Wednesday 16 March 2022

Project Management in the Age of Chaos, or Learning About Professionalism in the 21 Century


The project, as one of the forms of doing business, concerns two fundamental sources of instability of the modern world: the complexities of the external environment and the difficulties in managing projects as dynamic systems.

The reason for the growing tension of conflicts with the external environment is not only the unprecedented speed of changes in the modern socio-economic life of society, but also legal barriers, especially if the project extends to several jurisdictions.

The modern project management model assumes that the implementation of the project begins in the usual atmosphere of stability and certainty, so the appropriate skills of project managers will help to cope with the difficulties of the project and, thus, achieve the results expected by investors and stakeholders.

However, in an age of uncertainty and chaos, the stability and duration of the existence of anything is a rarity, and there are very frequent cases when serious problems arise with the external environment in the process of executing the most significant projects.

This article presents the results of an analysis of the professional qualities of project managers in the 21st century. In the presented creative model of professional growth for project managers, the thesis is put forward that a successful modern model of PM is able to skillfully cope with the difficulties of the external environment.


In order to maintain a competitive spirit and success in our messy world, companies increasingly need to take into account the volatility of the labor market, and they regularly have to take on bold and daring projects. By definition, a bold project is one that has a high professional risk due to both the project and the difficulties that arise during its development and implementation. As a rule, the goals of such projects are adjusted during their implementation, depending on the variability of the external environment. The number of successfully completed risky projects can greatly affect the fate of such a company, temper it in a tough struggle for a "place in the sun" in today's volatile world.

Only a few companies can afford to be static these days, even if they have a significant price advantage due to a wide range of products and have the ability to reduce the cost of using external resources. In a global, knowledge-based economy, this price advantage evaporates as soon as the price of products becomes a secondary component, and the price profit obtained by synthesizing knowledge and creative ideas comes to the fore. As companies now have to move to operate in a much more complex external environment, their competitiveness will be determined by how effectively they can harness their intellectual human potential to create or intercept commercial opportunities. There are now many such companies in the world, for example, in the field of pharmaceuticals, aerospace engineering, software, biotechnology, computer science, show business, telecommunications services. At the same time, not all companies are able to undertake bold risky projects, since this largely depends on the "reputation" of the company in the market, the intellectual abilities and professionalism of its personnel, the cultural and business relations of the company, the nature of the economic system and the capabilities of management.

To a very general approximation, all companies can be classified on a 5-point scale, taking into account their level of mobility and ability to take on risky and successfully carry out risky projects (Fig. 1): Class 1 – cautious; Class 2 – focused; Class 3 – Responsible; class 4 - potentially capable of a lot and class 5 - creative, dynamic.

If a company does not struggle with its main drawback – hypervigilance, then it can be "labeled" as stagnant, orthodox, having little chance of surviving and developing in a competitive environment. This classification implies that not all companies are able to safely take on bold risky projects, while not doubting their successful implementation. A Class 5 company navigates the challenges of the business world with its eyes closed; it is able to anticipate changes in demand long before its competitors understand it, can come up with complex products and masterfully cope with the value chain for the successful production of such products. Such companies can implement the most fantastic ideas, often thanks to the close alliance of partners and suppliers. At the same time, project management, being the core, the "core" of potential opportunities, plays a key role in their search for ways to success (Fig. 1).

Companies of this class demonstrate the ability to take on risky innovative projects and easily cope with serious difficulties that arise during their implementation (Fig. 1). However, a project manager in such a company does not necessarily focus only on the effective implementation of leadership and the application of the necessary tools and technologies for this. It is aimed at the creative search for non-trivial ways to eliminate difficulties. In other words, the PM acts on the principle of leverage, showing how effective the company's actions are in creating or intercepting profitable opportunities, as well as how optimally it uses its intellectual capital. Class 5 companies are able to confidently undertake risky projects and successfully complete them in a complex and volatile business world thanks to the professionalism and outstanding creative capabilities of the staff, an optimally organized management system, an autonomous culture and a high level of interaction with the external environment. In an autonomous culture, it is the closest joint efforts of project managers and executors with a responsible attitude, competence and motivation that will determine the success or, conversely, the failure of the persistent efforts of the organization to keep the company "on the crest of the wave".

