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New APM report on project management advises the discipline has evolved, and so should our thinking

4 March 2019

Professor Andrew Davies addresses the structure and limitations of the traditional project management model for major, complex projects in a new report from the Association of Project Management.

Management of projects

The Association of Project Management (APM) has released a new report, Project management for large, complex projects [pdf 277KB], authored by Professor Andrew Davies, Professor of the Management of Projects and Director of Research at the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management.

The report, commissioned by the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, addresses issues of the nature, purpose and application of project management and risk management, and the evolution of the discipline from the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all-approach’ to a more adaptive and flexible model. 
It was prompted by a sector need to identify a more effective way of planning and managing large, complex projects. 

The report suggests that while traditional project management has some common processes that should be applied to manage any type of project, scholars and researchers have identified and recognised there are some limitations of simple, predictable and standardised models.

The report makes the following recommendations on how project management should be applied to meet today’s increasingly complex, uncertain and fast-changing world: 

  • Strategic management of projects: this emphasises the need to manage the front end of projects, arguing that its success depends on efforts to define the requirements, governance and organisational structure; evaluate the risks; estimate the costs and schedule; manage stakeholders; and design a delivery strategy to achieve the project goals
  • Adaptive project management: researchers argue that there is no one-size-fits-all solution – the approach used must address the specific challenges facing each project. The need for project solutions tailored to the uncertainty, complexity and rate of change is even more important for large, complex infrastructure projects situated in urban areas, with many stakeholders often having conflicting objectives, needs and priorities.

Prof Davies comments:

Many infrastructure projects in the UK now recognise the need for solutions that are designed to deal with the specific challenges involved in planning and executing large, complex projects. Innovation is important in addressing the varying degrees of uncertainty that can be found within different parts of a large, complex project. Over the past decade, many of the UK’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects have abandoned traditional delivery models. 

If taken together, the strategic and adaptive approaches to project management identified in the report will offer a more effective way of planning and managing these major projects.

The APM is the chartered body for the project profession. There are over 27,000 individual members and 500 organisations participating in their Corporate Partnership Programme, making the APM the largest professional body of its kind in Europe. The APM has a broad range of research initiatives and activities and their aim is to develop and generate innovative studies that help promote a profession built around learning and collaboration. 


Prof Andrew Davies is Professor of the Management of Projects in the School of Construction and Project Management. He has published in a range of leading management journals such as California Management Review and MIT Sloan Management Review. Andrew’s research interests lie in the management and organisation of large, complex infrastructure megaprojects such as Heathrow Terminal 5 and Crossrail.