Project management ontology : the organizational learning perspective

Abstract: In a recent interview with the Financial Times, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, Mr. Jeroen van der Veer, said he “keeps faith in ‘elephant’ projects” referring to the Russian gas mega-project that Shell had fallen eight months behind schedule with and had cost overruns twice the original estimate. Mr. van der Veer partially blamed industry-wide factors for this such as an increase in raw material prices, more expensive contractors and exchange rate pressure. But he also implied that the original assessment of the project in 2003 had been too optimistic and that the scope of the mega-project had to be revised. The wisdom he said was that scope changes are basically because you didn’t do enough homework in advance. Even though it is rather easy to feel miserable after such a statement, there is faith left as the chief executive says - if only we had been able to do our homework. This gives me reason enough to concentrate in this research on the construction of a proactive qualitative decision support aid for mega-project management. The main research topic of the dissertation is organizational learning in the field of project management (PM). This study explores project management by providing a PM ontology for managers. The managerial value of the ontology is, for example, lower potential for time and cost overruns and poor project quality, and higher potential for effective and efficient execution of complex projects. Project management essentially aims to combine learning and performance within the project organization to serve the project owners’ strategy. Therefore a proactive vision and co-evolutionary touch is needed to evolve project processes. Project management under high pressure often means utilizing explicit quantitative methods, usually based on reactive calculations. However, the management of uncertainties and risks demands a versatile, qualitative point of view. With quantitative methods we can “price” the risks. With qualitative methods we are able to realize and shape the risks in advance. Therefore project management is the challenge to move the organization towards the common qualitative and quantitative goals during a project lifecycle, i.e. to support organizational learning throughout a long-lasting project. This study introduces a project management ontology – a classification of management disciplines for project managers and a project learning model. Knowledge management theory, activity theory, systems theory and various management practices are discussed in the conceptual part of this thesis. The empirical part of the research concerns a multiple-case study conducted in ten project organizations participating in two large mega-projects. The mega-projects were in the offshore industry and shipbuilding industry. Altogether more than fifty project managers and project team members participated in this research. The empirical results are presented at the end of the introductory essay and in the original publications enclosed in this thesis. Appendixes available from: [email protected]