Successful project management of the 21st century requires brilliant intellectual abilities and an appropriate level of competence in order to optimally cope with the difficulties that arise during the implementation of the project. Difficulties may arise in a variety of areas of project implementation: there may be a failure in the technological chain, there may be problems with meeting the needs of joint project implementers or with supplies. While the mechanisms for successfully managing the emerging difficulties of the external environment are already well established, little attention is still paid to the development and improvement of creative skills to such problems.

Robinson (2000) argues that the new style of leadership—transformative leadership—is implemented according to the following principle: ? To enable individuals and companies to prosper on the brink of chaos by inspiring the innovation and creativity that is essential for the development of a new product, new technologies, and even new business management models that can give a stable advantage in a new competitive economy. You can lead in this way with fantastic foresight and fascinate everyone with clear formulations of the secret of successful management. At the same time, with this style of leadership, it is imperative to lead in this way. take into account the valuable suggestions of like-minded staff, inspired by the desire to show maximum energy to achieve success and serve for the benefit of the company and customers?

It is obvious that transformative leadership uses competence in dealing with environmental difficulties; In order to work effectively in today's chaotic and unpredictable world, a project manager cannot do without constant professionalism in everything (Jaafari, 2002). Simply put, the skill of a project manager lies not only in the ability to clearly formulate an effective strategy that will optimally cope with all the difficulties that arise during the implementation of the project. He must also be able to understand and minimize the complexities of the external environment in time, i.e. apply appropriate measures at the management level to reduce the riskiness of the business situation. This tactic is very flexible and, adapting to the difficulties of the external environment, reflects the essence of the project: to inspire project participants and give them the opportunity to successfully implement energetic and impressive ideas or entire projects that will bring appropriate benefits to investors and joint project participants.

We offer a creative analytical management model in accordance with the philosophy of transformative leadership, the provisions of which empower the manager to lead the organization and the implementation of risky projects.

This portends a tremendous change in the development of management from the now usual practice of preliminary study of a standard set of techniques and methods for applying the so-called best management technology to truly competent management not only of the project, but also of combating the complexities of the external environment.

Thus, the optimal approach to solving project problems should be based on the professional competence of the manager, who takes into account the scale of the complexities of the external environment, fixes the difficulties of project management and uses a flexible system of management methods. Creative and analytical thinking skills are the foundation of transformative leadership.


In this article, we use the term "model" in relation to the basic approaches or philosophical belief system used in training programs for professionals (professional development) and in programs for obtaining skills in planning and managing projects, programs and employees (professional training). When applying the parameters 1) "complexity of the external environment" and 2) - the potential ability of the manager to reduce the risk arising in problem situations (including in relations with partners) - we managed to build 4 types of project management models (Fig.2): (1) ad-hoc model; (2) bureaucratic model; (3) regulatory model; and (4) a creative-reflective model (Jaafari, 2002).

This approach allows us to understand whether modern project management models are able to take into account the complex composition of society. In addition, such an approach is necessary to understand how the methods of professional development and training of the modern type of manager reflect the dynamics of such a complex society. In essence, this classification reflects the development of project management over time and its qualitatively new content due to the increasing set of difficult situations that arise both in the external environment and within the project team, within the company.

Type I: AD-hoc Model

This approach was typical when UM was not considered systemic, and when companies tended to apply random methods to achieve their goals. At a time when the design difficulties and the difficulties of the external environment were insignificant, projects could be considered a departmental initiative. At that time, informal management of the project could be carried out by any employee who did not even have the appropriate competence in managing the severity of conflict with the external environment.

