Limits of applicability

In the construction industry, the PI project management practices have indeed been very effective at avoiding overruns in time and money. They were so successful in this domain that, in the eighties and nineties, consulting firms were trying to transfer these practices to the realm of industrial research and development (R&D). Overruns in time and money were a serious problem in that domain as well. The results, however, were disappointing. The R&D scientists involved felt that these practices could not be applied in an R&D environment characterised by uncertainty, complexity, and unpredictability (Van Gunsteren, 2003). For instance, setting goals at the beginning and not changing them during the process is not possible in ambitious, innovative R&D projects (Aspect 1). New insights emerging from the R&D-efforts made so far may give rise to an adjustment of goals and objectives. In addition, dividing the work into small steps with identifiable milestones is often hardly

Table 2.1 Best project management practices, PI: Process related issues


Best practice:


Goal setting

Before awarding a contract - for design and/or construction - the design brief or the design itself should be frozen and not be unfrozen before commissioning.

Set goals at the start and do not change them before project completion.

• Separate design and construction as rigorously as possible.


Leadership is provided by the project manager, who is the central figure in the entire process.

• Individual prominence becomes a dominant selection criterion for the project manager (to ensure he or she has sufficient reference power).

Conflict resolution

Focus on powerful stakeholders and try to establish compromises between them.

• Define limits of formal and sanction power.

• Power structure determines outcome.

Design process

Proceed from coarse, preliminary design towards detailed design in a trial-and-error process starting from an arbitrarily chosen first design.

• Focus initially on getting a solution, i.e. a solution point.

• Freeze the design or subsystem design when necessary to keep deadlines.

Table 2.2 Best project management practices, PI: Information handling related issues


Best practice:



Keep everyone involved informed on design status, approved changes and planning.

• Use bulletin board and internet to give everyone access to status information.

• Communication is information oriented.

Persuasion of players

Make presentations to convince players who have to accept compromises.

• Pay attention to PR and image building.

• Use powerful audio-visual aids.

Progress control

Divide the process into small steps with identifiable milestones against planned deadlines.

• Separate object from process to make it.

• Focus on process for project control.

Table 2.3 Best project management practices, PI: Structure related issues


Best practice:


8. Define division of tasks and

Divisions of associated responsibilities in job and tasks function descriptions.

Control of progress on predetermined tasks.

Responsibility for right information at the right place determined by job description: information push.

Integration and coordination of tasks

Integration and coordination of tasks is a prime responsibility of the project manager.

White spots, unexpected problems, are resolved by the project manager who uses formal and sanction power to do so.

Little reliance on personal initiatives from people involved.

10. Standardisation where possible,

Standardisation because standardisation reduces complexity.

Trend towards uniformity.

Seasoned project managers tend to reject new concepts that are hard to standardise.

possible or desirable in R&D (Aspect 8). And in R&D, standardisation is postponed as much as possible to avoid unnecessary exclusion of new concepts (Aspect 10).

The literature on management of technological innovation offers concepts and recommended practices that are fundamentally different from those on which PI project management practices are based. See, for instance, Blake (1978); Twiss (1992); Van Gunsteren (2003); Mintzberg (1979).

Urban planners made the same observations regarding the project management approach from the construction industry: that it was not applicable in an urban planning environment. This often happened when the actual urban planning problem concerned a new infrastructure development or an inner city redevelopment situation (Van Loon, 1998). Due to the technical complexity of these kinds of problems, engineers from the construction industry became dominant in these planning processes. At the start of such processes they came with already completed designs for the infrastructure and the buildings to be realised (Aspect 1). Their attention was on the persuasion of the decision makers for their well-worked-out ideas (Aspect 6).

For urban planners, it was hard to fit these proposals into their broader planning issues such as social welfare in the city, economic improvement of the urban area, and social justice in housing distribution. There was no real solution space in these designs for combinations with the objectives of other stakeholders than the construction firms and the real estate owners (Aspect 4).

The literature on planning theory and planning methodology offers con cepts to overcome this gap and methods to develop an appropriate project management approach for complex urban construction projects. See, for instance, Faludi (1973); Van Loon (1998); Schon and Rein (1994); Kingdon (1995).

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