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How generic are project management


knowledge and practice
Article January 2007
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HOW GENERIC ARE PROJECT MANAGEMENT


KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICE?
LYNN CRAWFORD, University of Technology, Sydney, and ESC Lille, Australia
JULIEN POLLACK, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

ABSTRACT
Project management knowledge and
practice are often considered to be
generic and suitable for standardization.
However, projects are also viewed as fundamentally unique pieces of work. This
paradox of project uniqueness lies at the
heart of project management. This paper
discusses this tension between uniqueness and similarity, before reporting on
the results of a series of assessments of
practitioners project management
knowledge and use of project management practices. Results are analyzed
across countries, industry sectors, and
application areas, and interpreted in
relation to the ongoing development of
standards for project management.
Keywords: standards; body of knowledge; project management practice;
competence
2007 by the Project Management Institute
Vol. 38, No. 1, 87-96, ISSN 8756-9728/03

You could not step into the same river twice, for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
Heraclitus, On the Universe (540 BC 480 BC)
Introduction
s more organizations adopt project management approaches and the
demand for project managers grows, there is increasing interest in the
competence of project managers and in standards for development and
assessment of project management competence. Project management standards
are being used extensively throughout the world in training and development,
professional certification programs and corporate project management
methodologies, based on the assumption that there is a positive relationship
between standards and effective workplace performance.
The assumption that standards are of value can be linked to a societal preference for uniform rules and firm expectations (Krislov, 1997). Standards
appear to be accepted as desirable, and in instances such as the standardization
of currency, basic weights, and measures, the process of exchange would be considerably more difficult, if not impossible without them. They clearly play a significant part in our lives.
However, there is surprisingly little critical review of the concept and application of standards in project management. This paper starts by examining the
role that standards play in the profession of project management. It is arguable
that creating standards for project management is significantly more complicated than setting a standard for measurement, due to the significant scope for
interpretation for many of the central concepts of project management.
This paper also reports on assessments of project management knowledge
and use of project management practices by project managers. These assessments have been used to identify significant differences between project management knowledge and use of project management practices between
countries, industry sectors, and application areas. Results from these assessments are interpreted in relation to the ongoing development of standards for
project management.

M A R C H 2007 Project Management Journal

87

Standards and Project Management:


A Review of the Literature
A standard is considered to be a measure, devised by general consent as a
basis for comparison against which
judgments might be made as to levels
of acceptability. Standards can be further classified into three categories
(Duncan, 1998, p. 57):
Descriptive standards tell the facts,
details, or particulars of something, e.g.,
a document that described the characteristic symptoms of a flu sufferer
Normative standards provide guidelines (norms) to be used as a basis for
measurement, comparison, or decisions, e.g., a document that listed
alternative approaches to treating flu
Prescriptive standards define a particular way of doing something, e.g., a
document that specified a two-week
course of a specific antibiotic.
The term standards has an official ring to it, but interestingly, the
development and application of standards is primarily a voluntary process.
Many standards begin by voluntary
acceptance and may later receive official status such as recognition by a
standards-setting body or by a regulatory agency. Certainly, in the case of
project management, standards are for
certification and credentialing, rather
than
state-enforced
licensure.
However, even purely unofficial standards may have significant following
and force.
Standards are often appealed to in
settling disputes. For instance, Krislov
(1997, p. 8) noted that resolvers of
conflict are often willing to accept even
informal standards, as they usually
have legal expertise but not technical
know-how. In cases where no formally
accepted standards exist, there is often
an assumption by judges, arbitrators, or insurance agents that when
there are established standards, the
party not following them has positive
duty to inform the other of the intent
to opt out of even a voluntary standard. Consequently, many voluntary
standards may be used in a highly
coercive way, and standards do not
need to have official status to have
widespread acceptance and effect.

