Does project management need a more interdisciplinary perspective and approach?
In recent post I did about the ROI debate between the PMP vs. MBA, I conclude the post by saying, “we need to keep our options open and broaden our understanding of what a lifelong career means and the education and skills, not just schooling or certifications that will be required to thrive in it.” I’d like to discuss in detail what it means to be educated and the skill you should acquire from this education in a more broader sense. The topic of economic empowerment though education is a topic that I’m quite passionate about and resonates deeply with me.
With that being said, I think the project management field and any business management field for that matter could use a more interdisciplinary perspective and approach. This pertains to how training and education is conducted to how this perspective and approach is used in day to day work. These should never be mutually exclusive, though I often times see training and education that’s done too abstractly and unaligned with real world situations and by the same token, I see perspectives and approaches to how project managers do their work that is not done leveraging knowledge acquired from training and education.
So what is exactly meant by an by the term interdisciplinary? I think this Wikipedia definition is quite good:
Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g. a research project). It is about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them. It is related to an interdiscipline or an interdisciplinary field, which is an organizational unit that crosses traditional boundaries between academic disciplines or schools of thought, as new needs and professions have emerged.
Originally, the term interdisciplinary is applied within education and training pedagogies to describe studies that use methods and insights of several established disciplines or traditional fields of study. Interdisciplinarity involves researchers, students, and teachers in the goals of connecting and integrating several academic schools of thought, professions, or technologies – along with their specific perspectives – in the pursuit of a common task. The epidemiology of AIDS or global warming require understanding of diverse disciplines to solve neglected problems. Interdisciplinary may be applied where the subject is felt to have been neglected or even misrepresented in the traditional disciplinary structure of research institutions, for example, women’s studies or ethnic area studies.
The adjectiveinterdisciplinary is most often used in educational circles when researchers from two or more disciplines pool their approaches and modify them so that they are better suited to the problem at hand, including the case of the team-taught course where students are required to understand a given subject in terms of multiple traditional disciplines. For example, the subject of land use may appear differently when examined by different disciplines, for instance, biology, chemistry, economics, geography, and politics.
From this definition an immediate and beneficial coupling that comes to mind for the project management field would be something like integrating the discipline of business analysis or systems engineering, which is its own interdisciplinary field within engineering that looks at an engineering project from a whole systems view, and integrating it with project management.
While that would be good and the fact that I’ve been seeing such integration leads me to conclude others are agreeing with the benefits, I’d like to see even further levels of disparate disciplines being integrated with project management. Why not look at organizational structures that project managers work in from an anthropological perspective so as to better understand the cultural and physical studies that have been done on the origins of such entities as corporations and how this effects how teams, managers and executives that operate within it? Or user literature to understand team and management dysfunctions and archetypes? The permutations of new, innovative and interesting perspective and approach are infinite!
Of course the downsides would be the very small pool of people that have the ability to impart and articulate ideas from such disparate fields which requires both a depth and breadth of multiple disciplines and the ability to place them within the context of managing projects. Conversely, having project management practitioners who are able to actually take those perspectives and approaches and implement them effectively in their daily work.
This would be very hard, but I think the efforts would be worth it and if pulled off would benefit both academia and industry alike.