GPM First
Chapter 22 of Advances in Project Management (978-1-4724-2912-4) by Darren Dalcher


Project Management Research: The Long Journey

Darren Dalcher

The book has covered an enormous array of topics and areas, highlighting the diversity and vitality of project management research and practice, and the need to widen the perspective of what may be encompassed by the management and leadership of projects.

Project management is a core competence required to deliver change measured in terms of achieving desired outcomes with associated benefits. With projects increasingly viewed as managing the change efforts of society, project management is called upon to cross functional, organisational and societal boundaries and handle the inherent complexity and uncertainty required to bring about a new reality. Indeed, one of the key themes that emerge from many of the discussions in the individual chapters is the need to engage with uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Project managers often act as agents of change translating wish, fantasy and fancy into a delivered reality. In a world characterised by demanding constraints, growing expectations and conflicting tradeoffs, managers balance priorities, needs and potential. Their continuing ability to deliver, transform and innovate make their achievements a triumph, proving that project management can become the art of the possible.

Yet, project managers are continuously challenged to deliver more with less whilst improving the track record of project delivery. Fresh insights into how people and teams work, how to lead in complex and dynamic environments and how to improve delivery capability continue to emerge in different areas and domains. They demonstrate the potential for deriving new ways of working and making sense of project contexts and environments.

The project context is increasingly becoming more encompassing and more intensive. New technologies open up new possibilities, requiring new ways of working. The challenges seem more demanding and the impacts of our decisions appear more critical to our ultimate survival. These challenges require fundamentally new ways of making sense and shaping a world we can neither fully control, nor fully understand.

Is project management ready for this new world? The scale and complexity of issues we are facing is on the rise. Indeed it would appear that the new project management would need to address the wider concerns of a more engaged, more global and better-informed society. Yet, we are also faced with a period of greater austerity and an increased focus on accountability.

Another theme that emerges from the different discussions is the need to move from managing to leading. Managing is the hallmark of a more certain and more control-oriented strategy, while leadership points to a different and more varied skillset. Lack of control and a greater reliance on a network of participants requires a more organic approach that emphasises influence, participation and collaboration. Gradual exploration can therefore be guided by vision and purpose that can help in forming and confirming the direction of travel.

Success in the future would require better understanding of the context and deeper engagement with the business. It will also imply an acute understanding of the values and preferences of different, yet much wider circles of stakeholders communities, possibly arranged in complex and interconnected ecologies. The set of concerns is likely to encompass sustainability and survivability issues, extended time horizons and considerations of wider communities of interest. The old tools and approaches that characterise the pioneering mindsets that shaped project management will require adjusting to encompass new ways of balancing ethical, economic and environmental considerations, and reflect a changing understanding of the economic mechanisms that underpin engineering and development activities from a humanistic perspective.

This book offers the collated and narrated beginnings of a discussion on how to achieve more with less. As we dare to become more ambitious, we will need to leverage our insights and understanding and develop new ways of addressing the emerging challenges. In doing so we may discover that sharing across boundaries and silos will enrich and refresh our metaphors, tools, perspectives and values – so that they can support and underpin our continuing journeys in both chartered and unchartered territory, as we endeavour to learn to deal with change over time.

We shall never cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know it for the first time.

T.S. Elliot, Little Gidding

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