Rapid change in the business environment, including change to goals, techniques, and resources, presents both a threat to and opportunity for the success of projects conducted across all industries. The threat occurs when unavoidable change events arise at a higher rate than it is practical to re-plan projects. At the same time, these events present an opportunity to optimise the project output. This challenge, hereafter referred to as dynamism, has been acknowledged as a key unresolved issue in project management. Traditional prescriptive approaches to management, which are orientated around process control, are considered sub-optimal in addressing the issue of dynamism. While many smaller projects face the challenge of dynamism, larger higher impact projects costing billions of dollars and having national security impact also face this challenge. To date, there is no information available on how practitioners manage dynamism in projects. The views and experiences of practitioners in the field are needed to develop a theoretical framework to guide improvements in practice. The results of this research will inform future project management practices and research to capitalise upon the opportunities afforded by dynamism, and reduce the negative impact of dynamism upon projects.
The aim of this research was to explore the problem of rapid change during the planning and execution of projects from the perspectives of successful practitioners in the field. To achieve this aim, the objectives were to identify project management approaches that can be used to manage the problems caused by rapid change, and develop a theory for how to manage projects in dynamic environments. In this research a qualitative approach was employed in order to build a grounded theory in an under-researched area, from the perspective of people involved in projects. Building the grounded theory involved conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups with a broad range of project managers who were challenged by dynamism. In Study One of the research, 37 interviews were conducted with 31 project managers. These interviews were analysed qualitatively for content themes. In Study Two, three focus group interviews were conducted with 16 project managers in order to verify and expand upon the findings of Study One and further develop the emerging grounded theory. The two studies included practitioners across ten industries: defence, community development, construction, technology, pharmaceutical, film production, scientific startups, venture capital, space, and research). The final grounded theory for managing dynamism in projects considered planning styles, culture, communication, and leadership in dynamic environments. Based upon the results of the two studies, a theoretical model entitled Model for Managing Dynamism in Projects was developed to represent the interrelated variables explaining how practitioners currently manage project dynamism. The grounded theory for managing dynamism in projects unified and explained the main concepts emanating from the data collected in this empirical study.
In projects challenged by rapid change, management techniques optimised for speed and flexibility can be used to provide a better overall result. The findings of this research demonstrate that projects challenged by dynamism may benefit from: (a) emergent iterative planning and procurement, (b) guideline controls, (c) flexible leadership and rapid decision-making, (d) timely and efficient communication, and (e) egalitarian and goal orientated culture.
The Model for Managing Dynamism in Projects, theory, and inventory of approaches are grounded in the problems and solutions identified by practitioners in the field. As such, the findings are readily applicable to real-world contemporary projects and project-management training environments. The model and theory are useful for practitioners seeking an in-depth understanding of project management tailored to the increasing challenge of rapid change. Organisations with long-standing traditional methodologies currently encountering rapid change can adapt the Model for Managing Dynamism in Projects to optimise their processes for the mitigation of dynamism. The model also fills a gap in project management literature regarding the management of projects that require learning, that have loosely defined goals and methods, that involve the development of new technologies, and that have high degrees of newness.
This thesis answers the call for empirical research on the actuality of project management practice. It is the first study of its kind to define and specifically investigate the dimension of dynamism in project management practice. The findings of this research will inform future research expanding upon and testing the theoretical developments in dynamism. Future research includes the mapping of uptake, use, and impact of the methods described in this research on project outcomes across industries, cultures, and communities.