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Critical Thinking in Project Management

CriticalThinking in Project Management

CriticalThinking in Project Management

Inthe article, TheUnderlying Theory of Project Management is Obsolete,Koskela and Howell note that the current code of project managementsuffers from dire deficiencies in its theoretical foundation, and thetheoretical foundation referred to, is inherent. To establish themodels fundamental to the Project Management Body of Knowledge(PMBOK) as stipulated in the PMBOK guide of the Project ManagementInstitute, the authors conclude that the inconsistencies that occurin the application of these theories are significant enough. This cansupport the assertion that a definitive transformation in the fieldof project management is required. This article critically looks intothe assertions made by Koskela and Howell and analyzes thepresumptions and possible outcomes. The objective of this writing isnot to propose a new theory, but rather to intellectually evaluatethe above-named article based on the concepts related to the subjectof project management used in other literature.

Startingwith the question of theory, Koskela and Howell relate theconstituents of a theory to the “concepts and causal links thatrelate these concepts” (Koskela&amp Howell, 2008).They describe several meanings of a project management theory interms of its roles including prediction of behavior, facilitatingpractical learning, and hinting towards sources for progress.Moreover, project management the theory of project managementfacilitates the transfer of innovative practices to other settingsand offers a foundation on which tools can be established. Further, atheory of project management should convey rigidity and divulge waysin which action leads to the objectives set to it (Koskela&amp Howell, 2008).In light of these expressions, Koskela and Howell conclude that thereis a possibility of the existence of statements that near thedefinition of a theory from the PMBOK guide.

Inthe article, the authors’ view of the PMBOK Guide shows that theunit of analysis constitutes of tasks and activities, while the scopemanagement is defined using the work breakdown structure. Thesedescriptions tally to the GOTIQ-method, which is a concept of projectmanagement that is commonly employed in the construction sector ofHolland. GOTIQ-method stands for Gains, Organization, Time,Information and Quality, which are essentially the aspects of controlwithin this model (Kerzner,2013).Following a comparison with the models of management in productionprocesses, Koskela and Howell postulate that the primary theory ofproject is that a project can be likened to the transformation ofinputs and outputs. In that regard, by comparing the idea oftransformation of inputs and outputs with the description of theaspects of control defined by the GOTIQ model, one can relate theaspects of phasing, controlling and decision-making in projectmanagement.

Basedon the observed irregularities and the unexpected outcomes, Koskelaand Howell express a deficiency of flow conceptualization in thetransformation view. This is because it involves of time as acomponent of the production process, which guides the streamattention to ambiguity in the process and the linkage between jobs.On the same, based on their understanding of the research by Mirand Pinnington, Koskelaand Howell make the assertion that lack of value generation exists inthe theory of project because the inputs and outputs involved aregiven and straightforward.

Regardingthe concept of management, Koskela and Howell express that the sceneis dominated by the planning processes as stipulated in the PMBOK.Although the concept of planning is not that much dominant in thePMBOK, it features as a key concern in related models of projectmanagement such as the GOTIQ-approach (Kerzner,2013).The comparison made by the authors demonstrates the notion ofmanagement as planning, which points towards the existence of apowerful connection between the activities undertaken in managementand the results. However, this perspective assumes that thetranslation of plans into actions is a mere process of givingdirectives, which is not the case in the practice of projectmanagement. Kerzner,(2013)observes that structures of planning continue to exist long afterthey become obsolete. This observation supports the authors’theoretical outlook that maintaining a complete and updated plan isimpossible, which supports the notion of management as organizing,that opposes the notion of management as planning. (Koskela&amp Howell, 2008).The concept of management focuses on reforming the physical, culturaland political situation of an action, as opposed to steering on humanactivity.

Theadvocates of the view of management as planning have establishednumerous criticisms against the model of management as planning. Theleading criticism put forward is the fact that is impossible tomaintain an up-to-date management plan representing and currentcircumstances and plans to alter them. Again, the separation ofmanagement and execution is not believed to correspond to theorganizational reality. Another point raised is the idea thatplanning pushes the execution of tasks without assessing theproduction system. This means that the concept of management isessentially a daily activity.

Onthe aspect of execution, the PMBOK takes a brief stance. Thefundamental theory of execution relates to the concept of jobdispatching in the manufacturing industry. In project management,however, the element of dispatching reduces to simple communicationcomprising of either oral or written sanction or statement tocommence the work. In that connection, Koskela and Howell note thatobservations from Mir&amp Pinnington (2014)are in alignment in the theoretical notion that the management asplanning approach should rely on an informal style of management tobring success.

