Research Agenda in Project Management

Introduction

Project management provides an established plan for problem-solving as well as overall control. The existing knowledge on project management is directly dependent on the amount of prescriptive research available on various project management disciplines (Ahlemann et al., 2012). Prescriptive research regarding project management has allowed for the development of various acceptable methodologies as well as standards utilized globally backed up by decades of research (Padalkar & Gopinath, 2016).

This research is also highly dependent on the very evolving definitions of project and project management especially considered the multifaceted in nature of Project management in terms of theory, application, and even scope. A project is defined as a creation of processes and organization temporarily with the objective of reaching a specified goal within a specified period of time, budget, and other resources depending on the type of activity (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007).

This comprehensive description helps to lead to a definition of project management (PM) is therefore simply the managerial aspect of ensuring project success (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007). This definition in itself has brought about numerous controversy from researchers who believe that indicating the ultimate goal of the project management as project success presents a conundrum; in what is correct criteria to utilize in determining if a project is a success which is favourable and compatible with most of the different existing projects types (Hussein, Ahmad & Zidane, 2015).

Ultimately, researchers agree that a project is subject to factors such as cost, time, and outcome whereas Project Management has different levels starting with initiation, planning, monitoring and execution (Hussein et al., 2015). There has been speculation that traditional project management criteria focusing on both theoretical and practical aspects have a narrow focus, and needs better-developed research (Soderlund, 2004). This paper will, therefore, look at the research agenda presented by Bredillet (2007) and conduct a critical analysis, critique of this research agenda, as well as continue with in-depth research and review of developments in Project Management research including areas such as of hard and soft paradigms (Pollack, 2007) as well as disciplines of Project Management including the lifecycle of existing literature.

Review of Past Literature

Project management Agenda According to Bredillet

Bredillet (2007a) categorically states that project management is a diverse, rich, and continually growing field of study. The first research agenda that Bredillet discusses is important of relationships, knowledge, and people in research. Bredillet believes there has been an assumption in the importance of the personnel feature in project management success. This personnel factor appears in terms of the competency, skills, and training of the project managers.

However, he believes that what is more important is the ability of the organization to have maturity in dealing with projects. The aspect of people in Bredillet’s paper appears in the knowledge section. This is because people produce knowledge and play a role in increased of research as academic researchers, an institution that provides degrees, academic research journals, and professional associates. The next factor is the growth of research is relationships between communities that affect the research agenda. This includes relationships within project management research community including organizations such as IRNOP, within other related disciplines such as information technology and management disciplines, within the academic community, and in schools of project management research (Bredillet, 2007b).

The first perspective that Bredillet presents is the fact that is the fact that projects and project management are different and not homogeneous as many researchers assume and hence have to be accessed differently especially looking at the research. Unfortunately, the assumption has led to the use of standard tools and methods in all projects which have indeed worked against the project management objectives. Bredillet proposes nine schools of thought of research agenda in project management.

Different Perspectives of Bredillet’s Research Agenda

Project as a Machine

The first school of thought presented by Bredillet is a project as a machine which comes from these of project management in the 1940s and 1950s. Common optimization tools at the time were critical path methods (CPM) and program evaluation and review technique (PERT). This school of thought was based on the idea that meant to define project goals and then break them down into smaller components means to allow for careful planning, estimate project tasks, cost and time efficiency, and overall completion of projects. It was based on the project as a system theory, which leads to the school of thought that project management is a means of planning, controlling, modeling projects as well as optimizing its outcome (Bredillet, 2007c).

Project as a Mirror

The second school of thought is projected as a mirror which is also referred to the modeling and optimization school of thought. It relies on the hard systems approach that has evolved to into modeling perspective with the main objectives being control of time and costs. The school has three main goals being controlling project management in terms of scope, time, costs, and quality. The school of thought then evolved to include soft systems with the goal of addressing organizational, behavioral, political, and other problems affecting projects. The hard system focuses on optimization while the soft system is for clarification and making the projects and its objectives make sense (Bredillet, 2007c).

