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This chapter is from the book

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
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