Paradigmatic Influences

A broad definition of a paradigm is provided by Pollack (2007: 266): 'the commonly shared set of assumptions, values and concepts within a community, which constitutes a way of viewing reality'. It provides insights into the way a particular group approaches practice based on the way it determines values and evaluates the environment. Project management distinguishes between the hard and soft paradigms, with the latter receiving growing attention in the project management literature.


Many current approaches to project management follow the hard paradigm, mainly due to the way the profession has evolved. Guidelines provided by professional associations have adopted a functionalist perspective to provide clear guidance on 'how' projects should be managed. They are based on a number of assumptions. Organisational goals can be determined and decomposed into goals for each project. Management's desire for control is satisfied since quantitative metrics can be established to measure performance. The environment in which the organisation and the project operate remains relatively stable. There is a strong connection between the action of management and project outcomes.

While it is acknowledged that 'traditional PM is deeply rooted in the hard paradigm' (Pollack 2007:272), the case is being made for the 'need to renew the formalization of our understanding of organisational project management ... [and] ... new approaches are needed in order to extricate ourselves from what looks like a dead-end' (Aubry et al. 2007: 331). Project management is a multi- disciplinary field for which multiple approaches apply, including those of the soft paradigm.


In their groundbreaking UK research publication titled Rethinking Project Management and in subsequent papers, Winter et al. (2006) proposed a change in the way project management should be researched. The authors developed the following five themes. First, rethinking the life cycle model of projects and project management to one that recognises their inherent complexities. This would more closely reflect what takes place in the 'real' world. The second suggestion was to view projects as social processes with an array of agendas about relationships and practices rather than instrumental processes with their linear approaches. Projects are perceived as social interactions between people.

The focus should furthermore change from product creation to value creation. This book strongly reflects this theme since the purpose of PRG is to increase organisational value. It requires the broad rather than narrow conceptualisation of projects reflected in theme four: projects are increasingly multi-purpose in order to support the creation of innovative products and services. They have to be able to accommodate features that the market demands. The final theme is for project managers to become reflective practitioners rather than trained technicians. Rather than adhering to strict and inflexible guidelines, they are encouraged to learn and adapt their approaches to deal with complex project environments.

The above themes can be developed further into a number of distinct differences between the hard and soft paradigms of project management (Winter et al. 2006). These are summarised in Table 6.1 and illustrated in the context of PRG in the following section.

Table 6.1 Comparison of paradigmatic influences on project management


Hard Paradigm

Soft Paradigm







World view






Project management



















Trained Technician

Reflective Practitioner

Project life cycle



Project structure


Living organism

Relevance of Paradigmatic Influences to Project Risk Governance

At first glance, the soft paradigm approach appears to be eminently suited to the project environment in which the 'transaction [to the project-mode] is unique, novel and transient, with high degrees of uncertainty' (Turner and Keegan 2001: 262). The hard paradigm, on the other hand, better suits the traditional organisation in which there are 'repetitive, routine transactions, undertaken by the classically managed (functional, hierarchical, line management) organization' (Turner and Keegan 2001: 262). However, this generalisation is not yet widely acknowledged in the literature because of the newness of the soft paradigm. Pollack (2007: 273) concluded: 'the influence of the soft paradigm on PM is less substantial, but it does appear that respect for this paradigm is growing within the field'.

The soft paradigm deserves serious consideration when implementing PRG.

• Goal-setting (predefined/ill-defined). In the project-oriented environment, projects with well-defined goals are replaced by ones that are 'multidisciplinary, having multiple purposes, not always pre-defined' (Winter et al. 2006: 642). Projects respond quickly and flexibly to changing markets and use the uncertainty of project risk for strategic advantages.

• Emphasis (control/learning). Too much control restricts the organisation from being an innovative one, while the purpose of PRG is to be creative in gaining competitive advantages. Organisations will get better at this as expertise is gained in exploiting the opportunities of project risks.

• World view (reductionist/interpretivist). The nature of project risk indicates that it is socially constructed through a variety of influences (see Chapter 8). Risk is not a phenomenon per se but is created and selected by humans because it is their ability to identify and respond to risk that they observe.

• Environment (stable/volatile). PBOs differ significantly from product- based organisations and are particularly well suited to respond to changing market conditions (see Chapter 1). PRG aligns itself with the more dynamic organisation structure through its strategic approach to project risk management.

• Project management (leading/facilitating). Project managers have to become more of a facilitator than a controller in the way they lead their teams. By giving attention to risk objectives and project strategies and how they link with those at the corporate level, they rely more and more on the expertise of others.

Processes (instrumental/social). The trend is away from an engineering to a sociological approach. The linear sequence of tasks to be performed is replaced by social interactions to reach consensus on what project risk is and what the response should be. Social processes are complex because they are affected by 'an array of social agenda, practices, stakeholder relations, politics and power' (Winter et al. 2006: 642).

• Structure (hierarchical/networked). The traditional hierarchical approach to project management is replaced in PRG by a network of interactions between the board of directors, project sponsors, steering committees and project managers (see Chapter 5).

• Practice (problem-solving/problem-structuring). In today's volatile business environment, strategy is developed not only to solve identified problems but, more importantly, to identify the means to create new business value. Projects and PRG are enablers to achieving these objectives.

• Values (tangible/intangible). As tangible project benefits become harder to achieve, greater emphasis is placed on the intangible values of projects. Value-creating project risk strategies recognise this by focusing on business outcomes such as increased market share and improved customer satisfaction.

• Relevance (objectivity/contextual). The nature of project risk is highly contextual in that it is defined according to different perspectives (see Chapter 7). Perceptions of project risk are not value free, are determined by issues giving rise to risk, and take into account preferences in risk appetite and tolerance.

• Approach (trained technician/reflective practitioner). Practitioners who are trained to follow detailed procedures and techniques, prescribed by project management methods and tools, are now becoming 'reflexive practitioners who can learn, operate and adopt effectively in complex project environments, through experience, intuition and the pragmatic application of theory to practice' (Winter et al. 2006: 642). The trend is accentuated by the strategic nature of PRG.

• Project life cycle (simple/complex). The project life cycle has become less predictable, as illustrated by the SMART™ project management framework (see Chapter 2). Its ambitious aim is to achieve a balance between business issues ('what are we trying to achieve?'), technology ('how are we going to do this?') and social issues ('who is involved and whom do we affect by the changes created by this project?'). Within each question are issues related to project risk.

• Project structure (machine-like/living organism). Much of the traditional project manager's view is that of a functional and rational world, reflected in many of the current approaches to project management. However, the innovative and creative roles of projects and project risks have added to the dynamism of organisational life.


This chapter identified factors that can affect the implementation of PRG and therefore have to be carefully considered. Encouraging project managers and team members to join a project management association would raise 'professional' knowledge about project risk management and ensure an ongoing engagement with the discipline. Referencing industry standards is advised since they provide guidance to an enterprise-wide approach to risk management, of which PRG is part. To track how well the organisation is performing it needs to establish PRG success factors and regularly monitor their achievement. Human resource management, largely ignored in the project management literature, requires attention since it is the ability and willingness of people that determines the quality of project risk management and governance. If a culture change is required, change management processes should be implemented. Finally, the chapter identified a trend towards applying many aspects of the soft paradigm in project management to PRG.

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