Project as a Legal Entity

The next school of thought is a project a legal entity where the school explores the relationship between project management and contract management as well as with mechanisms of governance. The contract sub-school of thought has two forms; the first is the project as a legal entity in its own right and describes relationships between parties and legal entity is managed. The second is the view of the project as an interface between two legal entities that is the client and the contractor and details the management of the interface. This led to looking at the project as a temporary organization and meant to detail proper management of the project as a temporary organization and as a project-oriented parent organization.

The view of the temporary organization is entirely based on the traditional view that organizations are permanent entities and projects are temporal as they are set up for a specific period of time. Project management governance looks at three areas. The first is project transaction costs as a way of determining the type of governance as well as mechanisms of governance. The second is the principal-agency relationship between the client and the contractor.

One party in the relationship is the principal who is dependent on the other part called the agent to complete the work on their behalf. The principal faces two constraints in this system that they are not always aware of the decisions the agent makes and the reasons, and secondly, the agent acts opportunistically by optimizing the economic outcomes of projects and not that of the client’s moral problems. The last area is mechanisms of governance of projects which are often project-oriented including effective governance of projects, programs and organizational portfolio (Bredillet, 2007d).

Project as a Social System

The next school projects as a social system or a behavioral school which is related to the governance school of thought. The project as a temporary organization is also a social system and includes areas such as organizational behavior, team building, leadership, communication, and human resource management (Bredillet, 2007d).

Project as a Success School

The other school projects as a business objective or a success school where the focus becomes on success or failure of success with two main components; project success factors; which are elements that affect the rate of project success and project success criteria; which is a measure of successful outcome in a project. This school of thought involves attempting to define project success focusing on success criteria including; cost, time, performance objectives, planning, and control of the project (Bredillet, 2007d).

Project as a Computer

The next school of thought is a project as a decision school or a computer focusing on factors such as initiation, approval, funding, completion, termination, and conclusion regarding project success or failure. It looks at the political, economic and cultural factors often applying soft systems in project management. The school is divided into two focuses; the first is the decision-making process in the beginning of the project with the focus being on reasons for making certain decisions, the impact of decisions on the project, major project disasters and avoidance of the project t disasters. The next focus is on information processing where the project is considered as a vehicle for processing information, reducing risks as well as uncertainty in projects (Bredillet, 2007e).

Project as a Process School

The project as a process school or an algorithm which was often used in the 1980s that focused on defining a well-structured process for projects form the start of their completion. It involves the conversion of a dream into a reality by using a well-structured process beginning at initiation, planning, control, and project end (Bredillet, 2007e).

Project as a Chameleon

The nest school is the project as a chameleon or a contingency which focuses on different types of projects and project organizations and considers the most suitable project approach including settings and processes. This school of thought recognizes that each project is different and in so doing the approach and processes must also evolve to fit the objectives and the nature of that project. The process of project categorization contains two main focuses; the first id the purpose of project categorization, and the attributes used in categorization. The main goals of categorization are to match the project with the intended strategy and allows for periodization in resource allocation. Secondly, it allows for assigning and developing the needed skills and capabilities for project management of the selected projects (Bredillet, 2007e).

Project as a Billboard

Projects are also billboard or the marketing school of thought whose focus is at the beginning of the project such as stakeholder identification and relations, project organization formation, client-contractor interactions, and internal marketing. It also includes the marketing role of the project to its intended client’s or customers. This school of thought acts as a bridge between growth in project management, and its impact on increased productivity, bottom-line earnings, opinion soft project management senior executives, and academic within business schools (Bredillet, 2007e).

Development of Research Agenda &Criticism to Bredillet’s Research Agenda

Multifaceted Nature of Project Management

Bredillet (2007) articulates that Project Management has indeed increased in research content as well as usage by the organization in fulfillment of their project needs. It is especially the case because the interest into the project has since expanded form engineering, defense, Construction and Information technology sector to currently include new sectors such as the service industries including hotels and even in tours & travels.

According to Atkinson (2006) the research agenda, knowledge, and educational requirements of Project Management have also expanded to accommodate the increasing need for different sectors not held within the traditional sectors mentioned. There is also a consideration of the often interrelationship wit related fields that have also played a major role in guiding the research agenda of Project Management for example development in the Management discipline has played a role in guiding progress in Project Management (Bredillet, 2007).

