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Bridging the practitioner-academic divide



Project Management (PM) is a dynamic and fast-evolving management discipline that has experienced significant growth and acceptance over the last few decades. As the field transitions from its engineering and construction origins, it has become a more generally applicable management discipline relevant to all manner of business organizations. At least, that is my personal perspective of the field, and as I have spent my entire career working on projects, it seems self-evident to me—no referencing necessary. Writing as a consultant or industry thought-leader, I could legitimately move on to more insightful, if not well-substantiated, thoughts about the state of PM. However, as an academic, I am uneasy and want to find some references to justify even these introductory statements. So right there, in the first paragraph, we encounter the practitioner-academic divide.
Project Management
Institute Australia
Conference 2017
29-30 May 2017
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Research and Practice
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Citation: Taborda L. J. 2018.
Bridging the practitioner-
academic divide.
Management Institute
Australia Conference 2017
UTS ePRESS, Sydney:
NSW, pp. 1-7. https://
Published by UTS ePRESS |
Bridging the practitioner-academic divide
Louis J. Taborda
Project Management Program, School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney. louis.taborda@
Name: Project Management Institute Australia Conference (PMIAC) 2017
Location: Sydney, Australia
Dates: 29th and 30th May 2017
Host Organisation: Project Management Institute
Published: 30/04/2018
Project Management (PM) is a dynamic and fast-evolving management discipline that
has experienced significant growth and acceptance over the last few decades. As the field
transitions from its engineering and construction origins, it has become a more generally
applicable management discipline relevant to all manner of business organizations.
At least, that is my personal perspective of the field, and as I have spent my entire career
working on projects, it seems self-evident to me—no referencing necessary. Writing as a
consultant or industry thought-leader, I could legitimately move on to more insightful, if not
well-substantiated, thoughts about the state of PM. However, as an academic, I am uneasy and
want to find some references to justify even these introductory statements. So right there, in
the first paragraph, we encounter the practitioner-academic divide. But more on that later.
What provides evidence of the growth of the PM discipline is the increasing membership in
professional associations, with the Project Management Institute (PMI) now reaching over half
a million members globally (PMI 2017a). This is combined with studies predicting a growth in
demand for PM professionals that is expected to reach 33% in the next decade (PMI 2017b).
This trajectory has resulted in PM becoming an established course in many universities and
tertiary institutions as graduates are trained to fill the jobs of the future. And as a result, there is
an increasing need for engagement between PM academics and practitioners – especially when
combined with the research interests in this burgeoning management field.
Academics effectively play twin roles: they are at once researchers acquiring knowledge, and
educators imparting that knowledge to students. Although balancing these roles can result in an
uneasy tension about which aspect to prioritize, they are both better served by a rich interaction
DECLARATION OF CONFLICTING INTEREST The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. FUNDING The author(s) received no
financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
with the practitioner base. Where poor engagement between practitioners and researchers can
limit the quality and relevance of research, it becomes more problematic when universities are
also responsible for training students – potentially educating them on impractical theories.
Interactions between academics and practitioners should form a virtuous cycle combining
research, knowledge sharing and the education of future generations of project professionals.
e study and understanding of how projects are managed in the wild can then be distilled
into knowledge that is used to educate students better and prepare them with the skills and
capabilities required by society. Practitioners deliver the projects that change our world,
whereas researchers develop the theoretical foundations that oer insights into PM practices,
with students learning about their real-world application and acting as accelerants, bringing
new energy and enthusiasm to the profession.
at is good in theory anyway. e reality, as often is the case, can be a little dierent.
Left to their own devices, PM practitioners and academics tend to separate into insular
communities that are content to work independently of each other. With limited interactions
between the two camps, an underlying suspicion can emerge that discounts the value of
each other’s perspective. Such a disconnect between research and practice is not new, nor
is it limited to PM. e (academic) management literature has lamented the situation and
discussed the challenge of bridging the practitioner-academic divide (Lilien 2011; McNatt,
Glassman & Glassman 2010). e sentiment is captured in this quote:
e big problem with management science models is that managers practically never
use them. ere have been a few applications, of course, but the practice is a pallid
picture of the promise. (Little 1970)
Although PM practitioners may not agree that practice represents the “pallid picture”
described by Little, personal observations and discussions with both practitioners and
academics conrm that such a divide exists and hinders information exchange between the
parties. And though each of us has a unique story to illustrate the dierent biases at play, the
issue deserves more exposure in the PM domain. So, in the interests of greater understanding
of the dierent perspectives of each camp, I recount here my personal experiences (see
Personal Perspective on page 5). It was these experiences, after all, which led me, as Chair of
the Inaugural Academic Program at the Project Management Institute Australia Conference
(PMIAC17), to introduce the Call for Papers as follows:
As a management discipline based upon execution and delivery, PM professionals are
more likely to be inuenced by the experiences of their industry peers and press than
any formal research ndings. It is interesting to ponder:
How many project managers read research papers on the subject?
