Learning from the Best
Studying the “actuality” of projects is exactly what I have attempted to do for more than two decades. Instead of asking: “Why don’t practitioners use what researchers know?” I have reversed the question and asked: “Why don’t researchers use what practitioners know?” In this long learning pursuit of striving to develop a “theory of practice,” I have collected firsthand data by alternately employing three different, yet complementary, approaches:
- Field studies in advanced organizations using structured research tools, particularly interviews and observations of practitioners
- Case studies and stories collected from more than 150 project managers in over 20 organizations
- Consulting work to test interim results
All of my studies were focused on the most competent practitioners affiliated with a great variety of “advanced” organizations, among them: AT&T, Du Pont, General Motors, IBM, Motorola, NASA, Procter & Gamble, Skanska, and the U.S. Air Force.
My focus on a selective sample of the best practitioners rather than using a sample representing the entire population of project managers is highly recommended by prominent authorities in management research. The common arguments for this research approach are:
- Management practitioners live in a world of extremes; therefore, population averages are meaningless to them. What they need to know is how to differentiate between good and bad managers.
- Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. Management is best learned by emulating exemplary role models.13