Soderlund (2004) discusses the fact that in much of the available research Project Management has been discussed as an “adoption of a method”, which insinuates that there is more than one method of solving complex organizational difficulties. This a shared misconception that perpetuates the fact that Project Management is a method rather than discipline whose role is to incorporate the other fields of research due to its multidisciplinary characteristic and bring their roles to focus (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006). Project Management has the capability for utilization in disciplines such as psychology, Engineering, Business administration, organizational theory, and even sociology (Soderlund, 2004).

This loophole and weakness in the research agenda expose the narrow nature of research agenda in Project Management (Lundin & Soderholm, 1998) combined with the fact that this narrowed research has prevented the field of Project Management research from expanding in both theoretical and practical aspects (Morris, 1994). Bredillet (2007) found that the assumption that projects are homogenous is wrong as projects are different and so they should be judged differently especially when it comes to determination of project success.

Project Management’s Theoretical Nature (Project management as a Process & Computer)

Soderlund (2004) simply implies on the fact that most of the research existent on Project Management is basically theory with little success in actual practice especially because it is based on looking at Project Management as a method rather than the life force of every project. Packendoerff (1995) acknowledges this assessment by categorically stating that Project Management is largely theoretical filed especially in the 1950s. This was further indicated in the late 1950s hen organizations such as PERT introduced industrial application and planning techniques. This was a common school of thought where a project was considered to be a computer (Bredillet, 2007).

The systems encountered some challenges because of problems with the original techniques translated directly into the product. This indicates that there is a difference between theoretical and practical Project Management. Therefore, the field of Project Management theoretically involves few stages including development; which is further divided into conceptualization and planning, implementation; made up of controlling and evaluation, and the eventual termination (Packendoerff, 1995).

Packendoerff (1995) introduces another aspect the fact that Project Management is a theoretical subject; which therefore involves some basic assumptions in research. Soderlund (20014) articulates three major assumptions. This assumption is articulated by Bredillet (2007e) by looking at a project as a process. Usually, the process ranging from initiation, implementation, completion, and termination.

The first assumption is that for the sake of research a project is considered as a construct with a clear beginning and end. The problem with this is that the construction of the researcher might be very different to that of the practitioner or other actors. Therefore, it is not possible to present an empirical formula for Project Management as many projects are essentially different. Secondly, the interplay of perspective and phenomenon, this leads to the consideration of projects as mere way or method of looking at the activity. This presents a question of whether activities referred as projects are real projects.

Temporariness of Project Management

Many definitions of projects have articulated one major point which is the temporariness of the organization of activity (Shenhar & Dvir, 2007). This introduces a new avenue for research in an attempt to understand the true meaning of a temporal organization (Bredillet, 2007). Tyssen, Wald, and Spieth (2013) define temporal organizations as an aggregate of individuals that collaborate for a shared cause for a limited amount of time. The TO therefore include projects, temporary teams, projects, and even task forces (Packendorff, 1995). Temporal organizations are characterized by unique processes such as terms of tasks, short-term aspects, and limited time.

Therefore, they have a discontinuing constellation of organizational routine, work content and involve a cross-disciplinary integration of external and internal experts (Tyssen, Wald, 8 Spieth, 2013. Temporary organizations (TOs) are more common current especially in many industries and even within the academic space (Burke & Morley, 2016).

One major characteristic defining this TOs s the diversity of skills and talents from different individuals where each expert has a particular role that another cannot complete (Meyerson et al, 1996; Bechky, 2006:3). It is clear that no matter the differences of definitions for TOs, all authors agree on the fact that they are fixed until a particular date or at the attainment of a particular goal as well as subject to institutional termination, which makes then transient in that they exist using predetermined terms (Lundin & Soderholm, 1995; Bakker et al., 2009a & b).

Bechky (2006) articulates the fact that TOs work way from the traditional aspects of organizations especially because they rely heavily on relationships rather on fixed authority lines. Burke & Morley (2016) present a few types of TOs including; intra-organizational that are found within a single organization, inter-organizational; that is formed between two or more organizations such as task forces, Project-based Organizations (PBO) which is mainly formed by a single organization as a primary unit of products, and project-based enterprises (PBFs) which are mainly individual-based and are the sole purpose of the firms.

