Harnessing the capacity of a future generation of strategic decision-makers is crucial for the continuity of organisations involved in project and programme research, according to a new study co-authored by the University of Bath’s School of Management.

The research by Project X – a major research collaboration between UK universities, the Cabinet Office and Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) – provides a starting point for identifying institutions around the world involved with project and programme research.

The findings are recorded in a new report titled Project and programme research centres: Lessons for scholarship, policy and practice, published by the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered body for the project profession.

It aims is to improve awareness of the work these institutions do and clarify the different models that have been adopted around the world to facilitate collaboration between business, government and academia. These ‘knowledge ecosystems’ generate many benefits for universities and affiliated organisations.

The report breaks down the geographic distribution of institutions involved in project and programme research and provides analytical detail on their business-sector focus and research priorities. It also provides detailed case studies of four institutions to highlight the similarities and differences between them: The John Grill Institute of Project Leadership in Australia, Stanford Global Projects Center in the USA, Concept Programme in Norway, and The ESRC Complex Product Systems (CoPS) Innovation Centre, formerly in the UK.

The final report identifies a range of findings but pinpoints the following six critical factors to determining the sustained effectiveness of project and programme research centres:

  • collaboration between academia, industry and government
  • interdisciplinary work across sectors, organisations and academic fields
  • balancing long and short-term outputs
  • an entrepreneurial approach to generating funding for security and long term planning and recruitment
  • convening networks of which professional bodies such as APM can play an important role.
  • empowering the next generation of leaders in areas such as proposal writing, budget development and strategic decision-making is crucial in order to diversify leadership in these institutions and ensure long-term success. Research capability alone is not enough to sustain project and programme research.

“Project research is crucial because projects are increasingly important in all sectors and organisations. It also informs professional standards that practitioners use to assess personal, project and programme performance and to advance their professional development,” said Dr Rehema Msulwa, one of the report’s authors, from the University of Bath’s School of Management.

“In preparing this report, research participants highlighted that, as in entrepreneurial ventures, there is sometimes a tendency in big centres for those in leadership positions to stay on longer than is beneficial to the group. Empowering the next generation of leaders, however, reduces the extent to which such institutes are dependent on a single person or group of people and therefore the likelihood that without those people the institute will disintegrate. Mentorship and leadership training are therefore important to avoid an unintentional break-up of the teams and research discontinuity.”

Daniel Nicholls, research manager at APM, said: “Knowledge ecosystems generate many benefits for universities and affiliated organisations. The findings in this report have practical implications for those attempting to develop project-related institutes, as well as interested parties from the private or public sector looking to collaborate with such institutes. It also provides insight into potential collaborators doing complementary work.

“As the leading source of knowledge and insights for the project profession, APM helps to develop and promote a profession built around learning and collaboration. Research such as this advances new and existing knowledge in the delivery of projects, programmes and portfolios. I would like to thank the authors and acknowledge the support of colleagues within the Project X research initiative.”

Professor Michael Lewis is the lead academic for Project X at the University of Bath. Along with Professor Andrew Edkins at University College London he leads Theme B, which focuses on front- and back-end management practices and their influence on project performance.