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Institutional development, divergence and change in the discipline of project management

Article hightlight

This article looks at the challenges of developing project management as an academic discipline. If we conceive of the project management field as not one community of practice, but as several, we are closer to a realistic interpretation of what is needed to consolidate the knowledge base of project management and its status as a discipline. 


  • PMBoK
  • MoP
  • Knowledge production
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What does the paper cover?

A number of studies have been conducted into the development of project management. Taken together, they describe the challenges and opportunities of attempting to institutionalise project management as a singular academic discipline.

The potential advantages of developing the subject are:

  • Common practices: Having a set of common practices that would enable a shared understanding of the nature of project management.
  • Communication: Having a shared set of terminology and guidelines which would help communication and knowledge sharing between distinct communities of practice.

Some of the difficulties in achieving this are:

  • Distinct communities of practice approach project management in different ways.
  • Different communities of practice have developed their own standards and guidelines which do not necessarily mirror each other.
  • The limitations of having a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to project management which can be used across all subject disciplines, but may not be suitable for all.
  • The variations between communities of practice in institutional structures, methods and forms of knowledge production that discourage the sharing of methods, knowledge and learning between those communities.


The paper looks at a number of published texts on project management research and compares the findings of those texts, as well as drawing its own conclusions.

Research findings

Diversity of practice: Studies show that there is great diversity of implementation and schools of thought in project management, which could make it difficult to come up with universal standards for the subject.

Little commonality: Many practitioners and institutions have developed and use their own methods of project management. These tend to reflect the interests and perspectives of the academic and practitioner communities who developed them, who in turn come from a large variety of sectors and approach project management in different ways.

Knowledge production: In the past, knowledge production has mostly been through research alone (known as ‘Mode 1’). Some argue that it has recently shifted to more context specific  research and practice, and cooperation between research teams and practitioners in their particular field of study (‘Mode 2’). This presents both opportunities and challenges for the consolidation of project management knowledge.

Institutional development and change: It is important to understand how institutional structures help promote and sustain conflicting institutional ‘logics’. This will identify the challenges facing the development of project management knowledge and the ‘institutional work’ needed to  consolidate project management as a discipline.


  • The author argues that it may not be possible, or even desirable, to think of practitioners and academic researchers in this field as a single community of practice with common goals and methods.
  • There are quite clear differences between perspectives on project management in various subject fields.
  • Opportunities for interaction between different communities of practice are likely to be fewer than those which professionals often have through continuing professional engagement and interaction with their peers.
  • More research is needed, specifically in the areas of project management knowledge, its various communities of practice, and the structures and institutions necessary for developing the discipline.
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