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Project Management: Theory versus Practice

Over the years, the amount of critics concerning project management theory has increased and several experts have indicated that there is a need to carry out research in relation to project management practice. Even though there has been a huge growth in the practical field, the current conceptual base that is available in project management has attracted much criticism as it is considered to lack the needed element of relevance; hence, it is regarded as not having the ability to improve the performance of projects across different sectors (Kerzner, 2013). Based on the above argument, it is important to rethink how project management is carried out in order to come up with techniques that can enrich the field of project management far beyond the foundations that it currently operates in. Theory can be acceptable, but its application to real-life projects might be questionable in terms of whether they lead to the proper attainment of the project goals. There is a distinct line between what is being provided by the bodies of knowledge in relation to project management and the actual implementation of the assertions made by the bodies of knowledge in actual management of the project.

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B. Purpose of Research: Problem Statement

The existing problem lies in the fact that it has not been determined whether there is a theoretical framework in project management that would be able to meet the practical goals of the project management. This has led to the belief that project management is not yet ready to be perceived as one of the developed fields that can be studied fully in institutions of higher learning. Such shortcomings have led to the current state of affairs, which calls for the need to conduct a proper analysis of the current theoretical framework and determine whether it is right to serve the practical needs of project management. This problem is related to the existing literature in terms of the assertions regarding the contribution of theory to project management and its subsequent practical application. It is vital because it will be easier to understand whether project management theories are applicable in real-life projects as asserted in the case study.

The purpose of the current study is to show that the present status of project management as a form of the study relies on a narrow and implicit theory that has to be developed, extended, and enriched. The current problem in project management is based on insufficiency of the current theory; this has led to frequent failure in projects, low commitment towards projects and slow methodological renewal.

The objectives of this study are the following:

1. To prove that the existing theory of project management is relevant

2. To demonstrate that the existing theories are very significant in relation to the process of project management

3. To show that project management is based on a narrow theory and therefore has to be developed further.

II. Literature Review and/or Theoretical Framework

According to Kerzner (2013), there are several changes that have taken place in the technological sphere and have actually accelerated the trends in the global set up. Furthermore, there are certain ways through which project management can play a role in terms of ensuring that the trends have been implemented. A clear understanding of project management is vital for the proper completion of different projects such as the construction of roads and buildings, and other major projects that would be helpful in the transformation of society.

Development of a theoretical field of study in professional areas is typical for most of the fields such as law, accounting, and medicine and nursing. The hallmark of professionalism should have a grasp of the theory as well as practical skills related to the field of study. It is through the theoretical aspect of the study that individuals are able to distinguish craft from a profession (Walker, 2015). Even when the future of project management is the main area of focus, there is no proper research that offers the theoretical aspect of project management as a significant part of this field. Walker (2015) reveals that Kloppenborg and Opfer carried out a forty-year expansive work on project management, yet surprisingly did not have anything to report on the theory of project management. It is this silence on theory that is heavily puzzling. The opinion that there is no theory related to project management or the theory is not significant is wrong.

The relationship between the existing literature and the problem statement is associated with the suggestion that in order to distinguish theory from practice, it is first of all important to define and understand the concept of theory and its practical applications rather than just the written explanations. According to the Project Management Institute (2013), theory is created primarily from the underlying relationships that are not directly related to concepts. This definition has been broadly used to characterize the target theory in operations management. As a unique part of operations management, project management can rely upon such definition. In project management, it is always expected that the theory would be prescriptive in nature. It has to show how certain actions lead to the attainment of the set goals. If there is no direction towards the attainment of goals, it would be quite difficult to rely on such theory; hence making it weaker.

In a general sense, this is important because it includes putting theory into real work practice through the key elements of project management such as designing the required systems, control of the systems to meet the set goals, and the ultimate improvement of these systems by responding to their deficiencies. In project management, three basic goals that are usually established include; manufacturing of the desired products , minimization of costs incurred within the organization and the satisfaction of customer needs in the best way possible (Roudias, 2015). The procedural approach taken towards project management is always vital in terms of the attainment of the desirable results while ensuring that no step is skipped in the process. A keen and thorough attention should also be paid to the overall projects that are undertaken.

Project management theory consists of two important areas; the product oriented process also known as the theory of project proper and the management that covers the main processes in planning and control. In reconstruction of the theory of project, the main starting point is the work of Petrunik (2015), which stated that the scope management is the crème of project management. The scope management purpose is defined in simple three folds such as carrying out a satisfactory amount of work; the work done follows the intended purpose; and insignificant stages of work are eliminated from the entire aspect of project management. The Work-Breakdown Structure plays an instrumental role in developing this scope.

