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Exploring the three levels of project management, this edited collection analyses the practice of problem structuring approaches (PSAs) with an aim to improve organisational adaptability and value creation. By studying these approaches, the authors present techniques for enhancing project management knowledge, informing decision-making and guiding management actions. This book is an insightful and timely read, as it addresses the need for organisations to adapt in order to tackle new challenges within today’s changing business landscape. Undoubtedly useful to those studying project management and operational research, this book is also an important read for managers and decision-makers within organisations as it identifies and examines the effective outcomes of PSAs.



1. A Systemic ‘Theories of Change’ Approach for Projects and Change Initiatives in the Context of Quality Enhancement Activity in Higher Education

A systemic Theory of Change approach to projects and change initiatives is explained and illustrated in the context of educational development activity using case studies from a large UK university. The approach involves facilitated modelling used to support organisational learning. Models are updated through action learning cycles of planning, implementation, evaluation, and reflection. The theoretical basis is justified in relation to reflective practice, organisational learning, participative and theory-based programme evaluation, and critical systems thinking. The critical reflection from its application to the case studies is not presented as ‘proof’ of effectiveness or good practice, but only to provide insight into what was found useful and learned from the applications in this context, to help others assess the usefulness and transferability to their situations of interest.
Diane Hart

2. Explore, Experiment, Experience: A Synthesis of Vickers’ Appreciative Learning System and Ackoff’s Problem Approach Applied in Practice

This chapter will explore the application of a problem-structuring approach which synthesizes Vickers’ concept of ‘appreciation’, Bateson’s learning spirals and Ackoff’s approach to dealing with problems. This problem-structuring approach involves three elements: explore, experiment, experience. The chapter describes, as an example, a case study taken from a UK unitary authority (anonymized for convenience) in which attempts were made to improve project performance using this approach. The organization commissioned projects across multiple disciplines, for example, transport schemes, constructions, change programs, business improvements using IT and bridge replacements but was rated as poor at project management by successive internal and external reviews. Some conclusions are offered about the application of problem-structuring in order to learn lessons and promote good practice for the future.
Christine Welch, Paul Summers

3. Multicriteria Mapping as a Problem Structuring Method for Project Front-Ending

Despite high uncertainties, strongly diverging values, and often-perverse effects of powerful vested interests, large and complex projects require clear decisions to be made from the outset. Coburn and Stirling introduce multicriteria mapping (MCM) as a problem structuring method for addressing these challenges in project appraisal by engaging with key stakeholders, broadening out the scope of the project, and opening up alternative possible interpretations concerning how to proceed. From defining project goals through to analysing results, two case studies illustrate the MCM process. The resulting interlinked quantitative and qualitative information provides a broader and deeper picture than is usual. Clearly highlighting how different conditions hold contrasting practical implications for action, MCM offers a more robust basis for making decisions under circumstances of uncertainty and complexity.
Josie Coburn, Andy Stirling

4. Evaluating Understanding: Endogenous Project Evaluation Using Practice-Based Interaction Analysis (PIA)

Carlin and Murdoch argue that when a programme involves talk, then talk should form the locus of evaluation. This offers an alternative to current evaluation methods applied to talking therapy programmes. Drawing upon ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, Carlin and Murdoch demonstrate practice-based interaction analysis (or PIA) for evaluating talking therapy programmes. The turn-taking organisation of talk provides criteria that are already being used by participants within their talk, which can be utilised as bases for evaluation. Excerpts from programme data highlight how ‘claims to’ and ‘displays of’ understanding demonstrate truly endogenous evaluations. Carlin and Murdoch argue that adjacently paired turns at talk demonstrate how participants themselves evaluate in situ understandings, thus developing evaluation criteria derived from participants’ activities rather than exogenous evaluation criteria.
Andrew Carlin, Sheena Murdoch

5. Delivering Better Outcomes Through Customer-Led Project Management: The Case of the Major Project BT 21st Century Network in the UK

