Report from IRNOP Project research conference in Melbourne Australia

The conference took place in the RMIT University located in central Melbourne with the theme “A skilled hand and a cultivated mind”. It was great to meet more than 100 project researcher friends from all over the world. I especially liked the for IRNOP new format, with 3-4 short summaries of research results followed by inter-panel discussion and dialogue with all participants.

How it then the status of the project management research? This was one of the questions keynote speaker Professor Jonas Söderlund discussed.  The citations for project papers are going up. Project management papers are the most cited papers in Human Relations and in Organization Studies. The research does good due to the projectification when more societies, organizations and people need to understand projects as forms, contexts, and perspectives. Here research gives contrasting critical views. Jonas stressed that we can do better by finding the relevant questions and working with them as well as going back to the early research in the field to build history and shape a brighter future. Jonas speech was really inspiring and triggered a lot of discussions and ways forward for IRNOP as well as research collaboration across disciplines.

Some key takeaways for me

  • The Metro tunnel project in Melbourne makes the ambition of the railtunnel västlänken in Göteborg look small in comparison with its stretch and 5 big unique stations, going right through central Melbourne. The project manager and keynote speaker Michael Kalinowski talked about this megaproject and explained that the key challenge is not technical it is getting the cooperation and communication to work across the silos of the different companies. They run the project as a consortium and have worked a lot with stakeholder communication and management, Michael estimated that 70% of the work for the leaders responsible for each station is stakeholder related. The stakeholder management seems successful based on the people in Melbourne I talked to during the week. Causing a lot of disturbance but is needed for Melbourne was the most common thing stated. A project that have not been so successful with stakeholder management according to keynote speaker Professor Stuart Clegg is the West Connex motorway project in Sydney that seems to have the same level of resistance towards it as Västlänken in Göteborg.
  • Associate Professor Anette Hallin and Associate Dean Eva Maaninen-Olsson showed research results from a waste management company where they had found a lot if initiatives that were semi-temporary. Temporary in nature like projects but in reality, using mindset, steering and communication as a part of the line organisation. This got me thinking to a lot of smaller projects/assignments carried out within line units, many with high value for the company but clearly influenced by the company’s linework. This will also happen when using scaled agile that influence the organisational set-up and the assignments become semi-temporary using agile ongoing “development engines”. Semi-temporary is a good term to describe what is going on and thinking about what the implications. Another interesting thing about the waste management company is that they have a live-feed so you can follow one of the employees out working collecting waste by truck- this has become popular to follow.
  • Professor Tomas Blomquist held a dialogue around a paper discussing sustainability and projects. 97% of the researchers agree that the high carbon dioxide levels are causing the global warming. Only 47% of the politicians think the same. To what percentage do we need to get for the politicians’ beliefs before the problem is focused on. Tomas discussed how we can organize projects to deal with these wicked problems (difficult situations with unclear solutions) to work with climate change. To illustrate the situation Tomas compared the climate change with the well-known lunar program from the 1960s. The lunar program was the most ambitious program of its time with a clearly defined problem, technical challenges and driven nationally. The climate change is ill-defined, ambiguous and complex worked on by distributed actors with conflicting priorities and interests.
  • PHD Candidate Erfan Hoseini had researched risk management in the avoid flooding program in Netherlands (60% of the land is under sea level). As these projects need to have complete risk registers to pass the program gates it is a good source of research. Of 1097 identified risks 127 happened. The most common risks where organizational and due to environment (weather, ground and underground..). The environment risks also had the biggest impact.
  • The executives who act sponsors for projects were to a large extent unaware that their increasing job demands by applying unrealistic expectations, deadlines, budgets or other constraints causes stress problems for the project manager like fatigue, burn-out, exhaustion or other symptoms on stress. The sponsors who changed behaviour and had more frequent feedback sessions with the project manager not only helped the project managers to work effectively, it also improved communication and the transparency in project issues – resulting in a reduction in occupational stress. So according to the research by PHD candidate Ken Farnes, regular meetings formal and informal between the sponsor and project manager is a good way to reduce the stress for the project manager.
  • There where two papers on scaled agile, changing the whole organizational set-up to work agile with development. The SAFE Scaled Agile Framework is the most commonly used method followed by Scrum of scrums according to research.
  • Professor Carl Marnewick has studied a global bank. They had shifted the work towards agile in all IT development for around 6000 persons. The results are that they deliver it solutions much faster and with higher relevance to the customers, users. Another effect is that there is a clear trace from the strategic themes to the work carried out in the development teams. The way to get this to work is through the Program Increment planning events that took place every twelve weeks. On the team level each team strives to be autonomous. They get a ranking based on previous deliveries and thus gets more or less checks from the outside. As this is measured in real time their ranking changes up and down.
  • Associate Dean Yvan Petit had studied risk management in a agile defence project that included software and hardware. He has realised that in the agile way of working in the project included explicit risk uncertainty management parts like burn-down charts and issue boards but the main parts in agile are implicit like integrations and early testing. So the agile way of working for a project is more a means to work with uncertainty than try to mitigate it.


A big thanks to Professor Derek Walker and the conference organising committee that arranged the conference in such a warm and informal way.

Mats Ragnarsson Senior Consultant Wenell Management and member of the Swedish Project Academy.

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