Furthermore, while TOs have a high success rate they need high levels of coordination to become successful. While it is postulated that the separation, clarity, reproduction of role arrangements, and enactment that is continuous is the reason for the success of TOs; they also present a negative effect on professional growth and innovativeness (Burke & Morley, 2016). Bechky (2006) looks at coordination in TOs in depth especially with the observation that TOs become a common practice in many professionals even law and Engineering. This presents a real disorganization of workplace organization hence the need for proper means of coordination and control of work.

However overwhelming research indicates that while TOS presents uncertainty in tasks ad environment; coordination in such organizations shifts from traditional channels such as schedules and moves towards the use of interpersonal coordination mechanisms involving liaisons and informal communications (Galbraith, 1973). However, other authors maintain that the high uncertainty in TOs break the use of formal structures as they focus more on flexibility. However, because they are short-lived, fluid and include constant changes in people’s positions that they promote mobile carriers and those with no boundaries (Jones & DeFillipi, 1996). However, while this may work as a benefit, it does present instability due to the lack of formal and normative structures (Meyerson et al, 1996).

Theories & Characteristics of Temporary Organizations

Lundin & Soderholm (1995) look at some of the characteristics and theories linked to TOs. Burke & Morley (2016) mention that TOs are more about cognitive incongruence in that each member of the team has a specific specialty and are recruited in terms of their task-specific capabilities. Moreover, Lundin & Soderholm (1995) postulate the democracy in action theory of temporal organizations based on some specific characteristics.

The first is a time where it is mostly limited to such an organization as it only exists for a predetermined amount of time. The second is a task which for a TO the task is predetermined and well defined and usually, the tasks are limited in number. The third factor is the team which is formed with the goal of focusing on the specific goal at hand.

Lastly, is the transition where it is expected that there will be a clear difference between the before and after difference which can be measured qualitatively. Another important point to note is the value of leadership in such an TOs, Tyseen, Wald, & Spieth (2013) and recommends a few theories including person-oriented leadership which focuses on a specific individual and their role in the leadership process (Weibler, 2012), situation-oriented leadership which focuses on specific situations in which leaders are more likely to lead to success by ensuring that their characteristics correspond with the situation (Northouse, 2009; Lusier & Achua, 2009), and interaction-oriented leadership whereby continuous interaction between members instinctively creates leaders among them over time that then gain the acknowledgement of their peers (Tyssen, Wald & Spieth, 2013).

However, there is still need for the research agenda to shift focus into looking at Project Management leadership aimed at the formation of relationships according to the task, accelerating team effectiveness, and leadership dependent on team composition and nature of the task. Bredillet (2007) articulates the need for relationships also that Project Management research agenda especially between academic researchers, institutions, journals and professional associations as they can guide research in the right direction.

Projects as Success School

Hussein et al (2015) look at some of the problem-related with defining process success including the fact that the definition criteria are very narrow as discussed previously. This is also from Bredillet’s (2007) school of thought of a project as a successful school. Another reason is the ambiguity of the criteria as it utilizes soft or subjective criteria such as satisfaction. The diversity of the criteria which is often conflicting because of consideration of stakeholder interests, power, and influence which often complicates definition and selection of success criteria. Other problems include incompleteness of the definition and aspects of the success criteria, unrealistic targets in Project Management teams. Morris (2010) also articulates the slippery nature of the term “success” as it is entirely dependent on the measure criteria in utilization.

Changing Paradigms of Projects

Another important aspect is the changing dichotomies of Project Management; some researchers articulate that these definitions limit the creation of dual aspects of reality Project Management (Soderlund and Maylor, 2012). Pollack (2007) endeavors to look at understanding these changing paradigms which are basic assumptions. Hard paradigms are associated with positive epistemology, deductive reasoning, quantitative techniques as well as reductionist’s aspects which are qualities that are related to rigor and objectivity. On the other hand, soft paradigms are more about interpretive epistemology, inductive reasoning, qualitative techniques, and exploratory aspects associated with contextual relativity. The use of soft paradigms in the definition of project success has also been discussed earlier as one of the challenges.

While each paradigm has its challenges and benefits, each can be utilized in specific areas of projects. There have been researchers suggesting that the major pitfall of hard paradigms is that it is based on traditional thinking of project risk management that assumes the managed know best. Practically, Project Management tends to prefer more of a problem-solving aspect related to hard paradigms as compared to the problem-solving approach in projects (Pollack, 2007).