Theauthors link the aspect of control to project performance reporting,which resonates with the guidelines in the PMBOK. Based on the studyof (Kerzner,(2013) thatproject meeting help in the formulation of major project decisions,the authors have enough material to support the argument. Therefore,the classical perspective of project management is seen by theauthors as a special type of operations management that appears to befounded on the theories of management. However, by considering theempirical evidence presented by the authors, they conclude that thereexist major deficiencies in these theories that form the basis of theproject management method prescribed in the PMBOK and make newadditions to them. However, the new sections are founded on ideassuch as consultations, collaborations, and ambiguity, which are alllinked to humans. Numerous research studies focus on human-relatedelements of project management such as leadership, handlingstakeholders, conflict management and team collaboration.

Koskelaand Howell attempt to establish a verification of their theories byanalyzing two computer programs namely Scrum and Last Planner. Theseprograms vary from the principal concepts for project management, butonly in planning dimension. One striking of this article is the factthat authors do not provide a definition of the terms ‘project` and‘management.` Instead, they dive straight into seeking thetheories. Similarly, the authors fail to mention scientific conceptsas constructive of their concepts. On a similar account, the authorsprovide only a model and not a scientific theory that consists ofconcepts and cause-effect relationships.

Theauthors express that the deficiencies of the theory of project andthe management theory fortify each other and their effects areconveyed thorough the cycle of a project. Normally, a client`sspecifications are not investigated at the beginning of the project,and the clarification on the process of requirements results in adisruption in the process of the project. Consequently, the progressof the project diverts from the original plan, and that calls toupdating, which is a cumbersome task.

Inan article titled Powerand Politics in Project Management,Pinto (2011) present arguments regarding the role of politics ininfluencing project management. He argues that political activitiescause more project failures than the technical problems in projects.This has been found to be true over the years, as many projectfailures have been traced to political interference. It is ironic,therefore, that as project management theorists try to establish newand better ways of improving the project management field, theycontinue to ignore the aspect of political interference in projectmanagement despite its huge role in influencing project failure.Political behavior and power have rarely been addressed in projectmanagement publications. Just like many other articles in the field,this article ignores this aspect of project management failure, whichI feel is a major omission and a continuation of the failures ofproject management theorists.

Thisarticle should highlight problematic nature of nature of the formalor positional power of project managers. In this regard, Pinto (2011)argues that project managers should solve these problems by buildingtheir informal power or influenced by positively using the phenomenathat “building coalitions as well as the expansion of networks isone of the most rampant political behavior experienced inorganizations.” Therefore, by addressing the aspect of politicalbehavior, this article would have highlighted solutions to a commonchallenge that project managers face, hence bettering the operationsin the field. Understanding the nature of politics and power becomesintegral in influencing people. There is also a chance that suchlessons will help project managers develop negotiation skills as wellas find better ways of conflict management because of its wide scope(Pinto, 2011).

Allthe three books described here touch on the perspective of managinginteraction, thus fulfilling one of the criteria that Koskelaand Howell demand. However, the majority of these prescriptions arebased on research that has no theoretical basis. They primarilyconsist of causal relationships and concepts that are based onscientific facts and not empirically tested relationships (Wysocki,2011).Therefore, these factors highlight the unreliability of the argumentspresented by Koskela and Howell, since they are not backed byempirical evidence and theory. To improve the field of projectmanagement, it is paramount that empirical evidence back every claimmade by theorists and relate to the existing project managementtheories. In this instance, however, Koskela and Howell fail to meetthis requirement (Koskela &amp Howell, 2008).

Again,another problem with the theories used by Koskela and Howell is thelack of definition. The presence of relevant definitions is animportant aspect in the qualification of various theories to justifytheir applicability in relevant fields. It is assumed that everyproposition should have a clear and definite sense, and this senseshould lie in the relationship between the proposition and the world.The language portrayed should picture the world, either accurately orinaccurately. However, the most important thing is that there shouldbe an aspect of realism about the proposed theory and projectmanagement practice. The language used should also be clear enough toprevent readers from making unfounded assumptions regarding theclaims of the author (Wysocki,2011).

Koskelaand Howell’s suggestions regarding added theories can beinterpreted as an effort to grasp the ambiguous, informal, uncertainand unknown circumstances. This approach is simply suited forcircumstances and situations that are highly complex. We can alsolook at this article about the linguistic turn as observed in theresearch work. The origins of linguistic turns lie in a collection ofphilosophical work concerned with the understanding of particularrelationships with language and existence. Individual subjectivitycan influence the relations between words and objects, and in thecase of this article, the author is subjective in the way he putsforward his arguments. The author’s subjectivity is evident when hetalks about the theory of execution. He expresses concern regardingthe briefness of the theory and the lack of direct reference toactual interface between work and the project plan. I believe thatthe author’s judgment regarding the theory is only determined bythe fact the PMBOK guide is brief worded. He does not consider themateriality of the theory presented and the evidence of theseconcepts in project management practice.