88

The Benefits of Standardization


One of the most common arguments
for professional standardization relates
to the protection of public welfare and
assurance of a minimum quality of
service (Leland, 1979, p. 1329).
Eskerod and Ostergren (1998) identified efficiency, legitimacy, and
power/control as reasons for voluntary
acceptance of standardized approaches
to the management of projects. In the
interests of efficiency, standards can
provide confidence that project personnel share a commonly accepted terminology, common project management
tools and techniques, and have the
capability to satisfy project objectives.
Project management research
suggests that demand for ways for
practitioners to provide evidence of
competence comes from practitioners
who have a skill they want recognized, graduates looking for project
management specific work, companies selling project management services who wish to demonstrate a
certain level of staff competency, and
from purchasers of services looking
for assurance of the competence of
people they employ (Morris, 1996,
p. 120). Research in other fields suggests that the pressure to regulate professions through licensing or
certification usually comes from within the profession to be regulated,
instead of consumers of their services
(Friedman, 1962, p. 140; Wolfson,
Trebilcock, & Tuohy, 1980, p. 182).
Standardization can increase the
legitimacy afforded to a profession.
Standards can provide a guarantee of
career progressions for project personnel through evidence of competence
and recognition of prior learning for
those who do not have formal academic qualifications. They can also
provide stakeholders with a sense of
confidence based on the certified
competence of project personnel,
which can in turn translate into
greater income for personnel who
meet such standards. Indeed, research
has demonstrated a direct link
between professional incomes and
the degrees of regulation and standardization within some professions
(Clarkson & Muris, 1980, p. 108).

Standards and the Development of a


Profession
Professions can be considered to
begin either with the recognition by
people that they are regularly doing
something that is not covered by other
professions and through the formation of professional associations
(Abbot, 1988). The impetus behind
the formation of professional associations is considered to be derived
from the perceived need of a relevant
group to occupy and defend for its
exclusive use a particular area of competence territory (Eraut, 1994, p.
165). Standards are a way of marking
professional territory.
A separate body of knowledge is
important in the development of professional standards (Berry & Oakley,
1994; Dean, 1997; Gedansky, Fugate,
& Knapp, 1998; Morris, 1995, 2000;
Williams, 1998). Credentialing can
then be used as a process whereby professionals are recognized as meeting
the standards of the profession by
demonstrating mastery of the body of
knowledge (Dean).
Even though it is often cited that
projects have been managed since the
pyramids (e.g., Stretton, 1994; Morris,
1994), it is only in the second half of
the 20th century that project management began to emerge as a distinct field
of practice with its own tools, techniques, and concepts (Stretton).
As project-based work takes over
from position-based work and careers
are defined less by companies and
more by professions (Stewart, 1995),
project personnel are keen to achieve
professional status and independent
recognition of their project management competence. If people are to be
evaluated, not by rank and status, but
flexibly according to competence
(Stewart), then evidence of this competence becomes extremely important to
individuals as well as to organizations.
The Paradox of Project Uniqueness
The creation of professional standards, however, implies a certain
level of similarity in the actions
taken by members of a profession. As
project management is being practiced in an ever-increasing range of

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

contexts, it is no longer clear that all


project managers manage projects in
comparable ways.
At the heart of the field of project
management is a basic tension between
uniqueness and generality. Shenhar
(1996) noted that the traditional
approach to project management
regards projects as being fundamentally
similar, and thus amenable to standardization. By contrast, the characteristic of
uniqueness is regularly identified as a
defining attribute of a project, and new
tools for project categorization and classification continue to appear in the literature, distinguishing between different
project types.
This raises the question: How can
one thing, at the same time, be both
fundamentally unique and standardized? Atkinson (1999, p. 338) asked a
similar question in relation to the definition of the whole field of project
management. Is there a paradox however in even attempting to define project management? Can a subject which
deals with a unique, one-off complex
task be defined?
Project Management as a Generic Activity
The development of project management standards, by implication, has
lent support to the notion of the
generic project and that there are sets
of generic knowledge, skills, and practices that are applicable to most projects most of the time. Evidence for this
can be found in the competency standards for project management available
worldwide (e.g., APM, 2000; British
Standards Board, 1996; BSTA, 2004;
ECITB, 2002; IPMA, 1999; PMI, 2002;
PMSGB 2002). Arguments for standardization of the field center around
the development of project management as a professional discipline
(Dean, 1997). Indeed, Kloppenborg
and Opfer (2000, p. 55) found that the
most frequently considered future
trend was support for increased standardization with the expectation
that increased attention to standards
was likely to contribute to more consistent achievement of project success.
A Guide to the Project Management
Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
directly contributes to the process of