Most of the employees in those days fell (and some still do) in the position of project management by coincidence, only because they had some technical knowledge in the field of project implementation. In most cases, their usual practice was the authoritarian use of their professional experience and intuition, as well as some "fixation" on the technical aspects of project management, as the only important ones, because only in this they could show their competence.

The type I model is vulnerable in conflict situations. Whenever there was an unforeseen failure in the functioning of the project, or the cost and timing of its implementation were adjusted, the search for the culprit began, which, as a rule, ended in dirty and protracted lawsuits. The main premise in this methodology was the assumption that the external project environment would remain unchanged until the end of its implementation, or that its change would be known in advance, and this would be taken into account at the initial stage.

Typically, such a PM model lacks any formal systems and/or discussion of the progress of the project by its competent participants. Most of the decisions and the corresponding rules and regulations are made on the run, and decisions are usually made by different people, mainly those who have a better sense of the situation.

Type 1 model works in the following situations: 1) when the difficulties of the external environment are insignificant; 2) when the project itself is simple enough and all its participants can be equally responsible for its implementation; 3) when there is sufficient experience in the implementation of such projects. In Fig. Figure 3 shows the limitations of this model.

Type 2: Bureaucratic model

This model of project implementation is often used by many enterprises of the public sector of the economy and is the next step on the "path of evolution of the PM". Its formation was dictated by the need for a response to a series of impressive failed projects that put into practice the first model, despite the significant difficulties that arose during the implementation of projects. Many companies tried to achieve the final result by tightening bureaucratic control and administrative penalties, using too carefully worked out technological chains, conducting strict accounting of the parameters of project implementation and its technological maintenance.

A typical feature of projects is, rather, total bureaucratic control, rather than the optimal process of managing them, and this approach leads to both unnecessary complication and, conversely,  of the management policy being pursued. Both occur either because of the manager's inability to reduce the difficulties of the external environment to an optimal minimum, or because of his inflexible administration policy.

We believe that project managers of this type tend to resist innovation and do not pay due attention to the difficulties of the external environment, interfering with their usual routine administration practices and violating their freedom of action. In the eternal search for stability, they lean towards a totalitarian team management methodology. The thought that change poses a threat to their administrative power or could somehow disrupt their conventional technological order terrifies them. Such a management model needs a much more serious improvement in the methods of leadership and control than the practice of classical administration. Most managers who use such methods work on projects without thinking about their essence.

When using this model, as well as in the case of the first model, the manager's ability to minimize the complexities of the external environment leaves much to be desired; the model "works" only if the design difficulties and the complexities of the external environment are kept within the framework of a low or medium level (Fig. 3).

Type 3: Normative model

This type includes a modern (the so-called best practical) model of project management with a level of professionalism of type A - formalist-bureaucratic in nature and using universal databases (the model of the Industrial Revolution, covering the professionalization of both medieval trade unions and the professions of top managers of the 20th century). This definition of the normative model was given by Lester (Lester, 1994), who took as a basis the work of Sean (Schon, 1983) and Fish (1995) (Table 1).

This model works perfectly in cases where the difficulties of the external environment almost do not interfere with the course of the project, or the manager is able to level them in time. It is rational to use the type 3 model only if the external environment is stable enough, which makes it possible to properly plan the system of activities and business processes necessary for the successful implementation of the project. Most of the published methods of professional management are based on this model. Despite the fact that the type 3 model allows you to qualitatively eliminate design difficulties, its ability to eliminate the difficulties of the external environment is limited (Fig. 3). Handbooks and manuals on UM contain a lot of specific examples of failed projects in the field of software, the creation of new integrated products and technologies, organizational transformations.

