Aaron J. Shenhar, Professor of Technology Management, James J. Renier Visiting Chair, Center for the Development of Technological Leadership, University of Minnesota, MN and R. Max Wideman

This paper is the first of a series of six papers describing the search for a best practices linkage from project classification through management style to project success. It represent part of the research conducted between 1992 and 1998. This paper was presented to an INFORMS Conference in Washington, DC, in May, 1996, and briefly reviews the genesis of modern project management and its scope in today's business and technical environment.

Published here December, 2001.

Background  | Genesis | Scope | Typology | Classification | Linking | Conclusion

Scope of Project Management in Today's Business and Technical Environment

The generic four-phase project life cycle suggests that the project management process is both linear in logic and mechanistic in application. While this may be true to some extent, the real world of project management is very different because work is accomplished by people and people respond to communication. Nothing happens without one or the other, and with today's educated work force particular attention must be paid to these elements of project leadership.

Indeed, the definition of leadership, especially project leadership, is itself an issue. Given the difference between 'Planning' and 'Producing' described earlier, and the differences generally ascribed to leaders and managers it may be deduced that project planning requires 'leadership', while project production requires 'managership', see Table 2: Differences in Style.

But this switch in style is not the only challenge. Project management is full of such paradoxes. Tom Peters, management guru, identifies seven further such paradoxes in mastering project management. These include exposing ego versus no ego; autocrat versus delegator; ambiguity versus perfection; oral versus written; complexity versus simplicity; forest versus trees; impatience versus patience[2]. He might have added internal versus external focus, and so on. However, this kind of hodge podge approach to understanding project management is not very helpful.

Managers focus on

Leaders focus on

  • Goals and objectives
  • Telling how and when
  • Shorter range
  • Organization and structure
  • Autocracy
  • Restraining
  • Maintaining
  • Conforming
  • Imitating
  • Administrating
  • Controlling
  • Procedures
  • Consistency
  • Risk-avoidance
  • Bottom line
  • Vision
  • Selling what and why
  • Longer range
  • People
  • Democracy
  • Enabling
  • Developing
  • Challenging
  • Originating
  • Innovating
  • Directing
  • Policy
  • Flexibility
  • Risk-opportunity
  • Top line

Good managers do the
things right

Good leaders do the
right things

Sources: Adapted from Warren Bennis On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley, 1989; J. W. McLean & William Weitzel Leadership, Magic or Method?, AMACOM, 1991; Stephen R. Covey Principle-Centered Leadership, Summit Books, 1991.

Table 2: Differences in Style

From the point of view of learning, a more structured compartmentalization has been suggested to describe the full scope of project management. Five primary elements have been broadly mapped as follows.[3]

The Project Environment: This sets the context of the project. It includes accommodating to the external environment into which the product of the project will be launched, whether that is simply the management culture and support services of the parent organization, or the greater environment beyond. On a large complex project the latter could require a major 'public relations' type effort. Internally, it includes accommodating to the technology vested in the project and the four constraining and interlocked project objectives of 'scope', 'quality', 'time', and 'cost'.

The Project Life Cycle: As noted earlier, a generic sequence of phases is inherent in the definition of 'project'. It, and all the intricacies associated with specific areas of project application, provides a logical and progressive basis for learning about project management.

Project Integration: This covers ministering to the people responsible for the component parts of the project and their correct interfacing. It includes 'team building' and the issues of 'temporary teamwork', 'project production and productivity', and dealing with 'uncertainty, opportunity and risk'. Above all, it relies heavily on the need for reliable 'information, data storage and retrieval'.

Project Processes: This is inherent in both 'project' and 'management' and includes the essential processes of 'justifying', 'setting direction' and 'management control'. It also provides an opportunity to describe appropriate applications of project management, its benefits and its pitfalls.

Priorities for Project Success: This flows from satisfying the project's stakeholders and constituents and provides the motivation (driver) for effective project management in the first place. It includes learning from past experience and identifying measurable project success indicators. It is also closely associated with effective communication and the total long-term value of the resulting product. These are the issues that are remembered long after the limited euphoria experienced in simply meeting objectives of time and cost.

Genesis of Modern Project Management  Genesis of Modern Project Management

2.  Peters, T., Liberation Management, Knopf, New York, NY, 1992, pp 212-214.
3.  Wideman, R. M., Criteria for a Project Management Body of Knowledge, International Journal of Project Management, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1995 Elsevier Science Ltd., UK, 1995, pp 71-75.

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