standardization, partly through official


recognition as a standard (IEEE, 2000;
PMI, 2004), and partly through
expressed intent. At the start of the
PMBOK Guide, it is stated that within
the field of project management
there is relatively little commonality in
the terms used (PMI, 2000, p. 3). The
PMBOK Guide seeks to redress this
notion by providing a common language, the assumption being that the
same tasks are being performed, while
different terms are used to discuss them.
The PMBOK Guide also notes the
presence of repetitive elements (p. 5)
in project work, which allow the field to
be discussed in terms of generalities.
Similar assumptions can be found
in the academic and professional literature: many publications on the
management of projects tend to
assume that all projects are fundamentally similar (Shenhar & Dvir, 1996,
p. 607) and have employed the
universal approach (p. 609). Most
practitioner books are very general,
and tend to describe project management as a standard set of activities,
such as organizing, planning, and
budgeting the project (Shenhar, 1996,
pp. 12). Furthermore, aspects of projects that have been found to be repeated in some projects are assumed to be
general characteristics of many, and
have become prerequisite for some
project management planning techniques (Andersen, 1996).
Categories and Types of Projects
Whether or not projects are essentially
alike is open to question, as the ability
to recognize the fundamental differences between types of projects, with
respect to project goals, environments,
and stakeholders, and their different
ramifications for project management,
can be shown to influence project success. This is because for each different
category of project a whole different
set of problems and potential project
management techniques may apply
(Evaristo & van Fenema, 1999, p. 280).
The value of the assumption that
all projects should be treated generically is challenged by the variety of project categorization tools to be found in
the project management literature,

which illustrates the differences


between project types (Crawford,
Hobbs, & Turner, 2005). For instance,
Turner and Cochrane (1993) categorized projects according to the degrees
of definition of project goals and definition of the methods to be used to
achieve them. Bubshait and Selen
(1992) developed a categorization system for projects grounded in terms of
industry sector and application area,
on the understanding that different
approaches will be applicable in different areas.
Systems of categorization similar
to this are used in many of the surveys
of project management practice (e.g.,
Pinto & Slevin, 1988; White & Fortune,
2002; Zobel & Wearne, 2000). Youker
(1999) categorized projects by the
project product or deliverable, suggesting that similar products lead to similar approaches to their delivery.
Floricel and Miller (2001) grouped
projects based on the strategic system
used for uncovering and coping with
risk. Hassen (1997) distinguished
between technical and bureaucratic
projects, stating that while technical
projects are more stable and appropriate for tools such as PERT, bureaucratic projects involve multiple processes
in a political environment and can be
stifled by some traditional project
management techniques.
Projects are also differentiated as
being either hard or soft. McElroy
(1996) classified projects as either hard
or soft based on the tangibility of project outputs, ease of estimation, and
ambiguity of logical relationships.
Crawford and Pollack (2004) expanded on this, developing a framework for
the analysis of hard and soft projects
based on seven project attributes.
These frameworks align with a
study by Stretton (2000), who overlaid
observations made by Yeo (1993) with
Turner and Cochranes (1993) goals
and methods matrix, finding correlation between the degree of definition of
objectives in a project and a projects
hardness or softness. This bears similarity to a classification of project types by
Turner (1999), between technical and
cultural projects, having quantitative
and qualitative objectives, respectively.

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89

In a study of the categorization of


projects, Crawford, Hobbs, and Turner
(2005) pointed out that there are
many different purposes for categorizing of projects, including strategic
alignment, capability specialization,
and as a way of distinguishing those
aspects of organizational work that
will be managed as projects. Many different attributes can be used to categorize projects for these purposes. The
wide variety of ways in which projects
have been classified in the literature
suggests that many see benefit in distinguishing between types of projects,
instead of seeing project management
as fundamentally generic.
Projects as Unique Endeavors
Uniqueness is regularly cited as a
defining attribute of a project. For
instance, the PMBOK Guide (PMI,
2000, p. 5) refers to the fundamental uniqueness of the project
work. Andersen (1996, p. 89) supported this, stating that most authors
agree that projects are unique endeavors; special tasks that have not been
done previously. Given the wide range
of application areas for projects, the
definition of a project is necessarily
vague. Regarding the wide range of
endeavors that can be called a project, Shenhar and Dvir (1996, p. 609)
stated that in the majority of cases, the
differences between projects outweigh
the similarities between them.
Many project managers have
found the literature too general to be of
use, while at the same time they have
frequently emphasized the uniqueness of their project (Shenhar,
1996, pp. 12). Evidence suggests that
the differences between projects can be
a result of the different areas of application, with different application areas
focusing on different parts of the bodies of knowledge (Morris, Patel, &
Wearne, 2000, p. 160), and the domain
specific nature of the project management life cycle (Stewart & Fortune,
1995, p. 279).
Evidence in the literature suggests
that projects exhibit considerable
variation, and their specific management styles seem anything but universal (Shenhar & Dvir, 1996, p. 607).

