A book based on 15 years’ experience of teaching strategic project organizing to executive education clients at AMBS has just been published. Graham Winch, Eunice Maytorena-Sanchez and Natalya Sergeeva explain the background to the book.
There has never been a greater need for strategic project organizing. For instance, the UN’s Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) require radical transformations in
how the global society and economy works. And the transition to a carbon free economy depends on new ways of generating and transmitting energy alongside the development of new modes of transportation.
At the same time information systems have challenged established approaches to project organising in two ways. Firstly, they have made it very clear that simply producing a new system is pointless unless people know how to use it and adapt to the opportunities it offers. Secondly, the rapid pace of innovation means that speed in development is crucial, which has stimulated innovation towards agile forms of project management.
All these challenges place the art of projecting at the centre of social and economic life in the 21st century. Yet the subject is typically taught and practised as a set of tools and techniques promoted by professional associations rather than as a way of organizing to transform our future.
This is precisely one of the main reasons why we have just published a book which looks at how strategic project organizing can be used to manage projects for maximum, positive impact.
The past 30 years has seen the growing ‘projectification’ of many organisations, and specifically the rising adoption of routines first associated with the type of project management that evolved around major US defence projects.
This way of thinking has accelerated in recent years and is now spreading to the public sector where it is argued that the major challenges of delivering on new policy initiatives can only be addressed through a much more project-orientated approach. Indeed, the ideas we present in our book are equally applicable to both the public and private sectors.
Story to tell
The book has long been in gestation and comes out of our conversations and experiences of teaching strategic project organizing to executive education clients at Alliance Manchester Business School over the past 15 years.
In particular, delegates on project leadership programmes for both BP and BAE Systems gave us much insight into the realities of project organizing and helped us formulate more clearly the ideas we wanted to pursue in the book.
In short, this is a distillation of 15 years of teaching and research experience, and we felt there was a really good story to tell. We have all learnt an enormous amount from working with these companies and that learning pervades the book which, incidentally, is as relevant to business students as it is to executives.
Owner and operator organization
One of the most important facets that we have gained from this experience is the importance of the project owner and operator organization in any strategic project. They might not build actual structures or pour the concrete, but they have a crucial role to play in shaping and delivering a project for beneficial use in operations.
It is one of the reasons why in the book we look at the importance of leadership in terms of managing projects, and the very process of how one becomes a project leader and the role of business educators within this context. In particular we analyse the importance of the ‘capability’ of project owner organizations and how well they are able to delegate management to suppliers.
This theme around capability is also one we recently wrote about in a paper which specifically looked at the case of UK infrastructure and identified six specific dynamic capabilities required of UK infrastructure owners and operators. By adopting this approach, we revealed the potential of an engaged scholarship method to address real-world practical problems and advance relevant theoretical knowledge.
We also recently co-authored a paper on the importance of strategic project organising in the response to the pandemic, specifically focusing on the radical changes to accepted business practice that were required. We saw this in the delivery of the Nightingale Hospitals, but perhaps most importantly in the remarkable schedule compression of vaccine development projects enabled by the careful allocation of risk using portfolio management techniques.
As mentioned, this work is just as relevant for students and we will also be using our book for teaching the Strategic Project Organizing module on the MSc Operations Project and Supply Chain Management, and for the Leading Business Projects module on the Global MBA.
The relevance for tomorrow’s business leaders could not be clearer. After all, if we are going to transition to a sustainable future then a lot of that is going to have to be done through making truly sustainable capital investments and transitions.
Earlier this year, McKinsey estimated that the global value of capital investment in energy and land use systems required to stay within a 1.5 degree increase in global temperatures would need to increase by 60% over today’s investment levels. Strategic project organizing is therefore a central part of achieving our desired collective futures, just as it has been for our socio-economic development to date.
Graham Winch is Professor of Project Management at Alliance Manchester Business School.
Dr Eunice Maytorena-Sanchez is Senior Lecturer in Project Management at Alliance Manchester Business School.
Natalya Sergeeva is Associate Professor in Project Management at University College London.