Why are Policy Makers, Execs, Strategists and OD-types all united about Traditional Project Management?

Project Management main phases

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Latest German research seriously questions traditional Project Management as defined in PMBOK and Prince2 type methodologies.

The research describes Traditional Project Management (PM1) as mechanistic and weak on addressing contextual complexity. It is argued that Project Management needs to address three critical areas:

1. Increased Complexity – a new management approach with the characteristics of a new paradigm

2. Globalization – fundamental, rapid, and radical changes in Society and Economy

3. Innovation – rapid growth in complex, new technologies in industrial and societal products

The research by Manfred Saynisch, distinguished both as a practitioner and a researcher is entitled “PM2 – Project Manager Second Order” and is part a research project entitled “Beyond Frontiers of Traditional Project Management”.

The research recognizes that Policy Makers, Execs., Strategists and OD – types are all uncomfortable with the limitations of Tradition Project Management (PM1), captured in PMBOK based on existing hard and soft methods. It is argued that it is based upon a mechanical, mono-causal, non-dynamic, linear structure and discrete view of human nature and societies, and their perceptions, knowledge and actions. It maintains that it works on the basis of reductionist thinking and on the Cartesian/Newtonian concept of causality (mechanistic science), and is unable to solve widespread and profound modern challenges which are not predictable in a continuous, stable linear sense.

The research looks for new insights and perceptions in natural and social sciences, based on evolutionary and chaos theory, self-organization, synergy, brain research, social systems theory and theory of complex systems.

The article summarises the history of PM-1 and academic literature underpinning PM-2. This leads to the introduction of a systemic architecture and process model for PM-2. This model adopts what is described as a series of Worlds. World 1 represents Traditional Project Management. World 2 embraces Complexity Management. World 3 considers Collaborators/Persons. Finally, World 4 captures what is described as Foundation Ways of Thinking. Sayisch goes on to explain and illustrate the World views with examples.

Project Management Practitioners who are able to relate to the conceptual material will find the four World views of interest. For sure, it will take a practitioner to be disciplined and to systematically view the project from the different perspectives.

In the author’s experience, the vast majority of project managers are practical, hands-on people, who are comfortable in the detail of day-to-day Traditional Project Management (PM1). Adding the three additional Worlds enormously complicates the subject and for practical people, PM-2 will be perhaps be a bit remote and abstract.

In its current form PM-2 is probably of more value to an academic audience than busy practitioners. However, the PM-2 approach is conceptually sound and it would be helpful if future research focused on operationalizing the concept, with templates, checklists and the other tools that the busy project manager is able to deploy on a daily basis. It would also be useful for practitioners to get a summary of the PM-1 literature, as well as PM-2.

To conclude, as an article in an academic journal, Saynisch has made a useful contribution to the literature. Practitioners will probably be less satisfied in not having clear tools to deploy in their next project.

Finally, Policy Makers, Execs, Strategists and OD-types will probably unite in their views of PM1 but will probably have to wait a bit to see PM2 in action.

Further details of the research are available by following the following link:


One response

  1. What Dr Alf says makes absolute sense, when you consider that 85% of all projects fail irrespective of which approach is used.

    Often projects are grounded in the prevailing world view of directors and managers fighting the “last war” with cavalry, when we now live in a world where 50% of everything that happens is an unquantifiable “Black Swan ” event that may never happen again either in the same way or at all.
    If the project is part of delivering a strategy that involves going westwards to look at sunrise then the strategy is wrong and the project will fail.

    Thus strategies need to be sense checked, future-proofed and risk optimized first, and then the projects formulated to help bring the strategy into being.

    Similarly, we know from McKinseys that 50% of competitors to any business did not even exist before two years ago, which means that many projects which fail to take this into account are doomed from inception because of the positioning of those competitors.

    Many directors believe in the “lag” principle, which says that a methodology adopted in Wisconsin can be applied in all 52 states and with translation globally. A project to select and roll out software to underpin the methodology will perhaps work in Wisconsin and similar states but not in others and certainly not in others overseas where things are done differently.

    Too many directors have only lived and worked in one place, so lack cultural understanding, language skills and any idea of how things work. By comparison, Dr Alf I know has worked globally, speaks several languages and has a passion for understanding delivering change in different cultures. I for my part have many years of successful executive and consulting experience in the US, Europe and more recently China.

    Recruiters and contractors are often appointed on the basis of being PLU’s (People like us), so un-contextualized projects are again doomed at inception.

    Then there are the projects put forward using IT, which are designed to force processes to change often against people’s wills. These fail because the processes need to be understood first, then re-engineered within the limits of what is possible and then automated. People need to understand why this is being done and that requires communication not bland assurances otherwise projects of this nature also fail. Often people create projects on the basis of current locations and demographics without considering the need for adaptability, expansion, travel to work/logistics and the cost implications for existing and new staff of the type that the business needs.

    Like Dr Alf, I feel that projects managers need to urgently reinvent themselves or become dinasaurs designed out by progress and technology.

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