90

Shenhar (1996, p. 5) stated that the


typical characteristics of a project are
less common than traditionally
thought and calls for a modification of
the tendency to regard all projects as
alike by the adoption of a project specific theoretical approach.
The bodies of knowledge created
by the various national project management professional associations tend
to seek to draw out the commonalities
between practice, in effect standardizing practice. If project management was
one generic activity, then similarity
could be expected between the ways
that project management is portrayed
in the different associations bodies of
knowledge, and yet amazingly, the
professional project management societies currently have quite different versions of the BoK (Morris, Patel, &
Wearne, 2000, p. 156).
Survey of Project Management
Knowledge and Practice
A study was conducted enquiring into
a group of practitioners project management knowledge and project management practice. This study was
conducted in order to develop an
understanding of how generic project
management knowledge and practice
are across countries, industry sectors,
and application areas.
There were 352 participants that
completed two separate assessments,
one assessing knowledge and the other
assessing their use of practices. The
sample comprised groups of between 5
and 10 project personnel from organizations willing to participate in the
study. Assessments were conducted in
controlled conditions, under supervision by a researcher or organizational
nominee, in groups in the participants
working environment. Participants
were predominantly project managers,
although some participants identified
themselves as either team members or
project/program directors.
Participants were based in
Australia, the United States, and the
United Kingdom. Participants came
from one of three industry sectors:
engineering and construction; business
services; or IS/IT and telecommunications. The industry sector, in this con-

text, refers to the overall business of


the organization. Participants were
also asked to identify the application
area of their primary project work.
Participants worked in one of four
application areas: engineering and
construction; business services; IS/IT
and telecommunications; or industrial
processes. Only 308 participants provided usable data regarding project
application area. Tables 1 to 3 provide
a breakdown of the distribution of
study participants.
Individual variables were explored
using univariate and bivariate analysis
techniques (e.g., frequency distributions and cross-tabulations). Testing of
hypotheses was done using analysis of
variance (ANOVA) techniques. ANOVA
is a procedure used to determine if
mean differences exist for two or more
samples. Post-hoc analysis using
Tukeys honestly significant differences
(HSD) was used in association with
ANOVAs for testing of hypotheses.
Examination of the relationship
between scores for the knowledge and
the practices assessments was conducted using Pearsons correlation.
Assessing Project Management Knowledge
Knowledge was assessed using a test
that was based on the nine knowledge
areas of project management, as outlined in the first edition of the
PMBOK Guide (PMI, 1996). It used
multiple-choice questions similar to
those used in the Project Management
Institutes project management professional (PMP) exam. For both the
knowledge assessment and the practice
assessment, data was analyzed at multiple levels: an overall level, describing
the tendency for the representative
sample of a country, industry sector or
application area; the unit level, aligning with the nine PMBOK Guide
knowledge areas; and the element
level. Tables analyzing results have
been provided where results demonstrate a significant difference at the
overall level or unit level.
The knowledge test consisted of five
questions from each of the nine units.
Questions were designed to address key
items of project management specific
knowledge, and involved no calcula-

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

Industry Sector of Organization

Country
Australia

U.S.

U.K.

Total

IS/IT & telecommunications

59

39

19

117

Engineering & construction

104

50

154

Business services

46

28

81

Total

209

67

76

352

Table 1: Industry sector by country

Application Area of Project

Country
Australia

U.S.

U.K.

Total

IS/IT & telecommunications

25

33

63

Engineering & construction

59

62

Business services

67

19

92

Industrial processes

30

56

91

Total

181

57

70

308

Table 2: Application area by country

Industry Sector
Application Area of Project

IS/IT &
Telecom

Eng. &
Con.

