The Coming Sea-Change in Project Management Science


Advances in Project Management

By Michael Hatfield

New Mexico, USA


When Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962), he introduced into the popular lexicon the term “paradigm shift.” Its original meaning dealt with the gradual shift in the adoption of a given, newly-introduced theory as it displaces commonly-held ideas that fail to adequately explain observed data or phenomena. In the realms of the hard sciences this idea displacement is easily observed and documented, as competing theories can be empirically tested for their validity. This is not so in the so-called management sciences, since the number of parameters involved in testing any theoretical approach within a macroeconomic environment is prohibitively expansive – it’s simply impossible to isolate the contributing elements affecting macroeconomic transactions to the extent necessary to validate a given approach.

Within this environment, almost any reasonable-sounding hypothesis, backed by data that wouldn’t survive scrutiny based on the rules of evidence, can be proffered and furthered well beyond its capacity to explain why things managerial have happened the way they happened, much less provide insights on how future events are likely to unfold. This does not stop bloggers, writers, institute founders, college professors, and many others from attempting to introduce into the zeitgeist notions, structures, ideas, and theories of how management ought to function, many of them suspect at best, fraudulent at worst. The resulting mash of overlapping and competing ideas provides, not clarity, but massive amounts of confusion in the pursuit of validating (or invalidating) project management science ideas, hypotheses, and theories.

This article examines how commonly-held precepts in the body of management science are advanced, and offers a basis for evaluating their validity. The result, I hope, will be a Kuhnian paradigm shift in the way project management is perceived as fulfilling a specific role within the macroeconomic environment.


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About the Author

michael-hatfieldflag-usaMichael Hatfield

Michael Hatfield, MBA, PMP, CCC, EVP, is the author of Game Theory in Management (Gower Publishing, 2012) and Things Your PMO Is Doing Wrong (PMI, 2008), but is probably best known as the author of the long running column in PMNetwork magazine, Variance Threshold.  Besides PMNetwork, his work has appeared in the Project Management Journal, Cost Engineering, Gantthead, People on Projects, The Measurable News, and even in the Nuclear Weapons Journal.  He has worked as an entry-level technician for the Air Force Weapons Laboratory’s Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) test sites, as the director of a National Laboratory’s Project Management Office overseeing a budget of $1.3 Billion (USD), and many very interesting jobs in-between. Michael lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, with his wife and two sons, and can be reached at [email protected].

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.  The articles are coordinated 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 also provides an introduction to the current month’s article, which you can see elsewhere in this month’s edition.”  Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.