Theauthor suggests that the underlying theory of execution is similar tothe job dispatching concept. Even if this is true, we cannotdiscredit the authenticity of the theory because it is related toanother theory. The author nullifies the relationship betweendispatching and project execution, which in my opinion is a misledact. The two elements have very close relationships since they bothoriginate from the classical theory of communication. Therefore, theratification of the execution theory is a mere subjective opinion onthe part of the author, and I believe it does not represent thegeneral opinion of project management theorists.

Theauthor asks whether project management theory originated from thebest available theory in the field. In his presentation, he arguesthat the theory does not come from the best theory available. Thebasis of this argument is that project management theory has simplybeen augmented from competing theories such as the theory ofproduction (Koskela &amp Howell, 2008). He says that these theorieshave existed even before the emergence and commencement of projectmanagement. Even though the author’s claim regarding theaugmentation of project management theory and competing theoriesmight be true, the argument of its inadequacy is unfounded. Theauthor’s comparison of views such as the value generation view andthe transformation view with project management shows a clear lack ofambition to address the concerns of project management and appears tobe an obsession to discredit the step made in increasing therelevance of project management theory. This becomes even moreevident when the author asserts that the utilization of thetransformation model in project management leads to a passive neglectof principles of value generation.

Theauthor, however, makes some arguments that I agree with regarding thedetrimental effects of shortcomings in project management theory. Hesays that deficiencies in project management theory may reinforceeach other throughout the life cycle of the project, leading toundesired negative effects on the quality of the project. Typically,the requirements of customers are poorly investigated at the projectoutset. The process of change and requirement clarification leads tosignificant disruptions in the project progress. The actual projectmay start to drift from the plan as the discrepancies continue tobuild up during the implementation phase, thus leading to changes inthe project costs and project delivery times. He further argues thatthe lack of an up-to-date plan, the system of work authorizationmight transform into an informal management approach. This mightresult in task interruptions, increased variability downstream andlow efficiency (Koskela &amp Howell, 2008). Therefore, the standardperformance that is not in line with the original status of theproject becomes counterproductive and ineffective. In this regard,the author maintains objectivity regarding the detrimental effect ofunplanned projects and deviations from original project plans. Infact, most of the arguments that he presents in this section arebased on the existing project management theories, which he says theylack originality.


Despitethe fact that the authors point out to the deficiencies in the theoryof project and offer additional views based on their findings, theirassertions are not based on scientific concepts. Although theypinpoint critical shortcomings in the existing project theory, thereneeds to be a unification of all project models to enhanceproductivity and intended deliveries. For this to take place, theProject Management Institute, through the PMBOK, should enhanceconsistency of project management across the board by putting steadyprocedures in place. The PMI should also conduct a thorough review ofthe current guidelines, and manuals to ascertain they reflectconsistency. This can help avoid the problem associated withdivergent views about, the practice of project management. This canstrengthen the steadiness on management practices in projects thus,facing out irregularities associated with theoretical concepts.Moreover, it can create a practice-wide point of focus that candirect all practices according to widely accepted perspectives.

Projectmanagement theorists should try to establish new and better ways ofimproving the project management by highlighting the role of politicsand power in project management. Understanding the nature of politicsand power can become integral in influencing project managers. Thereis also a chance that such lessons will help project managers developnegotiation skills as well as find better ways of conflict managementbecause of its wide scope.Again, to improve the field of project management, it is paramountthat empirical evidence back every claim made by project managementtheorists such as Koskela and Howell and relate to the existingproject management practice.

Thepresence of relevant definitions is an important aspect in thequalification of various theories to justify their applicability inrelevant fields. Therefore, every theory proposition should have aclear and definite sense, and this sense should lie in therelationship between the proposition and the world. Moreover, thecomparison of project management theory with existing theories suchas the theory of production should not be seen as a shortcoming ofproject management theory but should be seen as the flexibility ofproject management theory to borrow knowledge from other fields.


Kerzner,H. R. (2013).&nbspProjectmanagement: a systems approach to planning, scheduling, andcontrolling.John Wiley &amp Sons.

Koskela,L. J., &amp Howell, G. (2008). The underlying theory of projectmanagement is obsolete. In&nbspProceedingsof the PMI Research Conference(pp. 293-302). PMI.

Mir,F. A., &amp Pinnington, A. H. (2014). Exploring the value of projectmanagement: linking project management performance and projectsuccess.&nbspInternationalJournal of Project Management,&nbsp32(2),202-217.

Pinto,J. (2011). Power &amp politics in project management. ProjectManagement Institute.

Wysocki,R. K. (2011).&nbspEffectiveproject management: traditional, agile, extreme.John Wiley &amp Sons.