Business
Services

Total

IS/IT & telecommunications

44

15

63

Engineering & construction

19

40

62

Business services

16

25

51

92

Industrial processes

15

67

91

Total

94

136

78

308

Table 3: Application area by industry sector

tions, as this would have increased the


time required for completion, which
was an issue in securing organizational
support for the study. Once initial development of questions was complete for
the knowledge and practice tests, these
were reviewed by senior project management practitioners, one each in
Australia, the United Kingdom, the
United States, and South Africa.
The results of the knowledge
assessment have been used to test three
different null hypotheses, relevant to
developing an understanding of the
generic nature of project management:
1. There are no significant differences
in performance against a project
management knowledge standard
(PMBOK Guide) for practitioners
from different countries.
2. There are no significant differences
in performance against a project

management knowledge standard


(PMBOK Guide) for practitioners in
different industry sectors.
3. There are no significant differences
in performance against a project
management knowledge standard
(PMBOK Guide) for practitioners
working on projects in different
application areas.
Project Management Knowledge
by Country
Analysis of results reveals that there are
significant differences in values of the
measure of overall performance
against the knowledge test between
countries (P=0.0005), with U.K. sample scores being higher than those of
either Australia or the U.S.
At the unit level, significant differences could be seen in performance on
the knowledge assessment between

countries in all knowledge areas except


cost, quality, and communication (see
Table 4), with the U.K. scores higher
than those in Australia and U.S. The
U.K. sample scored higher than the
U.S. sample in areas of time, human
resources (HR), and risk. The only area
of difference between Australia and the
U.S. was in integration where both
U.K. and U.S. scored significantly
higher than Australia. There were no
other areas of significant difference
between Australia and U.S.
The null hypothesis that there are
there are no significant differences in
performance against a project management knowledge standard (PMBOK
Guide) for practitioners from different
countries may be rejected at the level
of overall performance against the
standard, but may not be rejected for
cost, quality, and communications
knowledge at the unit level.
Project Management Knowledge by
Industry Sector
At an overall level of analysis, no significant differences in values of the measure of performance against the
knowledge test were found between
industry sectors (P=0.692). At the unit
level, significant differences were found
between industry sectors only for communications, where business services
perform better than other sectors. The
null hypothesis that there are no significant differences in performance
against a project management knowledge standard (PMBOK Guide) for
practitioners in different industry sectors may not be rejected for any area of
knowledge other than communication.
Project Management Knowledge by
Application Area
When scores for the knowledge assessment were analyzed in relation to application area at an overall level, significant
differences were apparent (P=0.002). At
the unit level, significant differences were
seen in relation to integration, time, communications, risk, and procurement (see
Table 4). The primary pattern is that those
working on industrial processes projects
perform better than those working on
engineering and construction projects in
all knowledge domains except risk.

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91

Knowledge
by Country

Knowledge
by Application Area

Integration

U.K. and U.S. higher


than Australia

IS/IT and industrial processes


higher than E & C

Scope

U.K. and U.S. higher


than Australia

Unit

Time

U.K. higher than


Australia or U.S.

Industrial processes
higher than others

Practice
by Industry Sector

IS/IT higher than


business services

Cost

E & C and IS/IT higher


than business services

Quality

E & C and IS/IT higher


than business services

HR

U.K. higher than


Australia or U.S.

IS/IT higher than E & C


and business services
Business services
higher than E & C

Communication
Risk

U.K. higher than


Australia or U.S.

Industrial processes higher


than business services

E & C and IS/IT higher


than business services

Procurement

U.K. higher than


Australia

Industrial processes
higher than E & C

E & C highest, then IS/IT,


then business services

Table 4: Summary of significant differences in results at unit level

Therefore, the null hypothesis that


there are no significant differences in
performance against a project management knowledge standard (PMBOK
Guide) for practitioners working on
projects in different application areas
may be rejected at the level of overall
performance against the standard but
may not be rejected for scope, cost,
quality, and HR knowledge.
Assessing Use of Project Management
Practices
Practitioners use of practices was selfassessed against the performance criteria presented in the 1996 version of
the Australian National Competency
Standards for Project Management
(ANTA, 1996). The Australian
National Competency Standards for
Project Management were the first
performance-based competency standards for generic project management
to be endorsed by a national government (1996, July). Since that time an
updated version has been released
(BSTA, 2004). The structure of these
standards was particularly suited to
this research as it mirrors that of the
PMBOK Guide, comprising nine
functional units, which align with the
nine PMBOK Guide knowledge areas.

92

The practice assessment comprised 9 units, 30 elements, and a


total of 94 performance criteria.
Participants were asked to use a 5point scale to report on the circumstances under which they have done,
or not done, the item referred to in
each of the performance criteria.
This assessment asked participants
to objectively answer whether they
have done the item and if so, under
what circumstances, not a subjective
judgment as to how well any of the
items have been done.
The results of the project management practice assessment have
been used to test three further null
hypotheses, relevant to developing
an understanding of the generic
nature of project management:
1. There are no significant differences in performance against a
project management performance-based competency standard
(ANCSPM) for practitioners from
different countries.
2. There are no significant differences
in performance against a project
management performance-based
competency standard (ANCSPM)
for practitioners in different industry sectors.