Traditional approaches of major project management take the strategy of selecting a supplier-led prime/systems integrator. Although this strategy pushes a significant amount of risk to the supplier, project performance may suffer due to lower engagement of the customer in the anticipation of potential issues involving a major project. Thus, this research investigates the implications of the customer, as opposed to a selected external supplier, assuming the role of systems/prime integrator, as a problem structuring method (PSM) to better deal with the soft side and uncertainties of the project. A case study approach is conducted on the major project British telecom (BT) 21st century network (BT21CN) to demonstrate that customer-led systems integration projects may provide more balance in the relationship and distribution of risks between supplier and customer, having a positive impact on project performance, accelerating the development of BT’s organisational capabilities, and producing better project outcomes in the long term.
Carlos Sato

6. Exploring the Use of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in Front-Ending Public-Funded Rural Bridge Construction Projects in Bangladesh

This chapter highlights some limitations of traditional project management through examples of unsuccessful rural bridge projects in Bangladesh. Many of the causes can be linked with poor front-end practice, and provides further evidence to support the Management of Projects paradigm. The three distinctive Management of Project levels (i.e., technical core, strategic envelope, and institutional context) are outlined. We discuss the public value idea, value creation concept, soft systems methodology, and a project strategy framework which have connectivity with project front-ending. Moreover, project front-ending is an integral component of the strategic envelope. Soft systems methodology is applied to improving the approach to commissioning of rural bridges. It guides “learning our way” to developing an agreed purposeful process, which may facilitate projects that consistently achieve project success.
Shah Saadi, Gary Bell

7. Managing Context: Lessons from a Large-Scale Science Project

Recent decades have seen repeatedly the high-profile abandonment of ambitious and expensive projects. Sauer (Why Information Systems Fail. Alfred Waller, Henley-on-Thames, 1993) and Flyvbjerg et al. (Megaprojects and Risk. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) argue that the management of large-scale and long-term projects involves the definition and redefinition of success and failure, and the maintenance of financial and political support. To be successful, projects and policies must address both task and institutional orientations. Even if clear criteria are available for identifiable sub-systems, the issue of the effectiveness of any significantly complex system will impinge on a range of potentially conflicting values and interests. To manage these requires the development of narratives convincing to a range of stakeholders. The high energy physics experiments developed at CERN over decades offer insight into the successful long-term management of complex projects.
Stephen Little

8. Systemic Approach and Problem Structuring Methods in Teaching Sustainability in Project Management Courses at Manchester Metropolitan University: Some Reflections on Good Practice

This chapter outlines the theoretical underpinnings of two management practice paradigms: reductionism and systems thinking in the context of the development of postgraduate and undergraduate education, specifically to teach sustainability in project management courses. The development of the ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ systems traditions are discussed as a prelude to considering teaching practice in this subject area. We argue that to have a better understanding of the complexity of sustainability in project management, a systemic view is necessary in designing the appropriate teaching. The paper reports on some of the principal themes employed in Postgraduate and Undergraduate Project Management courses at a large metropolitan university’s business school. These themes are presented to allow reflection on the teaching content of these courses for academics and practitioners.
Garry Blair, Alberto Paucar-Caceres

9. Using SSM in Project Management: Aligning Objectives and Outcomes in Organizational Change Projects

This paper aims to contribute to the use of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in project management, by exploring what happens in real-world organizational change projects when stakeholders seem to agree to a set of initial-objectives and final-outcomes of the project. SSM Analyses are then used to explore the misalignments between initial-objectives and final-outcomes along the project life cycle. Initial results suggest that SSM helps to ‘shadow’ these misalignments when structuring an unclear complex situation such as organizational change projects and that the application of SSM facilitates negotiations, generates debate, understanding, and learning. This leads to meaningful collaboration among stakeholders and enables key changes to be introduced reflecting on the potential misalignments. Results also support SSM analysis of changes in role, norms, or value adversely influencing project outcome.
Lee Sarnoe, Alberto Paucar-Caceres, Rosane Pagano, María Castellini


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