Based on the theoretical aspect, Burford (2012) considers that a project is all about the management of work being related to the process of conceptualization. He is also of the opinion that work can be done properly if it is broken down to smaller work pieces. It is believed that the decomposition plays a very important role in terms of ensuring that the work is done. The tasks are seen as important as long as they have sequential dependence. In project management, the completion of tasks is always dependent on the processes that are put in place, and the need to attain the set goals appropriately.

When a review of PMBOK Guide was carried out, it was revealed that tasks and activities are the main units when it comes to the project management process. The management of tasks is centralized just like cost management, time management, and scope management. At the same time, Heagney (2012) emphasizes that the first thing is to determine what has to be done, who has to do what, and the actions related to what has to be done and how much will be invested in it. The Work Breakdown Structure plays an instrumental role in ensuring that the work is effectively divided into these smaller elements.

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If to break down the project management into operations management theories, it turns out that it relies on the transformation theory that is related to production. This is what has dominated the world of production throughout the entire 20th century. This is affirmed by Ottosson (2012), who holds the view that the entire process of production could be perceived from the perspective of both the inputs that are applied and the outputs derived from it. A study in the PMBOK Guide shows that the process of project management can be divided into the initiating aspect, planning, execution, controlling and lastly closure of the project (Roudias, 2015). In order to properly understand the theory of management, much work has to be concentrated on key processes that mainly include the planning, execution, and controlling elements. The primary idea in this case is that the loop is always closed as a result of these processes.

The planning process is divided into the facilitating process and the core processes. There are at least ten vital processes that must be keenly followed. Petrunik (2015) explains that the first of these processes is the definition of the scope and appropriate planning while the second step is the definition of the activity. The third process entails the sequencing process before the resources plan is formulated during the fourth step. During the fifth step, the duration of the project is estimated before the schedule of the completion time is developed during the sixth step. The seventh step includes the development of a budget and the eighth step entails the development of the project plan. It is worth noting that the planning process is the most important part because it has a direct impact on the implementation process of the entire project.

The execution part in PMBOK Guide briefly examines the work authorization system. It is a system that is used to sanction the project work to ensure that the entire work is done in line with the set sequence (Silvius & Tharp, 2013). The main mechanism that is used is an authorization issued in writing, which plays an assistive role in ensuring that the process is controlled appropriately. It is notable that when an organization has several small projects, the goal will be to breakdown the project into various verbal authorization elements.

The process of controlling under the PMBOK has been divided into two important subunits including the control of the entire change and the process of reporting on the performance of the project in the best ways possible (Young, 2013). Based on the latter, it is possible to come up with corrections that can be made during the process of execution. Based on the overall change, control recommendations can be made for the process of planning. When handling the theory of controlling the biggest concern is related to reporting on performance based on the baseline as well as the corrections that are associated with it regarding the aspect of execution.

It is expected that a good theory of project management should be able to serve various functions. A research carried out by Ding (2015) was able to point out that the roles below have to be pinpointed by a theory.

i. Provides explanation of the behavior that has been observed and therefore contributes to the understanding. It offers a prediction of behavior that will take place in future.

ii. It is from the theory that tools for analysis, design and control can be developed.

iii. When a tool is created, it has to offer a framework through which cooperation of individuals in the project can take place (Stratton, 2014)

iv. The innovative practice in project management can be transferred to other settings through getting an abstract of the theory and applying it in other settings.

v. A theory is a shortened piece of knowledge; it is a means through which novices are also made capable of doing the things that experts would do initially. It is very instrumental when it comes to understanding and teaching of project management (Walker, 2015).

Based on the previous literature by Lent (2014), it has been determined that there is no explicit theory in project management. At the same time, it is possible to find certain theories in PMBOK Guide or works of leading scholars related to project management, which show certain elements of theory. The anomalies are determined in relation to the theory of project and theory of management, as they have been explained in the earlier sections of the paper.

The first consideration of evidence is related to non-existence of the flow of conceptualization. The work of Richardson (2010) reveals certain doubts when it comes to the relationship between the project activities and whether they can be presented in a non-cyclical form of graph where the activities are connected to each of their successors. According to Young’s book Successful Project Management (2013), this represents a big part of the development project expenditure as well as time. When it comes to creating a large construction project, the rework can be carried out in two cycles.

Friedrich et al. (2007) believes that it is wrong when the customary notion yardsticks is used in measuring major projects that come up as a result of putting together various yardsticks created from one discipline to another or from one component to another. This means that when the major projects are reworked or revised, they can be extremely instrumental even in the instances where the effect of the specific functions seems insignificant. In relation to the absence of the conceptualization of value generation, there is massive evidence that one can rely upon. There are certain researches that show that when construction project started; there were many uncertainties in relation to what actually has to be put up and developed. The customer needs are therefore not taken into consideration being excluded from the project.

