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The Strategic Management of Projects: A Critical Knowledge Area For Business Leaders

MBA leaders

Roughly 20% of the world GDP is spent on projects. Although historically prevalent in industries such as construction and engineering, more recently the more global, dynamic and competitive landscape in which organisations from SMEs to MNCs find themselves, has seen the project form of organising increase in prevalence exponentially and become a dominant organisational architecture both within and between organisations in sectors as diverse as software, R&D, consulting, advertising and new product development.

Extending the Dominant Paradigm

The dominant paradigm in traditional industries, together with the Bodies of Knowledge, have acted as major contributors to and influencers on the discipline of project management, yet they have served to solidify its position as a primarily technical discipline rooted in assumptions of efficiency, rationality, stability and linearity.

In addition, most theories of organisation, management and leadership have been developed to reflect processes in traditional organisations designed to be permanent and as such do not cater specifically to project contexts, nor do they capture the complexities inherent in organising and managing temporary systems, i.e. projects, which are characterised by novelty, uncertainty, uniqueness and temporariness.

This is however changing, with cutting edge research and practice reflecting the emerging paradigms of programme management as a strategic architecture of implementation, projects as temporary organisations embracing their complexity, and open systems perspectives acknowledging that projects are deeply embedded in and have a symbiotic relationship with their context.

It is increasingly acknowledged that appropriately implemented and executed governance roles and institutions play a pivotal role in ensuring this organisational form is aligned with corporate strategy and leads to competitive advantage for the organisation.

A Key Component of Organisational Leadership

Projects act as the loci for entrepreneurial and strategy formation processes, serve as devices to deliver increasingly complex products, drive the development of new services, in addition to providing the organisational architecture through which many organisations will implement their strategy.
Clearly, it is imperative for senior managers to build competence in the strategic management of this ubiquitous organisational form.

This is even more of a necessity in increasingly common contexts which see both temporary and permanent organisations, structures and processes co-exist in symbiotic interdependence, whereby creating and leveraging synergistic combinations of both modes concurrently is critical.

The Strategic Management of Projects: Science & Principles

To produce well-rounded leaders, an MBA programme must develop knowledge of both organisational and project-based leadership and management among candidates. Recognising this need, University of Limerick include a core module in this regard – “The Strategic Management of Projects: Science & Principles” – as part of the part-time Executive MBA course structure.

Drawing on a broad range of social science and behavioural theories, in addition to current best practice professional body frameworks, the module explores at a strategic level, the underlying concepts, principles, paradigms and organisational level implications of the project form of organising.

The module is intentionally designed to be pan-sectoral in order to leverage the rich and diverse backgrounds of our students, each of whom bring unique perspectives and insights around management and leading projects, creating fertile ground for exploring various concepts and allowing for deep engagement as multiple perspectives challenge existing assumptions.

Developing Essential Project Management Competencies

Those in business leadership roles, regardless of sector, should possess a number of project management competencies, which “The Strategic Management of Projects” module on the University of Limerick Executive MBA specifically aims to develop and progress. These include the ability to:

• Analyse global contemporary and emerging issues in the strategic management of projects, from both an operational and conceptual perspective

• Critically evaluate organisational architectures and structural mechanisms facilitating effective project/programme governance at a strategic level, including portfolio management, PMOs and Steering Groups

• Examine and interrogate multiple aspects of the wider context in which projects are strategically managed and the resulting organisational tensions and opportunities this can generate

• Operationalise major concepts and techniques through the application of these to specific challenges related to the strategic management of projects

• Identify the salient mechanisms through which senior managers might exercise leadership in and secure sponsorship of project/programmes more effectively

• Develop an awareness of the personal and professional competences needed to manage and lead people and behaviours in project contexts

• Demonstrate an appreciation of the temporal challenges inherent in the strategic management of projects and understand the relevance of transcending conflicting temporal frames in order to create synergistic combinations of permanent and temporary organising

Acquiring these critical capabilities relating to the strategic management of projects will ensure that senior managers and leaders are fully equipped to maximise the contribution of this form of organising to organisational competence more broadly and ultimately enable them to leverage this as a source of strategic competitive advantage.

About the Author – Catriona Burke, Lecturer, University of Limerick Executive MBA

Catriona lectures in Project and Programme Management at the Kemmy Business School and delivers “The Strategic Management of Projects: Science & Principles” module on our Executive MBA programme.
As organisations increasingly embrace project management as the preferred architecture through which to manage complex strategic initiatives, Catriona is passionate about continuing to move the discipline forward through innovative and cutting edge research and education, coupled with deep and on-going engagement with practice.

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