ere can be a disconnect between researchers looking to contribute to improving
PM practices, and PM professionals working at the coalface. Similarly, PM educators
responsible for developing the next generation of project professionals can benet from
the real-world experience of PM practitioners and closer links to industry.
e PMIAC17 Academic Program aims to provide a forum where academics
and practitioners can exchange views and explore opportunities to collaborate on
meaningful research. e end result will improve the quality and relevance of PM
research while exposing practitioners to the frontiers of PM knowledge.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
29-30 May 20172
Achieving the virtuous cycle described earlier requires a catalyst to help these otherwise
siloed groups forge the necessary relationships that can help advance the burgeoning PM
profession. is is where professional bodies have a signicant role to play, connecting their
membership of PM professionals with the academics seeking to understand the real-world
complexities of the discipline better. PMI has globally championed this cause, and the six
Australian PMI chapters initiated the Academic Outreach National Project in 2016 with the
goal to improve engagement between practitioners and academia. Engagement best practices
were identied, developed and shared, as dierent chapters had varying degrees of interaction
with local PM academics. Our focus and hope were that PMIAC17 could be the meeting
point where all stakeholders in the Australian PM community could connect with one another
and actively engage in building bridges.
e PMI Academic Group was key to the success of that mission, as it agreed to run
its regional workshop for PM educators as a part of PMIAC17’s Academic Program. e
PMI Global Accreditation Centre’s team, responsible for the accreditation of PM degree
programs worldwide, invited academics from universities across Australia and subsidized their
attendance at the conference. e rst day of the Academic Program comprised presentations
on Best Practices for PM Degree Programs, and panel discussions on topics including
Establishing Industry Involvement in PM Programs and Working with Student Capstone
e second day of the PMIAC17’s Academic Program comprised presentations of research
papers. ese were selected following a double-blind review process undertaken by academics
and supported by PMI volunteers who coordinated and administered the reviews using the
ExOrdo submissions management tool. e nine papers published in this Special Issue of the
Project Management Research and Practice journal represent the PMIAC17 proceedings.
Social network analysis (SNA) proved to be a vibrant area of PM research, with three
papers from Kenneth Chung’s research team at the University of Sydney. It was pleasing that
these papers were co-authored with young PM academics, with the paper by Fares, Chung,
Passey, Longman and Valenijn (2017) applying SNA techniques to an integrated healthcare
project and examining the stakeholder interactions in order to gain insights that help
improve the delivery of health services. is collaboration between researchers and healthcare
professionals shows the potential of new SNA techniques, which Anichenko, Chung and
Crawford (2017) propose to apply to the PM domain itself. ey provide a literature review
to underpin a study of project team interactions that may potentially be able to predict project
performance. To complete the theme, Chung and Du (2017) study inuence and engagement
in a project and propose that SNA techniques can complement the traditional static
approaches of stakeholder analysis and could oer useful measures of stakeholder engagement
during project execution.
Dierent aspects of project organizations were covered by a further three papers, with
Hadjinicolaou, Dumrak and Mostafa (2017) reporting on their quantitative research based on
a survey of project portfolio managers and look for correlations between portfolio sizes and
the adoption of PPM practices. Ranasinghe, Gharaie and Gilbert (2017) provide a literature
review to support their argument for adopting a PM methodology in the Australian local
government context characterized by increased outsourcing that reduces technical expertise
but increases the reliance on project management. To round out the project organizations
theme, Liu and Chen (2017) consider longitudinal data from a construction business to
investigate the how a project-based organization scales its business and the relationship this
may have to project size and delivery risk.
Bridging the practitioner-academic divide
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
29-30 May 20173
Eciencies in mining projects were the focus of two papers, with Skerman and Todhunter
(2017) providing the background and literature review to support a study into an appropriate
framework that can improve project outcomes in the Australian coal-mining industry.
Meanwhile, Milanzi and Bond-Barnard (2017) describe the results of a qualitative study
exploring the challenges and implications of centralized procurement on projects in South
African mining organizations.
Finally, these proceedings come to a tting close with Kenley and Hareld (2017) looking
at the transfer of PM knowledge in Open Standards projects which see academics actively
engaged as “practitioners” and supplying the lessons learned. e blurring of roles evident in
this paper is a timely reminder that the practitioner-academic divide is not the dichotomy it
rst appears. is is especially true of PM knowledge where the ubiquity of projects means
that academics may also be required to be practicing project managers for certain initiatives.
e richness of PM lies in the fact that everyone knows something about how projects
work, but we also know we can do a much better job delivering them. So it will not be
unusual to nd ourselves applying both practitioner and academic perspectives concurrently,
operating at both ends of the “divide” depending on the task we are performing. And with that
realization, there seems little to prevent academics and practitioners from coming together to
advance the art, and develop the science of Project Management.