Type 4: Creative-reflective model

The Type 4 model is well suited for managing projects that tend to be conceived and implemented in an environment of general confusion and instability. Its successful completion depends on the professional ability of the manager to reduce the pressure difficulties of the external environment to the optima


and even manage to succeed in an environment of general chaos. The success of this model depends on the principles of self-organization, good intuition and competence of all who find themselves in one project "harness". In such a model, professionals will be only those with brilliant business qualities, responsible and highly qualified workers who quickly adapt to changes in public life. Their powers are much broader than the usual rational approach to management; taking into account all the emerging project difficulties and problems of the external environment, they are able to independently make non-standard decisions to eliminate them, using creative ideas and non-normative approaches.

Geyer (1998) gives the following characteristics to such professionals:

They are fully aware that their model is expertly dependent, in other words, they are open to receiving new information from colleagues working on other models; they will draw on all their experience to at least generally understand how their past living conditions, subsequent socialization, and ultimate psychological type influence the formation of their own behavior patterns.
They are able to understand in time that their leadership model will not always work effectively, because everything changes over time; they also understand that management tactics need to be continuously improved as new information becomes available or is actively used;
Realizing that their models are also vulnerable to problems, they are more likely to improve the system of various methods to cope with many problem situations, rather than pedantically develop a single model acceptable to their style of work.
Lester (1994) refers this type of professional to model B. Table 1 presents the entertaining results of his comparison of two models: normative (A) and creative-reflexive (B).

Project managers of the new generation "hone" their professionalism all their lives, are distinguished by the ability to make decisions and act independently, believe in common ideals and follow strict ethical standards.


In an age of instability and chaos, the requirements for the quality of management are growing especially rapidly. We offer a progressive creative and reflective model of PM, which, in our opinion, is best suited to combat the emerging difficulties of the external environment. However, this model is not widely known, and modern approaches to PM are limited to the conservative use of existing rational and typical (normative) methods provided by a mass of methodological literature and appropriate techniques.

As already noted, the normative approach is not able to cope with the difficulties of the external environment. As a consequence, in the conditions of unstable and uncontrolled reality, there is an urgent need to develop a creative-reflective model of PM, which uses a huge theoretical experience in this process. In order to develop a creative and reflective model of pm, it is necessary to apply the complex, concerted efforts of various organizations, such as those that led to the creation of the Institute of Environmental Difficulties in Santa Fe in the second half of the twentieth century. It is for this reason that we support international cooperation and its integration under the auspices of the International Council for the Development of the TM.


It is impossible not to agree that the growing pace of change in the modern world generates chaos and instability of external conditions. We offer a system model for companies whose management capabilities directly depend on the company's position in the market, intellectual capital (competent specialists), culture, type of economic system and business nature. Classification includes: Class I – cautious; Class 2 – focused; Class 3 – Responsible; Class 4 – potentially capable of many things and Class 5 – creative, dynamic, which demonstrate high capabilities in the implementation of risky projects and the ability to take control of risky business situations.

However, project management in such a company does not necessarily focus only on indicators of management effectiveness and the application of a certain system of technologies and measures. Its main feature is the creative search for non-traditional ways to control external difficulties. Thus, the capabilities of the PM are determined by how skillfully and deftly the company can create or intercept promising opportunities, as well as use the intellectual abilities of its employees to optimally implement them.

Class V companies have an enviable confidence that they are able to take on risky projects and quickly achieve successful results in a rapidly changing world.

We tried to argue as convincingly as possible that creative and reflective companies in the development and successful implementation of risky projects are vital to a qualitatively new management model, which will help them increase their chances of success in the competition. This model is very different from traditional management practices and technology. The key dominant here is the company's ability to optimally study the market and implement risky projects that are vital for balancing "on the crest of the wave" in the competitive environment of the modern world.

In the age of instability and growing difficulties in the external environment, the techniques and methods of traditional rational "management" (the so-called regulatory model) are incapable, and the leadership position is occupied by a creative and analytical model that can ensure the company's competitiveness in harsh market conditions. At the same time, some provisions of this management model still need further research and development.

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