Is it Time to Rethink Project Management Theory?


Bob Prieto

Princeton, NJ, USA

Consider this a transition point in my various thinking and writings about program management and by extension management of the projects that comprise these programs. It is driven by a simple glaring fact that our industry more often than not “fails” in our delivery of large projects. I will leave the debate on whether failure is the right term to use until another time but it would certainly be safe to say that large projects “underperform” with respect to the baselines upon which final investment decisions are made and projects “sanctioned”. This performance issue has been well documented by others.

This persistent performance challenge drives me to question whether the theoretical foundations of project management theory as it is widely practiced today are sufficient to meet the challenges of large projects. After all, various management approaches have evolved over time to implement any of a number of management theories. Perhaps large projects, and especially large multi-project programs, require a different theoretical foundation than the traditional theories that underpin our management practices currently afford.

One of the luxuries I have had is to be able to work around very large programs (multiple large projects). This scale tends to “blow up” things that are easily unseen in more routine projects but likely present. My observations have been leading me to a shift in thinking as it relates to the management of projects, especially the largest ones. This thinking is still evolving but some of the key aspects include:


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About the Author

bob prietoBob Prietoflag-usa

Senior Vice President


Princeton, NJ, USA

Bob Prieto is a senior vice president of Fluor, one of the largest, publicly traded engineering and construction companies in the world. He focuses on the development and delivery of large, complex projects worldwide. Bob consults with owners of large capital construction programs across all market sectors in the development of programmatic delivery strategies encompassing planning, engineering, procurement, construction and financing. He is author of “Strategic Program Management”, “The Giga Factor: Program Management in the Engineering and Construction Industry” , “Application of Life Cycle Analysis in the Capital Assets Industry” and “Capital Efficiency: Pull All the Levers” published by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) and “Topics in Strategic Program Management” as well as over 500 other papers and presentations.

Bob is a member of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council, National Academy of Construction, a Fellow of the Construction Management Association of America, a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council and several university departmental and campus advisory boards. Bob served until 2006 as a U.S. presidential appointees to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), working with U.S. and Asia-Pacific business leaders to shape the framework for trade and economic growth and had previously served as both as Chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and co-chair of the infrastructure task force formed after September 11th by the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as Chairman at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB). Bob can be contacted at [email protected].