3. There are no significant differences


in performance against a project
management performance-based
competency standard (ANCSPM)
for practitioners working on projects
in different application areas.
Project Management Practices by Country
When analyzed at the overall level,
no significant differences could be
found in different countries practices (P=0.593). However, at the unit
level, significant differences could be
seen in cost, HR, and procurement
practices. The U.K. scores higher than
the U.S. for use of cost practices and
both the U.K. and Australia score
higher than the U.S. for use of procurement practices. The U.S. scores
higher than either Australia or the
U.K. for HR practices.
Therefore, the null hypothesis
that there are no significant differences in performance against a project
management
performance-based
competency standard (ANCSPM) for
practitioners from different countries
may not be rejected at the level of
overall performance against the standard but may be rejected for cost, HR,
and procurement at the unit level.
Project Management Practices by Industry
Sector
Analysis indicates that there is a significant difference in project management practice between industry sectors
(P=0.002). Overall, both IS/IT and
telecommunications and engineering
and construction score higher than
business services. At the unit level,
there are significant differences in all
areas except integration, scope, and
communications. These differences are
summarized in Table 4.
At the element level, the pattern of
lower scores for business services in
areas of time, cost, quality, risk, and
procurement is continued. Lower scores
for business services in implementation
of project activities throughout the life
cycle and information management
begin to appear. High scores for IS/IT
and telecommunications in the HR
areas of HRM planning and staff training and development provide further
insight in this area.

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

Therefore, the null hypothesis that


there are no significant differences in
performance against a project management performance-based competency
standard (ANCSPM) for practitioners in
different industry sectors may be rejected at the overall level. It may also be
rejected at the unit level for time, cost,
quality, HR, risk, and procurement.
Project Management Practices by
Application Area
At the overall level, no significant differences between practices were found
in the sample group when analyzed by
application area (P=0.131). At the unit
level, the only significant differences
are in cost where IS/IT and telecommunications scores lower than engineering and construction and
industrial processes, and in procurement where business services and IS/IT
and telecommunications score lower
than engineering and construction and
industrial processes.
The null hypothesis that there are
no significant differences in performance against a project management
performance-based competency standard (ANCSPM) for practitioners
working on projects in different application areas may not be rejected at the
overall level, but may be rejected at the
unit level for cost and procurement.
The only practice for which the null
hypothesis may not be rejected at all
levels is scope.
Correlations Between Knowledge and
Use of Practices
Potential correlations between scores
for the knowledge and practice assessments were also analyzed. Correlation
between practitioners total scores for
the knowledge and practice assessments was apparent. Pearsons correlation was measured at 0.188 for total
scores, with the correlation significant
at the 0.01 level.
At the unit level, significant correlation could also be seen between
scores for the knowledge and practice
assessments (see Table 5). The first
number in each box in Table 5 is a
measure of Pearsons correlation, with
a higher number indicating a stronger
positive correlation. The second num-

ber in each box describes the level at


which the correlation is significant,
with a number closer to zero indicating greater confidence in the correlation. Correlations between unit scores
for the knowledge and practice assessments were apparent for integration,
scope, cost, HR, risk, and procurement. No significant correlations were
found between the knowledge and
practice assessments for time, quality,
or communications.
Some interesting correlations stand
out, such as a consistent positive correlation between scope knowledge and
practice scores for all units other than
communication and procurement.
Correlation is also apparent for scores in
the knowledge and practice assessments
for both time and cost, and between
scores for cost and procurement.
Some units were found to be relatively free from correlation. For
instance, communication knowledge
was only correlated to scope practice,
while communication practice was
only correlated to scores for procurement knowledge. Scores for integration and HR knowledge were only
correlated to integration and HR practice, respectively. These results suggest
that knowledge of, and use of, practices associated with, communication,
integration, and HR are relatively independent of other areas of project management knowledge and practice.
Conclusions From the Assessments
At the overall level project management
knowledge appears to be generic across
industry sectors. Use of project management practices at the overall level
appears to be generic across countries
and application areas but not across
industry sectors. Results show that the
most generic knowledge domains
across country, industry sector, and
application area are cost and quality. By
contrast, the use of practices most
generic across countries, industry sectors, and application areas were scope,
integration, and communication.
However, significant differences
are apparent when project management knowledge is analyzed by country
or application area, and when project
management practices are analyzed by

