• Paul Summers University of Portsmouth


Systems thinking, education, learning and development, student centred learning, project management


This paper describes how a systemic approach to problem solving was applied to improve project management performance in a UK unitary local authority. This will detail the background to the problem, the approach taken, how a solution was implemented and iterated in practice.

The starting position applied Vickers concept of appreciation reviewing the history and status of project management within the organisation with wide consultation and reflection to ascertain why despite previous interventions project delivery was poor. As part of this enquiry positive deviance was looked for and an appreciation of the reasons for such deviance. Following this appreciative inquiry a systemic framework was designed which built on successes and addressed identified areas of weakness.

The framework comprised three elements:

1.      A methodology to ensure that projects undertaken are the right ones and they are done in the right way.

2.      A learning and development suite of activities to improve competence.

3.      A network of project managers to share good practice and lessons learned.

The framework is principles based to enable it to be applied in differing contexts and disciplines. In the context described in this paper the framework is built on good practice identified from project management and on a suite of learning and development activities to raise organisational capacity and capability to deliver projects successfully.

The methodology element was built on both academic and project management association’s Body of Knowledge together with personal experience and knowledge of project management gained from my Master’s degree studies 2003-5, certification as PRINCE2 and MSP practitioner and 25 years delivering projects in different sectors.

The second element involved the design and refinement of a suite of learning and development workshops based on the strategic requirement of the organisation. The main component is the licensed project managers development programme (LPMDP) a systemic approach to learning and development which created a learning environment.  This programme is aimed at increasing learning ability and uses enquiry based and self-directed learning which is a radical departure from the traditional form of training usually encountered within project management and the UK local government sectors. The LPMDP emphasises the systemic nature of project management stressing context and perspective. The intention is to create a body of project managers who are adaptive in delivering projects having garnered thorough understanding of the activities and knowledge of the purpose of their projects.

The learning and development suite of workshops are designed with the intention of creating learners not knowers and to be transformative rather than transmissive with exercises designed to elicit information from the delegates and for them to learn from each other.  

Action research was chosen as the research method during the implementation of the proposed framework, observing how this works in a unitary authority and evaluate the findings before iterating again. A key element in this method is that the process is iterated and the framework evolves over time. Using action research involved me as practitioner and the research is interpretive and subjective being based largely on interviews and observations. I am aware of my influence as a participant in the learning and development programme as a facilitator and my working within the boundary of the framework; this is a position which soft systems research argues is best.

This research has the potential for application throughout the public sector at a time when funding and value for money within the sector is coming under increasing pressure. The requirement to deliver projects showing a good return on investment is a key priority in the sector at the present time with budgets being greatly reduced following the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010.



How to Cite

Summers, P. (2011). A SYSTEMIC APPROACH TO IMPROVING PROJECT MANAGEMNT PERFORMANCE. Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, 55(1). Retrieved from https://journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings55th/article/view/1638