According to Kliem (2013), it is important to contradict the view, which states that big projects that are collaborative in nature can be completed based on the understanding that simple restrictions and intentions are clarified to create proper means for project execution. It is this author’s belief that expectations and commitment dependencies in the interaction drive the success of the project. When there is ambiguity regarding a project, it is seen as beneficial as it allows the stakeholders to play a part in the project based on their interest as well as context.

According to Bergland (2016), it is not practically plausible to have a plan that is related to the field of project management. It is also stated that a key failure in this technique emerges in the instances when the dynamic potential that is important for the procedure is not utilized. The empirical evidence supports the argument in theory so that it is impossible to maintain a plan that is complete and up to date.

In relation to the project execution, Barato (2015) indicated that from the basis of conventionally managed construction, there is a realization rate of about 60% on the upper side every week. This is a low rate that is attributable to certain missing inputs when it comes to execution of the tasks. Such observation is considered to be in line with the theoretical argument, which states that during the planning approach execution one has to rely upon informal mode of management in order to succeed. Tasks that are usually pushed to the execution phase may chronically lack inputs. Execution that is carried out informally may be explained by direct outcomes of the underlying management theory.

When it comes to the aspect of control, it can be said that the type of control, which has been advocated for in project management methodology, does not play a critical role when it comes to practice. Most projects that have been researched have shown that meetings provide the biggest basis through which decisions are made (Winter, Smith, Morris, & Cicmil, 2006). Data on financial management have only been used as a picture to illustrate the progress of the project and to offer means through which such information will be important in future. From this perspective, it has been shown that the thermostat model has not provided the needed learning function. It has been determined that it is easier and faster to make consideration of deviations in task execution and learn about important areas in the course of the project than through making use of performance metrics.

III. Research Methodology and Findings

The Research Methodology

Due to the limitation in time, this research basically uses secondary research as the main methodology. Secondary research done by means of books and research articles was instrumental in the identification and explication of the shortcomings of the project management theory. In accordance with the secondary research used as the methodology, the paper explicated the actions that have to be undertaken to improve the theoretical element of project management, the evaluation of the theory, and the in depth discussion of the project management theory from the standpoint of project management. Secondary research is advantageous due to the ease of accessing the information on the various available sources (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2015). All this has been done based on the previous literature, while secondary research has been done in regard to the theoretical nature of project management hence leading to conclusive improvements in the current understanding of the problem.

The Findings

It seems as though project management is based on three theories in management. Management is seen as planning, the dispatch model and the thermostat model. The first aspect can be seen through direction provided by PMBOK in terms of emphasis and structure. The second is clearly apparent based on the discussion of execution in PMBOK Guide (Roudias, 2015). The third is seen in the closed loop model of planning, execution and control. From the above assertions, there is no theory that has come out as a surprise. Management being a planning process remains the case related to all fields of knowledge. The dispatching model has been heavily used in industrial engineering in the 20th century (Burford, 2012). This has also been the case with the thermostat model in the same century. All the ideas mentioned above were in place when project management came up as a field of management. At present, they make up the pillar for the theoretical aspect of management practice.

Analysis

The main question that is related to the objective of the current paper is whether the theory underlying project management is adequate. Did the position of the scholarly and practical world change after the areas that make up the theoretical aspects of project management had been detected?

It is important to determine whether the theories in place are actually valid in the empirical sense. The validity of the above theories has to be tested by looking at the content of concepts created in other theories (Burford, 2012). This can be done through carrying out a comparison of the theory and making an analysis of the anomalies that have been highlighted above. The research methodology indicated that the basis of the paper will be the competing theories and their empirical validity.

The evidence that has been gathered from the two sources indicates that the underlying theory of project management is deficient. It shows that better or complimentary theories can be created (Burford, 2012). There is no single part of the theoretical argument that can be considered wholly satisfying. It is the deficient foundation that has actually led to several problems in the field of project management, which needs practical application and not a theoretical view.

The deficiencies in the theory of project and theory of management complement each other, and play a critical role when it comes to propagating problems that are faced in the course of the project during the project life cycle. It has been shown that customer needs are usually investigated so poorly from the beginning that the need for consultation and finding clarifications actually leads to disruption in the progress of the project (Ottosson, 2012). Updating of a project regularly is a process that can be very cumbersome in most cases, and without having a proper plan that is up to date, the process of work authorization turns into an informal approach of project management.

