Evaluation of how project type affects the choice of management approach and whether there are significant differences in practice among project types

Date: 06/10/2018

Prepared by: Majed Abdeen

Evaluation of the literature shows that increasingly, management of projects is being adapted to fit both the project and the organisation. In my experience, this has also been true. Most of my experience has been in the Software Development sector, and in the Telecom sector. I noticed differences in the Project Management approach for each project type in the Software sector. For instance, the method I chose for managing Data Warehouse projects was different to the method I used for GIS projects. Telecom projects were something completely different again. For this reason, I strongly agree that “One Size Does Not Fit All (Projects)”.

I believe that Frameworks and Standards, which provide general guidance and best practice, allow us to approach projects taking their uniqueness into consideration when designing and managing the project.

Methodology, on the other hand, provides us with steps or rules to follow, and are therefore less flexible, adhering to the concept "One Size Fits All".


Since Project Management is new as a discipline and profession, the literature considers that all projects are similar; “On-Size-Fits-All”. When we think about the project, we must consider the many factors which make then unique, such as project types; goals; risks; size; and environments. Thus, Project Managers must consider that “One Size Does Not Fit All” (A. J. Shenhar 2001, 394).

Organisational classification

Organisations do not operate in a vacuum; (A. J. Shenhar 2001, 395) notes that they are susceptible to environmental factors. Burns and Stalker (1961) classified organisations, based on their environments, into two categories:

· Mechanistic organisations, which are most appropriate for stable conditions, and Organic organisations, which are suited to changing conditions (Burns and Stalker, 1961, p.105)

Since organisations are affected by environmental factors, consequently projects are shaped by their organisation, impacting how the project is managed.

Scholars have attempted to classify projects, using two different approaches based on their type or subject area, and their characteristics or dimensions.

Dimension Classifications

Shenhar began by classifying projects based on their levels of technological uncertainty and system complexity (Shenhar, 2001, p. 394); an additional two dimensions were added by Dvir, Sadeh and Malach-Pines (2006), who felt that novelty, and pace, should also be considered in any classification scheme. This was used to create the framework below, which project managers can use to guide them when making decisions about which approach to use when managing their project (Shenhar et al, 2002):

1. Technological uncertainty

Shenhar (2001, p. 394) considers technological uncertainty to be the extent to which new or previously existing technology is used in the product produced by the project. Low- and Medium-Tech projects use mature technologies, with low levels of uncertainty. In contrast, High-tech and Super High-Tech projects make significant use of new technologies, which have significantly higher uncertainty.

2. Complexity of system scope

Shenhar (2001, p. 399) identified complexity as an important consideration in distinguishing projects. The complexity of the system scope was subdivided into three types; Assembly projects, which have least complexity, as they deal with only one component or a collection of components combined into a single unit. System projects have greater complexity, as they deal with collections of elements which interact within a single product; system projects can have collections of sub-systems performing together. Array projects - also known as programs - have the greatest complexity, as they are composed of a series of systems, which work together, although they are not co-located geographically.

3. Novelty and Pace

Novelty defines how new the product is to its potential users, while Pace involves the urgency of the project; how critical the time is for each goal. Shenhar et al. (2002) note that "The same goal with different time constraints may require different project structures and different management attention."

Project Classification

While Shenhar classified projects based on their dimensions, Besner & Hobbs (2012, p. 24) categorized projects into four major types:

· Type 1 Projects: Business and Financial Services

· Type 2 Projects: Engineering and Construction (E&C)

· Type 3 Projects: IT and Telecom

· Type 4 Projects: Software Development

However, this is not the only classification; Lock (2013, pp. 6-8) has offered an alternative.

Thus, we can see clearly that the approach of the early days of project management, where all projects were considered to be similar, is obviously no longer applicable when evaluating projects, and the methods used to manage them.


We must also take into account risks, or known-unknowns, and uncertainties, which are unknown-unknowns (Lechler et al. p.59). Risks can be positive (opportunities) or negative; the project must be managed so as to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise. The level of uncertainty experienced will vary with project type. As highlighted by the framework produced by Shenhar et al. (2002), technological uncertainties are significant, but they are certainly not the only uncertainty which will be encountered. Dvir et al. (2006) note that "project execution can be seen as a process aimed at uncertainty reduction".

Comparing Practice between Project Types

Since there are different types of organisations, and different types of projects, which will deal with different types of uncertainties, it is logical that there will be differences in practice. Besner measured and compared practice among different types of projects. He found patterns based on project types:

· Type 1 Projects: Business and Financial Services

· These projects tend to be smaller, they are internal to the company, are less international, and often take place in smaller organizations

· Type 2 Projects: Engineering and Construction (E&C)

· These projects tend to be larger, better defined, significantly more complex, and are often executed for external customers (Besner, 2012, p.36). While they are also less innovative, they have a high number of disciplines involved.

· Type 3 Projects: IT and Telecom

· These projects tend to take place in larger organisations.

· Type 4 Projects: Software Development

· These projects tend to be smaller, but have a significantly larger international component, while the number of disciplines involved in the project tends to be low.

Based on his research, Besner (2012, p. 39) concluded that the patterns of practice he identified "provide strong support for the idea that different types of projects are managed differently."


Besner's conclusion is supported by other literature. The Project Management Institute observes that the Project Manager is responsible for deciding on which approaches are suitable for the project on which they are working; "good practice does not mean that the knowledge, skills, and processes should always be applied uniformly on all projects". This is a growing trend; the latest publication of the PMBOK includes best practice guidance for tailoring the project management approach used to the specific project being worked on.


Besner, C & Hobbs, B. 2012. "An Empirical Identification of Project Management Toolsets and a Comparison Among Project Types." Project Management Journal 24-46.

Dvir, D., Sadeh, A. & Malach-Pines, A. 2006. "Projects and project managers: the relationship between project managers’ personality, project types, and project success." Project Management Journal 37 (5): 36–48. Accessed 10 03, 2018. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/project-managers-personality-types-success-2549.

Lechler, Thomas G., Barbara H. Edington, and Ting Gao. 2012. "Challenging Classic Project Management: Turning Project Uncertainties Into Business Opportunities." Project Management Journal 59-69.

Lock, Dennis. 2013. Project Management. England: Gower Publishing Company.

PMBOK5. 2013. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 5th. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMBOK6. 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Shenhar, A., Dvir, D., Lechler, T., & Poli, M. 2002. "One size does not fit all—true for projects, true for frameworks." PMI® Research Conference. Seattle, Washington. Newtown Square: Project Management Institute. Accessed 10 03, 2018. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/fit-all-true-projects-frameworks-1949.

Shenhar, Aaron J. 2001. "One Size Does Not Fit All Projects: Exploring Classical Contingency Domains." 394-414. MANAGEMENT SCIENCE©.