What should we research?
I asked a question at the latest PMI Research conference. “What would you consider the research that has had the greatest impact on project management performance in the past 10 years?”
The response from one of the Project Management Giants (the session was called standing on the shoulders of giants). “I pass on that question.” After a short discussion and from my table’s discussion, it was concluded that there has not been any meaningful research that improved our understand or our ability to manage projects in the past ten years.
Let’s explore project management research from a model that looks at the knowledge needed to effectively management a project. This model (the Darnall the Dimensions of Project Management) divides project knowledge into three categories (what a surprise). First is the basic or traditional project management areas of knowledge represented in the PMBOK (5 Process Groups and 13 Knowledge Areas).
The second area of knowledge (skills and processes) needed to effectively manage a project focuses on the industry in which the project executed. The knowledge needed to execute a project in the construction industry (beyond the traditional PM) varies from the knowledge needed to manage an IT Project or even a movie production project (see my last blog).
The third area of knowledge focuses on the specific project. Most projects fall within a comfort range for most industries or organizations. The construction company that builds houses typically has good processes for managing the construction of houses but when the house falls outside the normal range, the project complexity increase and the normal processes may not be as effective. Understanding when the project falls outside the range and what new or additional processes are needed is important for project success.
As I review the current literature on project management, most of the research appears to be focused on the Industry Specific area. It is also within the range that most of the projects are managed. Most organizations have processes for managing projects within the organization and research and new processes seem to focus on improving the means and methods of understanding and managing these project. The literature on PMOs and project complexity appear to focus on this area.
Project management research dealing with project specific knowledge appears to focus on the large and complex projects. There appears to be an impression that many of these projects are not successful and this research and writing in this area suggest ways to better manage these projects.
Currently, I believe the project management research is to diffuse to address my opening question, “What would you consider the research that has had the greatest impact on project management performance in the past 10 years?” If we want to answer that questions differently in the next ten years we need to develop new models for understand the project environment and focusing our research.