Relate the Findings to what you Originally Thought

Originally, it was considered that project management is well developed in terms of its theory and practice so as not to be categorized as an independent field of study. Project development in most institutions has been made part of the management studies discipline or taught as a unit of other fields such as engineering and architecture.

Initially I thought that the above scenario where project management is considered an independent field of study is not correct. I believed that it is time for the project management to be treated as an independent field of study. I did not realize then that in order to be a relevant field of study, the theoretical aspects that have been created must be able to meet the goals that have been set from the practical point of view.

After this research, several things came out more clearly than it was before. At the moment, it is clear that to develop a field of study, it must have a theoretical framework, which would provide the direction that the field of study has to take. The theoretical foundation will normally give the practical side of project management the basis from which it can leverage and develop.

Presently, I understand that the evidence that is available is very strong to call for a paradigm shift in the discipline of project management. It shows that there is a need to come up with a framework that will ensure that there is a more intimate relationship between practice and the theory of project management. This research also considered an assumption that practice is the only important part of project management. Without a proper theoretical angle to the field, it becomes very difficult to teach certain elements that are related to the field. It becomes difficult to ensure that the future of the field can be crafted and that practice is made better with every passing year.

It is important to understand that there is no single best way of doing things, which means that the concept of “best practices” is a fallacy. Project management is not a discipline that can be described as one size fit all. What is used in the management of a project for a commercial bank may not be applicable to a project that is related to a government agency or any business related to it. What is useful for one organization has to be determined as applicable according to the best practices of the same organization. It is important to determine the activities that work for an organization, and there should be no doubts as to changing the circumstances under which the business operates in relation to the project.

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IV. Conclusion

Summary of Analysis Supporting the Problem

In the above paper, the empirical evidence as well as the theoretical explanation, which has to show that the current doctrine of project management, is distinguished by certain elements of inefficiency when it comes to its theoretical base that has been explicated. It can be said that project management had not been able to achieve the goals that it was to achieve. It can be stated that project management has been counterproductive creating problems that are self-inflicted and can deeply undermine performance.

Policy Implication

It has been determined that project management has not been able to meet the goals that have been set since it has not been performing in a satisfactory way. In simple and small projects, the problem could be solved in a simple yet informal way and without any wider forms of penalties. Yet, the problem only comes in when the focus is placed on the current system and form of project management where projects are wide, quick and very expensive and any use of traditional forms of management is only seen as something counterproductive.

It can also be noted that the fact that there has not been a proper theory to rely upon has made it difficult to carry out proper training. This has actually made it difficult to professionalize the process of project management. The lack of relevant theoretical framework means that it will not be easy for project management to become part of the field of higher education.

It has not been easy to carry out renewal in project management due to the lack of proper theory. There were anomalies as well as deviations from the outcomes that had been predicted by the theories, which made it difficult to rely upon the theories that are already in existence. The theories have not managed to play their role of ensuring continuity and giving suggestions as for the direction that has to be taken in order to ensure that there is progress in the field.

How to Address the Problem

The evidence that is currently available is strong enough to suggest that there is a need for paradigm shift of the project management discipline. The transformation that is needed shows that there is a need to have a more intimate form of relationship between theory and practice. Theory and practice needs to be developed from a concurrent angle meaning that they should be similar to other fields of study and science-based practice. It can be concluded that the future of project management must rely upon the theories that are in place.

Limitation

It is important to note that the tests that have been used in this paper have certain strengths and weaknesses. The comparison of theories is depends only on the existence of such theories. When it comes to testing of empirical validity, it is important only if one question is based on a significant scientific parameter. There was no in depth approach to the testing of the theory; hence making the overall analysis of the paper a bit weaker. It would have been more vital and fulfilling in instances where the theories could have been analyzed from a deeper perspective.

Another limitation of the study is the over-reliance on secondary literature. Secondary literature might not be critical enough to offer an in depth understanding on the theories and the general shape that project management should take for its own successful improvement and execution. The secondary sources tend to focus only on the minor issues of project management and do not have the capacity to offer compelling conclusions to the overall theoretical approaches that should be adopted while trying to understand project management.

Direction for Future Research

In order to ensure that the goals of the project are met, it will be important to come up with a theoretical framework that has the capability to meet the practical goals of project management. The reason why the theoretical framework is not effective at the moment is due to the huge amount of anomalies that are associated with the theories.

Any research in future should be based on the grounds that at the moment, the field of project management does not have proper theoretical basis from which proper reference for future development can be made. There needs to be more focus on the practicality of the theory and the best ways that would lead to the attainment of this practicality.

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