The Paradoxes of Project Management: a Project Management Consultant’s Inquiry into the Social Reality of Technology-Driven Change Projects
This thesis is a practice-based inquiry into project management. It adds to the critique of more traditional discourse in project management literature (PMI 20013, IPMA 2010, Prince2 2009, Agile Alliance Organisation 2001) by drawing on academics and researchers who challenge the claim that the use of project management methods alone can consistently and reliably lead to project management outcomes being delivered within budget, on schedule and to the required specification. It takes issue with a conception of project management that draws heavily on traditions of thought grounded in realist and systemic theories. Such an understanding of project management builds upon an individualist interpretation of human agency and assumes that human practice develops in linear and therefore predictable and controllable ways. From this perspective, limited attention is paid to intersubjective conflictual relationships as harmonious and consensual teamwork are idealised and detached rational thinking is favoured over emotional involvement. This thesis identifies ethical concerns with the uncritical implementation of abstracted and reified project management models. Whilst recognising that abstracted frameworks help us to achieve things with others, this thesis argues that these rational models do not represent practice as lived. Rather, this abstract approach may tempt project practitioners into thinking in dualistic categories and thus render them insensitive to their ethical responsibility for a meaningful functionalisation of the generalised models in the social environment that they participate in. Therefore, this thesis introduces a processual understanding of project management discourse by drawing on the theory of complex responsive processes of relating (Stacey, Griffin & Shaw 2000), itself based on complexity sciences, process theories and pragmatic philosophy to offer a more nuanced view on the power-laden and emotion-driven aspects of human relating. From this perspective, project practice emerges from an ongoing process of conflictual intersubjective relationships which are paradoxically predictable and unpredictable, and controllable and uncontrollable, all at the same time. This thesis concludes by arguing for a self-organising, evolving and paradoxical conception of project management practice and theory. This is not meant in the sense of finding a new method or more sophisticated tools to exploit these concepts, nor in leveraging their potential to deal with the uncertainties caused by the paradoxical tensions arising from this process. Rather, it is meant as another way to understand what is actually going in the social reality of technology-driven change projects, as I believe it is through this new understanding that practice will change in small but still significant ways. Key words Project management, paradox, practice, breakdown, emotions, control, power, complex responsive processes of relating. Key authors Stacey, Griffin, Mowles, Dewey, Elias, Heidegger, Burkitt, Foucault. Important note: For the purposes of preserving anonymity, the names of all individuals, departments, organisations, job titles, locations, etc. have been replaced with fictitious names throughout this thesis.
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