industry sector. These results suggest


that project management cannot legitimately be considered as one consistent, generic activity.
One curious result from the
knowledge assessments related to the
strong performance of the U.K. sample against what survey participants
in the U.K. certainly considered to be
essentially a North American standard, developed for a North
American audience. This result might
be taken as suggesting that it is not
the country in which a standard was
written that determines how well a
sample performs when assessed
against it. Similarly, this result may
be explained by reference to the
methods of education practiced in
different countries or the particulars
of the samples chosen. However, data
collected during the survey are not
sufficient to definitively support
these possible explanations.
A consistently appearing significant difference at the unit level related
to practice analyzed by industry sector.
In these results, the business services
sector consistently scores lower than
either IS/IT and telecommunications
or engineering and construction. These
results could reasonably be interpreted
as an issue of lower maturity of the
business services sector, resulting from
more recent adoption of project management approaches.
The significant differences found in
project
management
knowledge
between industry sectors and in the use
of project management practices
between areas of application do not suggest that the standards are inappropriate
for use across these categories. However,
it may suggest that in the workplace,
practitioners in different industries and
application areas have greater recourse
to apply different project management
practices and knowledge.
It was found that results for the
knowledge assessment generally showed
greater variation than results for the practice assessment. The implication from
these results is that there is greater general similarity in project management
practice than in knowledge. This can be
taken to indicate that although project
management is relatively consistently

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

93

Knowledge
Assessment
(PMBOK Guide)

Use of Practices Assessment (ANCSPM)


Integr.

Scope

Time

Cost

Quality

HR

Comm.

Risk.

Proc.

Integration

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

* .122
.022

.104
.052

.105
.050

.031
.567

.018
.734

.015
.774

.071
.183

.091
.089

-.020
.712

Scope

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

** .141
.008

* .127
.017

* .113
.035

* .121
.024

* .120
.024

* .113
.034

.097
.069

** .147
.006

.075
.160

Time

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

* .111
.037

.089
.096

.063
.236

* .107
.045

.094
.079

.061
.251

.054
.308

.098
.067

** .159
.003

Cost

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

.023
.674

.082
.124

* .107
.045

* .129
.015

.090
.092

.092
.085

.067
.213

.100
.062

** .141
.008

Quality

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

** .145
.006

.081
.128

.085
.110

* .121
.023

.060
.260

.081
.131

.071
.184

.072
.177

* .111
.038

HR

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

.073
.172

.086
.107

.033
.542

.084
.115

.028
.598

* .119
.025

.081
.128

.067
.212

.014
.788

Communication

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

.088
.099

* .133
.035

.058
.276

.014
.791

.010
.851

.017
.755

.070
.193

.027
.618

-.050
.354

Risk

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

.093
.081

.105
.050

.029
.583

.085
.111

* .108
.042

.057
.290

.052
.328

* .108
.044

.104
.051

Procurement

Pearsons r
Sig.(2-tailed)

* .126
.018

.099
.064

.101
.059

** .162
.002

.058
.281

* .114
.033

* .122
.022

.100
.060

** .181
.001

** - Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed) * - Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed)
Table 5: Correlations between scores for against knowledge and practice assessments

applied, it is being conceptualized


differently. Potentially, there is then
greater scope for standardization of
project management, particularly at a
conceptual level.
At an overall level, and for the
majority of units, correlation was
apparent between scores for the
knowledge and practice assessments.
The many of these correlations were
significant at the 0.01 level, however,
the measures of Pearsons correlation
were not high (< 0.2). There is considerable confidence then that performance in one assessment does
positively correlate with performance
in the other assessment, however, the
correlation is not strong. In other
words, it can be said with confidence
that participants who did well or
badly in one assessment tended to
respectively do well or badly in the
other assessment, but the score
received for one assessment was
rarely equivalent to the score received
on the other.