Personal Perspective
I conclude this discussion of the roles, or perceptions, of PM practitioners and academics with
a personal perspective of my career - as what might be termed a “pracademic.” I had been a
project professional with over 15 years of industry experience when I commenced my Ph.D.
studies, and the interaction on both sides of the practitioner-academic divide has allowed me
to observe what are some apparently common views regarding research.
A major portion of my career has involved in the adoption, evangelizing and – less
ennobling – the marketing and sales of services relating to what could loosely be termed PM
best practice. is involved positioning the wares of a well-known IT company in the business,
as having some critical technologies or knowledge that was not freely available to others and
which could only be shared as part of a purchase or consulting engagement. Executing the sale
involved setting up certain individuals as gurus on a specic topic, who would then publish
whitepapers for the company and do the rounds giving special lectures and workshops. For my
sins, I was such a “manufactured guru” who was promoted and wheeled out by the marketing
team to instruct major clients and advise sales prospects on the benets of our solution. Long
before my Ph.D. was completed, I always believed that I had some valuable experiences and
even knowledge to share – but it was really not necessary and optional in the role.
Yet, the carefully constructed presentations, glossy marketing brochures and, more recently,
engaging websites are what represent knowledge in the business world. I realized this clearly
when the marketing team began to create their own material devoid of any input from any
subject matter experts in the company. I became increasingly uncomfortable when the names
of techniques and whole practices could be changed to provide some dierentiation from
a competitor’s oerings or to give the appearance of something new and innovative. e
resulting Tower of Babel was not of major concern to businesses, whether vendor or customer,
as it merely meant that there could be product comparisons created which gave the illusion of
market analysis with detailed comparison charts that guided the cognoscenti to make the best
decision for their business.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
29-30 May 20174
Knowledge (like alternative facts) can be made up, packaged and distributed as a by-product
of a marketing campaign – and then be forgotten and replaced just as quickly. is articial,
“latest thing” knowledge does not have to wait for any real discovery or progress, it only
requires an understanding of the customers pain-points and a clever catch-phrase or product
name which promises to address it. Add a compelling campaign which attracts prospective
customers and a charismatic account manager who targets key dates in the purchasing cycle
(around the tax year), and you have a winning sales formula.
at is what any burgeoning market can lead to a frenzy of marketing activity that serves
only to confuse and confound the industry. And while there are apparently good people, like
my younger self, working and learning in such organizations, the business goals are not driven
by knowledge acquisition, so it will be the best sales campaign or team that wins the day (or
more appropriately, the customer) rather than the march of knowledge.
What is disconcerting and indeed disturbing, is that the marketing hype works so well.
Armed with the latest, cleverly crafted buzz-words and with the help of marketing budgets
that enable generously catered seminars and industry networking events, consultants and
technology vendors can get the attention of practitioners, or more importantly, the decision-
makers in any organization they target. Sophisticated presentations focus on key roles in the
organization to make clear the relevance of the solution proered – to the CEO, the CTO, the
CFO and even the humble practitioner who is necessary to punch in the original information.
With clearly stated benets, customer case studies and return-on-investment calculators for
the adoption of the solution, you can sense the power that the marketeer can wield with their
weapons of mass-deception. At its worst, this is fake-knowledge creation on an industrial scale,
and it presents a clear challenge to academia.
Becoming disenchanted with my role as an industry thought-leader, I attempted to redeem
myself and chose to do a mature-age Ph.D. I undertook research on a problem-area I had
previously identied working as a Test Manager in a large telecommunications organization.
My attempts at penance proved to be somewhat naïve, and my idealistic aim of creating true
knowledge through academic research soon hit some obstacles.
So as not to risk demoralizing any prospective academics or bore the reader, I will
summarize my research challenges as follows:
1. ere was simply no literature that discussed the real-world issue, as researchers did not
yet thoroughly understand the problem. is necessitated a change in my thesis topic to
study a related problem area that academics recognized.
2. Attempts to collect data from practitioners required applying for bureaucratic ethics
approvals because questions that could be discussed over a coee needed to be reviewed
for potential risks and legal exposure as they involved invasive medical procedures.
3. A few practitioners were not willing to participate in the research, principally because
they were required to sign Informed consent forms, which made individuals nervous
about discussing their organization’s problems.
