What qualities or attributes must a Project Manager have? Must a project manager be limited to monitoring and control or must be involved in strategic Project Management decisions?

José Ramón San Cristóbal Mateo. Project Management Research Group. University of Cantabria. Spain. jose.sancristobal@unican.es

A good Project Manager must a good leader, a good leader must be a good decision-maker.

Project Management is anything but universal [1]. Projects are commonly used today in almost all types of industry, including defense, construction, electronic, pharmaceutical, chemical, etc. A project could be the building of a house, a ship, or the development of a software program, and many others actions such as military campaigns or recovery programs from natural disasters also meet the criteria of projects. Nowadays, non-complicated projects (i.e., the construction of standardized living houses where all activities have deterministic durations) are lucky to benefit from a lot of software packages. Other projects, aimed at creating new high technology products which have no prototypes in the past and that involve a great amount of sophisticated models of alternative branching outcomes, involve a great amount of indeterminacy and require experienced Project Managers in stochastic network control [2].

In times of increased competition and globalization, project success become even more critical to business performance, and yet many projects still suffer delays, overruns and even failure [3]. Traditional Project Management tools and techniques such as CPM, PERT, EVM, are based on the assumptions that well defined information about time, cost, and resources is available. Thus, problems fundamentally dynamic, have been treated utilizing a static approach and have provided Project Managers with unrealistic estimations that ignore non-linear relationships or are inadequate to the challenge of today’s dynamic environment [4,5].

Projects were traditionally the prerogative of the engineering disciplines, but with the dynamics of business, Project Management has moved into business’ main street. Today, projects seem to have become increasingly common in all kinds of organisations [6]. They are increasingly large, complex and constrained, and may involve large numbers of interested parties and professional and technical disciplines. As projects became more and more apparent in organisations, and as they had much larger amounts at stake, it became impossible to sustain them without specific and rigorous methodology. Project Management has then grown up and spread around the world to become what it is today, that is to say, a set of theories, principles, methodologies and practices, sometimes included in standard body of knowledge as Project Management Institute [7] and Association for Project Management [8].

There is still a spread of views on what constitutes Project Management. Scholars, practitioners, and academic and professional societies have different definitions and interpretations of the subject of Project Management [9]. Behavioural scientists may think of the matrix organization or emotional intelligence; Operational researchers may think of network analysis, queuing theory, or optimal plant design; Strategic scholars may think of strategic alliances among different organizations during project evaluation.

Project managers are also interested in finding out to what extent the Project Management profession would accommodate the needs of any industry. Business organizations are interested in finding out to what extent is the Project Management profession fragmented into industry-specific areas, or to what extent would an academic degree in Project Management accommodate industry-specific needs. Universities and other training institutions are interested in accommodating the needs of both individuals and organizations involved in Project Management.

In recent years, the range of Project Management applications has greatly expanded. Kwak and Anbari [9] identified eight categories that represent the disciplines where one can find Project Management research:

  • Operations Research/Decision Sciences/Operations Management/Supply Chain Management.
  • Organizational Behaviour/Human Resources Management.
  • Information Technology/Information Systems.
  • Technology applications/Innovation/new product development/Research and Development.
  • Engineering and Construction/Contracts/Legal aspects/Expert witness.
  • Strategy/Integration/Portfolio Management/Value of Project Management/ Marketing.
  • Performance Management/Earned Value Management/Project Finance and Accounting.
  • Quality Management/Process Improvement.

Project Management is discussed both in Management Science and in Operations Research. Management Science, the application of scientific method to management, tends to focus on quantitative tools and the soft skills necessary to manage projects successfully. Management Science is far from being a robust body of scientific knowledge in the way say that physics or chemistry is, in the sense that there can be reducible, repeatable, and refutable laws of management [10].  Operations Research gives the essential scientific contribution to the success of Project Management through the development of models and algorithms.

There has been a long debate in the management education community as to whether Project Management is a practice or an academic discipline. Project Management is more applied and interdisciplinary than other management disciplines so it is more difficult to justify the field as a distinguishable academic discipline within the academic management community.  Significant parts of Project Management have been developed along ‘theory’ lines with reasonable scientific rigour. There are examples of Project Management benefiting from scientific knowledge such as network scheduling, linear programming, dynamic programming, or Goldratt’s theory of constraints. In the Construction, Engineering, and Management industry, for instance, people learn planning, managing, and controlling engineering construction projects to meet the time, budget, and specifications. However, when it comes to the Business and Management discipline, scholars often appear puzzled and unconvinced of the notion of Project Management.

