There is nothing so permanent as temporary: Some thoughts on adapting project structures


Advances in Project Management

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire



Last month’s article and editorial invoked the ever-present tension between projects as temporary endeavours, and the organisation that surrounds them, especially when delivering through projects is part of business as usual. This month we return to that conversation to explore the different ways of organising for project work.

Traditional management systems emphasise a rational kind of thinking patterns that ignore people and their interactions. The underlying models view organisations as machines that move from one state to another, with projects as the means of facilitating that transformation. In that view, project management is a tool for bringing about the agreed objectives. Turning attention to the project itself allows one to focus on the uniqueness of the undertaking, and demarcate a unique start and end points that delimit the project. Using the notion of a project as the unit of interest dedicated to a particular objective discounts the importance of the individuals and stakeholders surrounding the project. Indeed, when projects become tools, motives, politics and expectations are overshadowed by the focus on the intended purpose and the method of delivery.

The sixth edition of the APM Body of Knowledge defines a project as “a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives”. The fifth edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, similarly describes a project as a “temporary endeavour that is undertaken to create a unique product, service or a result”. The Guide further elaborates that the temporary nature indicates that the project has a definite beginning and end.

The transient character identified in the APM definition is a crucial feature of projects. This common timeframe perspective binds the organisation to a specific temporal progression represented through the project itself. It also enables researchers to talk about the idea of viewing projects as temporary organisations existing for limited durations. Johann Packendorff makes a strong case for an alternative metaphor for project discourse centred on the notion of a temporary organisation, an aggregation of individuals temporarily enacting a common cause.


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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. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided 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’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement.


About the Author


pmwj35-Jun2015-Dalcher-PHOTODarren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London. Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond. He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.