Time to rethink the social element of projects


Building on ambient awareness and social media

Advances in Project Management

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


Last month’s contribution identified a certain preference within classical management thinking towards organising and control. This reflects a fascination with execution and control, rather than recognition of uncertainty, potential and human capability to deal with and benefit from the unexpected. In reality, perfect plans do not exist, and instead the act of planning provides the focus and flexibility needed to prepare and adjust for the future. Yet the notion of a perfect organisation offers an attractive and alluring proposition to wishful managers.

The social psychology of Organisations

In 1966, Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn published a book that would become the foundation for organisational behaviour and organisational psychology thinking. The Social Psychology of Organizations, offered deep analysis and reflection on the essential problems of human organisations. The book offered a wealth of new perspectives on organisations, their relationship to their environment and the effect of organisations on the health and well-being of individual members. In addition, is also explored the demands and opportunities fostered by organisations, and the experimental development of alternative structures to conventional bureaucracy.

Katz and Kahn made a powerful case for viewing the organisation as a living entity. The book encouraged researchers to consider the phenomena of organised groups. Economists tend to view the world in terms of units of production or assets, missing out on the people and their role within organisations. The book attempted to create a bridge between the micro approach of the psychologist, and the macro account of the sociologist and economist. By applying open systems theory and thinking models, Katz and Kahn were able to reconceive human work patterns, suggesting that the problems associated with organisations could be viewed as a function of the type of structuring. The way functions are designed can thus influence working relationships, politics and the outcomes of the interaction between labour and management. The use of systems thinking lens also allowed for consideration of inputs and processes that lead to outcomes and products.

Katz and Kahn observed a wishful tendency for controlling the environment within which organisations are placed. In reality, organisations are not self-contained or closed systems and must instead acknowledge their role within the wider environment and recognise the boundaries and interactions that delimit their actions, and insights.

The book was important in offering an alternative way of thinking to the prevailing scientific management of Taylor and classic bureaucracy of Weber. Classical thinking did not question existing structures, and was therefore unable to deal with restructuring or social change and re-organisation. Openness to new inputs and the role of individuals offered transformational contributions to the discipline of organisational behaviour, the appreciation of change and its impacts, and the consideration of relations and positions of individuals and groups. While not strictly a project management text, the book has paved the way for many important discussions related to projects and the organisations and structures within which they occur.


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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.



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

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

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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/.