94

The correlation between competence measures against a performancebased competency standard (ANCSPM)
and the knowledge tests (PMBOK
Guide) is not surprising, as a direct link
between competent performance and
knowledge of relevant concepts seems
intuitive. The weakness of the correlation between scores for assessments
against these standards is also to be
expected, as these assessments cannot
be thought of as simply taking different
approaches to directly measuring the
capability for project managers to deliver successful projects. Instead, these
assessments were measuring different
attributes, both of which may be linked
to the capabilities of project managers.
Discussion
This tension between project uniqueness and the assumption of fundamental similarity underpinning standards
development can be explained
through three avenues: what it means
to be unique; changes to the field; and

the needs of the field. For a project to


be unique does not mean that it is
completely dissimilar to all other projects. If this were truly the case, and
projects were not just unique, but also
incomparable, then it is likely the field
of project management would not
exist. Rather, projects do resemble each
other. For instance, a work breakdown
structure (WBS) can often be reused, as
many projects within a given organization will have similar life cycles and
thus will have similar deliverables
required at each phase of the project
(PMI, 2000, p. 57). In many ways this
is reminiscent of the quote that started
this paper. The water is always changing, moving, making different noises,
and yet it is still a river, maintaining
similarity of form over time.
The tension between uniqueness
and similarity can also be viewed in
light of changes to the field. Originally,
single, large projects were the domain of
project managers, with particular emphasis on the construction, aerospace, and

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

engineering industries. This has


changed. The advent of the projectoriented organization, matrix-managed
projects, networked projects, rapid
development projects, organizational
change projects and social projects
have all changed the scope of what is
now termed a project (Stewart &
Fortune, 1995, p. 279). Nevertheless,
the wide deployment of projects in
organizations today, has not been
accompanied by a parallel development in project management theory
(Shenhar & Dvir, 1996, p. 607). It is
possible that the divide between perceptions of uniqueness and similarity
represents, not a contradiction in any
one view, but a split between the views
of different groups: those who are
applying project management in new
application areas; and, those who continue to apply project management in
its original application areas and see no
reason to change.
The divide between uniqueness
and similarity can be examined in a
third way; in terms of the needs of the
industry. In reference to a survey on
project management education, Fabi
and Pettersen (1992, p. 85) found that
the project management industry
would rather see students trained as
generalists rather than specialists, with
industry providing the necessary
detailed instruction with on-the-job
training. Course work should be constructed to provide emphasis on tools
and their application, not theory. The
divide here is based around what is
required for a general education in project management and the education
required for application of project management in a specific industry. The general guides to project management, the
standards, and the bodies of knowledge, are written at a general level, with
the understanding that they provide
information that is relevant to most
projects, most of the time. Implicit in
this is the assumption that projects are
alike. As these are influential documents, it is only to be expected that this
implicit view should permeate to practitioners, who might continue to hold it,
even after being initiated into the
specifics of particular areas of application. This view might then never be
challenged if practitioners are not

exposed to projects in different countries, industries, or areas of application.


As the profession spans a wide variety of application areas and interests, it
is unlikely that this tension will ever be
resolved. Indeed, we suggest that it is in
the interests of the field that this tension
should not be resolved and replaced by
a superficial unity. However, the tension
between uniqueness and similarity does
need to be managed, if the field is to
remain relevant to the wide variety of
countries, industries, and application
areas in which it is currently applied.
The authors suggest that the nature of
the links between measurements of performance-based competence and
knowledge need to be further examined,
that future standards development
should address the needs of different
industries and application areas, and
any development of global standards for
project management needs to recognize
the potential variation in how project
management is practiced and thought
about in different countries.
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LYNN CRAWFORD, PhD, director, Human Systems Pty


Ltd., professor of project management, ESC Lille, France,
and director, Project Management Research Group,
University of Technology, Sydney, is involved in project
management education, practice, and research. Through
human systems, she works with leading corporations
that are developing organizational project management
competence by sharing and developing knowledge and
best practices as members of a global system of project
management knowledge networks. She is currently
involved in two PMI-funded research projectsExploring
the Role of the Executive Sponsor and The Value of Project
Management. Results of a completed study have been
published in Project Categorization Systems: Aligning
Capability with Strategy for Better Results. She has been
leading the development of global standards for project
management since the late 1990s.

96

M A R C H 2007 P R O J E C T M A N A G E M E N T J O U R N A L

JULIEN POLLACK is an honorary associate of


the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).
He has won national and international awards
for his research, which focuses on practical
ways that systems thinking and project
management can be combined. He has
worked on projects in a variety of fields,
including organizational change, strategic
planning, IT development, and theatrical
projects. He received his PhD at UTS, with
previous degrees in computer science,
philosophy and theatre. Dr Pollack is currently
investigating practical ways of applying
learning from complexity theory to project
management, and has recently co-authored a
book on tools for complex projects.