Some consequences of having two co-existing paradigms of project management


By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia



I recently completed a series of four articles in this journal under the broad heading of “Series on project management’s contributions to achieving broader ends” (Stretton 2016b,c,d,e).

The main theme of this series was advocating that project management look beyond the project as an end in itself (with its traditional “execution-only” focus on project outputs), towards broader contributions and value-adding in both post-execution and pre-execution phases. The findings of this series are summarised in the following figure.

Click here for PDF to see Figure 1: Potential (and sometimes actual) areas for extended project management contributions in pre-execution and post-execution phases of a broader project life cycle

The execution-only perspective is illustrated by the box surrounding text box 7. Project Execution. This represents what I will call the “traditional” paradigm of project management.

The broader representation includes not only involvement in pre-execution and post-execution activities for individual projects, but also involvement in organisational strategic planning. Any and all combinations of these, added to Project Execution, will be described as representing an “emergent” paradigm of project management.


The current situation in project management is that both the traditional and emergent paradigms are widely represented in the literature, and in practice.

The co-existence of these two paradigms is recognised by many in project management, but evidently not by all. Some consequences of this co-existence have also been recognised, but many have not been discussed in detail. This article is concerned with exploring a few such consequential problems and opportunities. These include:

  • Some adverse effects which the traditional paradigm has on the emergent paradigm in relation to awareness and promotion of the latter;
  • A “blame the project manager” dilemma which suggests a defensive strategy of increasing project management involvement in project initiation activities;
  • An opportunity to take over the often ungoverned spaces of project initiation before a less qualified avocation does so (plus adding value in the process);
  • A discipline-or-profession-related consequence for project management

But first we look a little more closely at the nature of each of these two paradigms.

The traditional paradigm

In a recent article in this journal, Dalcher 2016 had the following to say about the traditional definition of a project, and how project management is perceived under the traditional paradigm.

The traditional definition of a project implies a temporal arrangement concerned with actualising a planned and defined objective. Indeed, project management is regarded as an execution discipline concerned with realising plans.

In other words, the traditional paradigm essentially involves what many have called an execution-only perception of the scope of project management. This traditional paradigm is still very much alive and well in the project management literature, and in practice. In the literature, it is perhaps most notably represented by PMI’s PMBOK Guide (PMI 2013), which we will be discussing again shortly.

The emergent paradigm

Other project management people have a broader paradigm for the discipline. Peter Morris has been describing this for over two decades as ‘the management of projects’ (e.g. Morris 1994) which he summarises (in Morris 2013:281) as

…one where the project organisation is the unit of analysis, where context, the front end, technology, people and the commercial basis of the project’s development and delivery are included, as well as the traditional control topics.

As is evident from many previous articles I have published in this journal, I am well and truly a follower of this emergent paradigm. This is largely because this paradigm encompasses what we actually did in the project-based organisations in which I worked for some forty years (before venturing into academe) – particularly in Civil & Civic, where we were normally heavily involved in pre-project-execution activities, and often in post-delivery activities as well.

Consequences arise from the co-existence of these two paradigms

Many writers who evidently embrace the emergent paradigm acknowledge this co-existence, and have discussed it in some detail (e.g. Morris 1994, 2013). However, it would appear that many followers of the traditional paradigm do not acknowledge the existence of the emergent paradigm, in spite of its having been in place for over half a century.


To read entire paper, click here


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 160 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/.