28 March 2008

What if our whole world view of project management is wrong?

“We do not talk about what we see; we see only what we can talk about.”

This paper examines the way we have framed our conception of project management and challenges it suggesting that project management knowledge isn’t that special at all, and by building up this mystique around it we are hampering the ability of projects to successfully deliver results rather than helping.

It’s an interesting perspective, and one that helps you think differently about your job and the work you do. It makes you challenge your assumptions and look to find better ways of managing and delivering projects.

The question it raises for me is how much is project management knowledge constructed to solve real problems, and how much of it is self-repeating, self-sustaining behaviours that act mainly as a way for PM professionals to establish and maintain their importance in their professional community.

(The same questions can be applied to the establishment of the IIBA and the BABOK.)

If you are philosophically inclined this article is for you.

Reference: Stephen Jonathan Whitty (2005) “A Memetic Paradigm of Project Management” International Journal of Project Management (2005) 23 (8): 575-583. Retrieved from http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:8801/sjw_ijpm_05.pdf

Picture by Camilla Hoel.
Original at Flickr


  1. Anonymous12:50 am

    I read this paper a couple of years ago and it sent me into a bit of a spin. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I manage projects. I was at a talk the author gave here in London last year, and what he says in this paper is frankly only part of the story. His other papers are on his website.

    I think we (project managers) need to listen to voices like this. Sadly, i think only those with courage will listen, because some of what he and others have to say, will make you question your very place in the profession, the organisation, and your own sense of what you do and what you think you are.

    William Fellowes

  2. Yes. It is great stuff.

  3. Here’s another paper from Whitty.

    As project managers we appear to be all marching (or trying to march) in the same way. To me this paper gives some insights as to why.

  4. Anonymous12:07 am

    A dose of this blog, plus a couple of others, along with my early morning coffee, gets my day off to a thoughtful start. Truly. I might not contribute much, but I do try to implement some of what I read. Thanks.

    I first wrote on here in response to your post on self-sustaining behaviours in project management, and these ideas still occupy my thoughts on my project management practices. John whitty has a new talk on youtube which I think is great. http://www.youtube.com/user/DrJonathanWhitty I’d be interested to hear your comments on it, such as how can we sort the really useful but not necessarily easy ideas from the ideas that are just fashionable and easy to pass on.

    Will (bill.fellowes@hotmail.com)

  5. Thanks for your post Will. I put my response up as a new post.