Towards a Theory of Project Management
Professor J Rodney Turner
Professor of Project Management, Centre for Project Management, University of
The view has been expressed that one thing inhibiting the acceptance of Project Management
as a management discipline is the lack of a comprehensive theory, and what theory that does
exist is dominated by the systems perspective, which makes Project Management more a
branch of engineering than of management.
Further, the existing theories are based on a large
number of assumptions based on empirical evidence, making the resultant theory only as
sound as the empirical evidence on which the assumptions are based.
The assumptions also
use complex concepts requiring further definition, making the theory only as sound as those
In this paper, I propose a theory of project management based on five simple,
The premises require no assumptions and use simple, natural concepts
requiring no further definition (or in one case concepts deriving from an earlier premise).
From the first three premises I show that the concept of project life-cycle, project
management life-cycle, all nine of the PMI® Body of Knowledge areas, and some other
project management functions are an inherent part of Project Management.
I show that the
tools required to manage some of the knowledge areas and functions must have certain
I show that some tools, such as break-down structure, are inherent; some,
such as Earned Value Analysis, can be derived from other management disciplines; others,
such as Configuration Management and bar-charts, while not inherent have the necessary,
inherent features to help manage the related knowledge area or function; while yet others,
such as Critical Path Analysis, can only be justified by further assumptions or empirical
I also show that eight roles follow inherently from the three premises.
premise defines the project-based organization, programmes and portfolios of projects, and
the fifth introduces other stakeholders.
The theory presented does not preclude the existing
theories, such as the systems theory.
They can be shown to be additional perspectives, also
inherent in the first three premises.
They can provide valuable additional insights, but they
are not an essential part of the theory.