Morris 2013:60 also observes, there is “…a need to manage, or influence, in some way the project ‘externalities” – its context”.

In spite of its ubiquitous nature, the management of project contexts as a topic in its own right receives little attention in project management standards and guidelines. There are few guides that emphasise influencing context, let alone guidelines on how to go about it.

As Morris 2013:282 says, speaking of project management standards and guidelines,

…..contextualisation…[is] left in the hands of practitioners, which is reasonable, but with little guidance on how to do this, which is not.

Perhaps one of the problems is that, judging from Table 3-1 following, the possible types of project contexts are so numerous and varied that it is hardly surprising that there is so little direct overall guidance in the literature on how to manage them.

In the following, we will look at project context management as a topic in its own right, and particularly at an approach developed by Morris 2013, who has identified seven variables which influence project contexts. We will look at how these relate to a basic project life cycle, how important they are in the early project initiation phases, and thence how important it is to have project management involved ASAP.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon), Life Fellow of AIPM (Australia), a pioneer in the field of professional project management and one of the most widely recognized voices in the practice of program and project management.   Long retired, Alan is still accepting some of the most challenging research and writing assignments; he is a frequent contributor to the PM World Journal. See his author profile below.

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)



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. 

Alan 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 170 professional articles and papers. Alan can be contacted at [email protected].

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.