Creating confidence amongst complexity: the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project managers in the Australian construction sector

PhD Thesis


Usher, Gregory. 2018. Creating confidence amongst complexity: the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project managers in the Australian construction sector . PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/5f697d1ddccd8
Title

Creating confidence amongst complexity: the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project managers in the Australian construction sector

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorUsher, Gregory
SupervisorWhitty, Jon
Chakraborty, Subrata
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages370
Year2018
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/5f697d1ddccd8
Abstract

The client-side project manager is a professional who manages projects within complex and dynamic environments while ensuring their client’s interests are protected and maintained. This thesis explores the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project managers who deliver projects in the Australian Construction sector. In this sector, client-side project managers are regularly confronted with challenges such as poorly defined project scope, disparate and conflicting stakeholder expectations, and countless opportunities for carefully planned and rigorously monitored projects to encounter unforeseen events that can ultimately result in the project being regarded as a failure.

Little is known about the ‘lived-experience’ of a client-side project manager, and even less about how they deal with these challenges to effectively manage their project work. Client-side project management has traditionally been considered a form of production management. However, in many ways, this perception appears at odds with the ‘lived-experience’ of client-side project management practitioners. Through this thesis, I argue that this perception is hindering the development of the body of theory for the profession by limiting discussions within unjustified constraints and restricting the development of tools that could help client-side project managers perform crucial elements of their role.

This thesis comprises a collection of publications that investigates the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project managers. How they think; how they manage ambiguity, conflicting expectations, and poorly defined problems; and ultimately how they create value in the project delivery process.

During the course of my candidature; I have published thirteen papers. Seven of these papers (one theoretical and six empirical) have been included in this thesis. All of the empirical papers adopted qualitative research methodologies, the most predominant of these is Grounded Theory. This particular methodology aligned well with the emerging nature of the research included in this thesis. The themes of the thesis move from a broad recognition and understanding of a divide that exists between the theory and practice of client-side project management, through to a detailed analysis of how a cohort of practitioners adopt the role of System Specialists to deliver their projects, and thereby create value through managing a complex network of actors.

Through this thesis I will argue that the ‘lived experience’ of client-side project management is not supported by the traditionally accepted theoretical foundations of Transformational Production Management, and I call for a broader theoretical basis for the profession. I argue that client-side project managers operate beyond the role of project Implementers and instead play a critical role in managing a complex value network. This network is created to deliver the strategic, technical, financial and human goals which clients are expecting from their projects. As I will demonstrate through this thesis, achieving these outcomes requires client-side project managers to think more strategically, holistically and creatively about their projects than the current theoretical foundations of their profession supports.

This thesis will demonstrate that client-side project managers must balance both the success and satisfaction paradigms of their projects, manage Drift-Changes and attempt to create Project Management Yinyang. To achieve this they utilize Design Thinking Mentalities, Thinking Styles, Practices and Tools, and act as System Specialist who create network Constructs and Controls to create value.

This thesis outlines multiple opportunities for project management researchers to pursue. These include, but are not limited to, new project management practices such as Funnelling and Optioneering, the role of Design Thinking in the practice of client-side project management and how client-side project managers create value by acting as System Specialists. In addition this thesis provides insight in to new skills, competencies and tools which practitioners can adopt if they wish to become more proficient in their craft.

In summary, this thesis demonstrates that the ‘lived experience’ of the client-side project manager is not the ordered, rational and well planned experience that the traditional theoretical foundations of the profession would have us believe. Instead it is dynamic and complex, as well as exciting and challenging. Client-side project management demands a high level of technical expertise combined with highly developed social skills and creativity. It requires optimistic professionals who are capable of balancing paradoxes, navigating through ambiguity, relentlessly pressing forward in the face of uncertainty and who have the intellectual capacity to manage a complex value network using an action-as-planning approach. Finally, in the midst of all this, they must foster the belief among all the stakeholders that the Functionality and Representation of value required by the project is achievable. Consequently, the client-side project manager creates confidence among complexity.

Keywordsclient-side, project management, confidence, complexity
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020359999. Other commerce, management, tourism and services not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Management and Enterprise
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Next decision node (NDN) planning: an ambidextrous planning model
Usher, Greg S.. 2021. "Next decision node (NDN) planning: an ambidextrous planning model." International Journal of Managing Projects in Business. 14 (2), pp. 390-411. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-03-2019-0069
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