According to Lee et al., [11], strategic Project Management can be defined as the management actions that are incorporated into a project in order to meet a strategic objective but adjusting not only time, cost and resources, but also the target. On the other hand, operational Project Management can be defined as the management actions incorporated to meet a project’s target by adjusting time, cost and resources. Strategic Project Management analyzes the impact on overall project performance caused by different decisions or events. After strategic Project Management is developed, operational Project Management undertakes the detailed analysis about how to adjust time, cost and resources in order to achieve a defined project strategy [11].

Very little research on Project Management has previously distinguished between the project type and the strategic and operational problem of various projects. The prevailing tendency among the majority of academics has been to characterize all projects as fundamentally similar [12]. Most texts and handbooks on the management of projects are overly general including topics such as organizing, planning, budgeting, and controlling of projects. Often, such literature does not distinguish among different kinds of projects with different strategic and operational problems [13-15]. As a result, the actual process of managing different kinds of projects still remains unclear and is probably less well understood [1].

Today Project Managers have gained recognition and employment opportunities beyond construction, aerospace, and defense, in pharmaceuticals, information systems, and manufacturing. In this context, Project Managers must not be limited to a monitoring and reporting role at an implementation level. They must be involved at strategic levels with the possibility and authority to effectively influence the direction and course of a project. A good Project Manager must have the skills needed to make sound decisions, consistent with the global strategy of the project, taking into account, not only the relationships of the different actors involved in the project, but also the possible impact of his/her decisions on project performance. In essence, he/she must be a good decision-maker, must be a good leader, and must be a good Project Manager.

  1. Senhar, A. J. (1998) “From theory to practice: Toward a typology of Project-Management styles,” IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, vol. 45(1), pp. 33-48.
  2. Golenko-Ginzburg, D. (2011) Stochastic Network models in innovative projecting, Ph Dissertation. Institute of Control Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences. Ariel University Center of Samaria (Israel).
  3. Raz, T., Shenhar, A.J. and Dvir, D. (2002) “Risk management, project success, and technological uncertainty,” R&D Management, vol. 32(2), pp. 101-109.
  4. Lyneis J., Cooper, K. and Els, S. (2001) “Strategic management of complex projects: a case study using system dynamics,” System Dynamics Review, vol. 17(3), pp. 237-260.
  5. Ballard G. and Howell G. (2003) Competing construction management paradigms, ASCE Construction Research Congress, March 19-21, Honolulu, Hawaii, ASCE, Reston.
  6. Mawby, D. and Stupples, D. (2002) Systems thinking for managing projects, In. IEMC-2002: IEEE International Engineering Management Conference, vols, I and II, pp.344-49. Piscataway, New Jersey.
  7. Project Management Institute (PMI), (2004) A guide to project management body of knowledge, 3rd ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
  8. International Project Management Association (2006) IPMA Competence Baseline version 3.0, International Project Management Association, Nijkerk, the Netherlands.
  9. Kwak, Y.H. and Anbari, F.T. (2009) “Analyzing project management research: Perspectives from top management journals,” International Journal of Project Management, vol. 27(5), pp. 435-446.
  10. Morris, P.W.G. (2004) Science, objective knowledge, and the theory of Project Management, ICE James Forrest Lecture.
  11. Lee, S.H., Peña-Mora, F. and Park, M. (2006) “Dynamic planning and control methodology for strategic and operational construction project management,” Automation in Construction, vol. 15, pp. 84-97.
  12. Pinto, J.K. and Covin, J.G., (1989) “Critical factors in project implementations: A comparison of construction and R&D projects. Technovation, vol. 9, pp. 49-62.
  13. Clealand, D.I. and King, W.R., (1983) Systems Analysis and Project Management, New York: McGraw-Hill.
  14. Kezner, H. (1994) Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, 5th ed. New York: Van Nostrand.
  15. Roman, D.D., (1986) Managing Projects: A Systems Approach, New York: Elsevier.