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Notes on project management academic scholarship, teaching and research, and its relevance to practice

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By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


INTRODUCTION

These notes look at various aspects of academic work on project management from the viewpoint of one who was a practitioner for nearly forty years before moving into academe, and has largely retained a practitioner’s perspective on the discipline. We will look at academic scholarship, teaching, and research, and how they appear to me to relate to practice. However, we start with a broad recognition that there are two rather different perspectives on project management.

TWO PERSPECTIVES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT

As just indicated, I see project management with a practitioner’s perspective – i.e. as a practical discipline. However, as Morris 2013:2 notes

….many scholars see [project management] more as a field of enquiry – a knowledge domain – than as a discipline.

As Morris indirectly implies, there are some scholars who venture beyond the knowledge domain into implications of their work for the practice of project management. However, on balance, these more inclusive project management scholars still appear to be substantially in the minority.

ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP AND PRACTICE

Following on from the above quotation, Morris 2013:5 comments that

…. much of project and program management scholarship has tended to ignore application and impact – to be more concerned with means than with ends, with theory than with practice. Part 3 [of Morris 2013] argues that the academic value of project, program and portfolio management would be greater if we could relate theory more directly to practical benefits, that it should concern itself more with how project practices can make a difference to society’s issues.

This certainly reflects the way I also see the actual and potential relationship between academic scholarship and the practice of project management. On the “actual” side I have generally been unimpressed by the practicality of much of what I have seen in papers in relevant “learned” journals, and in many of the papers I have been asked to assess for acceptance by refereed journals and conferences over the years.

The situation appears to be that most of these papers have been written by scholars for other scholars to read – i.e. reflecting Morris’ comment above that many scholars see project management more as a field of enquiry – a knowledge domain – rather than as a discipline.

One typical example comes from Morris 2013:116 (again), when he says that

….many academics have become interested from an organisational theorist’s perspective in projects as organisational forms. In doing so, however, they may not engage with the management responsibilities of people who are involved, or could be, in managing the ‘whole project’. (Some would see the attempt as secondary to their interests, if that.)

Later, Morris 2013: Morris 2013:282 observes that

…doing project management and theorising about organisations are two quite different things.

My perspective is that I cannot see any point in undertaking any scholarly endeavours in an area like project management unless they show some real promise of ultimately helping improve its actual practice.

However, on the “potential” side, although I have not been in close contact with academe for some years, I get the impression that more scholarly attention is being directed in recent times towards contributing to actual project results.

Perhaps one indicator of this may be that we are seeing an increasing number of contributions by academics – some of them very prominent ones – to more practice-oriented journals such as this one. I very much welcome this trend, and can only hope that it will continue apace.

More…

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About the Author

pmwj36-Jul2015-Stretton-PHOTO
Alan Stretton, PhD

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

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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 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/.