Lessons, Limitation & Future of Research Agenda

Brantley (2016) goes ahead to look at the role of communication in Project Management especially considering that most projects use TOs as discussed earlier. This is also considering Bredillet’s (2007e) agenda of projects as a marketing tool or a form of communication. There different models of communication with the most recognized eking the functional model of communication better known as the Source-Message-Channel-Receiver (SMCR) model. However, while it is the most accepted model, it is still insufficient for effective project management hence the need for the research agenda to incorporate research in communication.

This is largely because of the problem is with content, information, and the transactional aspect of information in this model. Researchers such as Cleland & Ireland (2002) look at the transactional and informational aspect of communication while failing to consider other aspects such as the need for a leader and follower styles. Winter & Szczepanek (2009) helps see the importance of the relational aspect in communication by defining Project Management is seven ways including; as a social, political, intervention, value creation, development, temporary, and change process. This definition relates to the Complex Responsive Process of Relating (CRPR) which can be utilized in the new research agenda to develop better communication aspects in Project Management.

Furthermore, another important aspect is looking at the definition of project success as articulated in the initial project. Winter et al (2006a) and Soderlund (2004) agree that project success is dependent on factors such as value creation, organizational change, service delivery, and intervention but still a project can become unsuccessful. Ika (2009) defines project success as the accomplishment of a factorable outcome at project end.

However, the research agenda has yet to conclusively define project success considering the broad aspect of the nature of success. Ika (2009) articulates that most researchers talk about project success thinking they are looking at Project Management success. Project success has been considered as the ability of an activity to fall within the time, cost and quality definition of the project at the beginning. However, this does not necessarily mean that that project is a success, as a project could accomplish this and still be a failure. Therefore, it is best for the research agenda to conclusively differentiate between project success and project management success this is especially because the project objectives often differ from the project management objectives and academics should seize to force adherence of the two (de Wit, 1988).

While adherence to time, budget, and the objective is a critical success factor it is an insufficient way of determining Project Management success; therefore, there is still need for determining of an agreed criterion with set standards for the determination of success (Dvir et al., 2003). Little (2011) suggests that project success is a matter of planning, skillful control and some degree of luck. The aspect Little (2011) refers to as luck is unscientific but many hold the key to some of the factors that research agenda of Project Management is yet to uncover.

Conclusions

This paper is a review of the development of the research agenda in project management in Bredillet’s view and criticism focusing on the temporal nature of organizations, rethinking project management, project success, and project management as a multi-discipline. The articles utilized in this review have played a part in determining the level of research that has already been completed, the challenges faced, and the need for a broader look in Project Management while conducting research. Jacobsson & Soderholm (2011) articulate the need for project research to break out of the norm in research and look into new areas of research that will broaden the scope of available research. The only way to do so would be to redefine projects as objects of study rather than the reason of study (Jacobsson & Soderholm, 2011).

This paper and the previous paper have considered extensively ways of Rethinking Project management (RPM) often by looking at challenges and pitfalls of previously developed systems. The review by Svejvig & Anderson (2015) is a valuable resource articulating all literature from the 1980s on RPM involving categories such as social/political, project uncertainty, project adaptability, and conceptualization of practice. One of the most interesting aspects of RPM is in the risk management discipline articulated by Besner & Hobbs (2012). There has been a major assumption in the research agenda due to the lack of a clear separation of uncertainty from Risk in the definition.

The risk is a measurable uncertainty while uncertainty is an unmeasurable aspect (Besner & Hobbs, 2012). Besner & Hobbs (2012) utilizes an empirical perspective looking at a set of tools utilized in the identification of risks and uncertainty by conducting a survey of all literature describing these terms. The study found that while there is a difference between these terms the use of risk management tools is a negative contributor to the degree of project uncertainty. Therefore practically, an investigation into risk practices would play a role in clarity as far as risk management practices and even concept of uncertainty.

This review had identified so many areas of research yet to be fully researched that would aid in project adaptability and actuality. It is necessary to go beyond the traditional approaches and consider unconventional routes that would lead to breaking ground advancement in Project Management. Granted, the research agenda is still evolving as witnessed in the review and so much has been done already.

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