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Understanding project managers at work

Blackburn, S. K. (2001) Understanding project managers at work. DBA thesis, Henley Business School, University of Reading

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Since the 1950s the use of project management techniques has extended from engineering applications in project-based organisations to change management in firms which are predominantly functionally organised. This has been accompanied by recognition in the project management literature of the contribution of the project manager to successful projects either in addition to or as a substitute for a technical project management body of knowledge. The characteristics, behaviours and activities of the project manager have been less researched than those of line managers but there is a tendency to portray the project manager as the hero who draws everything together. The purpose of this study is to contribute to the understanding of what project managers actually do. The qualitative approach adopted has used the techniques of competence researchers including behavioural event interviews (BEI) with twenty one project managers working in functional (as opposed to project-based) organisations in the UK, supplemented by the observation of three projects in UK retail plcs. However, as the BEI and content analysis coding appeared not to capture all the project managers had to say, their descriptions have been analysed and interpreted using the language and concepts developed by Actor Network Theory (ANT), the creation mainly of Callon, Latour and Law. The aim was to look at the familiar from a different perspective. Such a radical change in methodology has required the thesis to explore the nature of paradigm incommensurability, concluding that without a change in paradigm there can be only limited learning. The study concludes that the project managers consciously placed themselves at the centre of the project by applying simple processes, embodied in standardised documentation, that reinforced their use of simple interpersonal techniques. These activities helped to overcome their lack of heirarchical power within their functional organisations: they placed a non­human actor, "project management," between the other team members and their operational roles so as to order the temporary project structure. Project management processes acted as allies, enabling the project manager to interest and enrol team members and stakeholders and to mobilise the support of sponsors and other powerful players. This perspective thus reunites the technological and the heroic strands of project management literature. It also presents to the mainstream a different concept of competence, as the temporary effect of a heterogeneous network of social, natural and technological resources.

Item Type:Thesis (DBA)
Thesis Supervisor:
Thesis/Report Department:Henley Management College
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School
ID Code:87071


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