4. Finally, when the thesis was nally written up, the ndings were of only moderate
interest to my practitioner colleagues who considered the rigor of the arguments to be
implementable and certainly not as easy a read as competing marketing material.
e above issues are not insurmountable and were indeed overcome in due course, and
wiser and more experienced researchers would know there are ways to undertake research
expediently. But the challenges nonetheless demonstrate the hurdles facing academic research
and knowledge creation that do not exist for marketeers Indeed, at the end of my Ph.D.,
Bridging the practitioner-academic divide
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
29-30 May 20175
having seen how both academic and industry knowledge creation systems operate, I genuinely
wondered if doing academic research was perhaps a detriment to the development of my ideas.
is was the opposite of my original idealistic expectation that my rigorous, impartial research
would be accepted as an antidote to the clear, bias evident in the marketed solutions apparent
in business.
I was wrong – no one cared. All knowledge seemed to be equal in the eyes of the
practitioner. But how could that be, when one aspires to be thorough and impartial while the
other is focused on selling products and services?
ere is appears to be an unconscious equation that practitioners apply when assessing
knowledge, irrespective of whether that knowledge comes from consultants, vendors or
academics. Simply put, it is that business relevance, practicality and evidence of tangible results
trump the academic’s theoretical grounding, peer-reviews and comprehensive referencing. e
two sides of the equation are not mutually exclusive, but there can be a practitioner bias which
assumes they are, and that any result of academic research will necessarily be theoretical and
Academics are not without their own biases and preconceptions, one being that
practitioners are merely the raw material from which to extract knowledge which can then be
used to train and enlighten a new generation. Yet, without the strictures of a rigorous research
method, practitioners often utilize far more advanced practices than are realized by academics.
I have personally witnessed practitioners groan as an academic presented some new research
nding that was new in the literature but has been common practice for decades. Although
these practices may not appear in journal papers or have the theoretical underpinnings
academics demand, they are very real, often with well-developed constructs described in
industry papers.
Bridging the practitioner-academic divide requires both sides to understand and address
their respective biases. Although there are challenges to getting academic research accepted by
practitioners and adopted by businesses, doing so represents an opportunity to break out of a
perpetual marketing cycle which oers little in the way of knowledge advancement. Yet, while
the academic’s tools of the trade may be useful in the development of new knowledge, that
knowledge is only valuable if it is of relevance and value to practitioners.
Academics appear to me to be in an excellent position to extend their inuence if they can
borrow some of the marketer’s techniques and apply the rst rule of marketing: Know Your
Customer. Yes, this requires that practitioners be recognized as the customer, or consumer, of
academic research – not simply other academics. And it would demand deeper engagement
between academics and practitioners so that problems are understood, and the search for
solutions is a more collaborative endeavour. Finally, it would mean that any management
model or theory is tested on the basis of its practicality, adoption and acceptance by
practitioners, just as scientists must test their theories in the natural world.
On the road to this Nirvana, the role of practitioner and academic would blur, and the
distinctions dissolve until all that remained was the informed investigator motivated to
overcome the challenges facing society.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
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Anichenko, E., Chung, K. S. K., & Crawford, L. 2018. Social Network Analysis: Towards a network
perspective of expertise coordination and project team performance.
Project Management Institute
Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-11.
Chung, K. S. K., & Du, X. 2018. A social network framework for stakeholder engagement analysis.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-11.
Fares, J. Chung, K. S. K. Passey, M. Longman, J. and Valentijn, P. 2018. Analysing stakeholder
advice networks: an Australian integrated healthcare project.
Project Management Institute
Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-14.
Hadjinicolaou, N., Dumrak, J. and Mostafa, S. 2018. e study of association between organisational
portfolios and project portfolio management practices.
roject Management Institute Australia
Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-11.
Kenley, R., Hareld, T. and East, B. 2018 Transferring project management knowledge: lessons learned
in open standards projects. P
roject Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-16.
Lilien, G. L. (2011). Bridging the Academic–Practitioner Divide in Marketing Decision Models. Journal
of Marketing, 75(4), 196–210.
Little, J. D. C. (1970). Models and Managers: e Concept of a Decision Calculus. Management Science,
50(12_supplement), 1841–1853.
Liu, L. and Chen, Y. 2018. How does a project-based organization (PBO) scale its business?
Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-12. https://doi.
McNatt, D., Glassman, M., & Glassman, A. (2010). e Great Academic-Practitioner Divide: A Tale of
Two Paradigms. Global Education Journal. Retrieved from
Milanzi, M., & Bond- Barnard, T. 2018. Exploring the Eects of Centralised Procurement on Projects in
South African Matrix Mining Organisations.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-22.
PMI. (2017a). Project Management Institute. Retrieved February 4, 2018, from
PMI. (2017b). Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report | PMI. Retrieved from https://
Ranasinghe, R. Gharaie, E. & Gilbert, G. 2018. Making a case for adoption of project management
methodology for capital works projects in Australian local governments.
roject Management Institute
Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney: NSW, pp. 1-14.
Skerman, B. and Todhunter, B. 2018. Investigating coal-mining expenditure projects to increase
investment value.
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
, UTS ePRESS, Sydney:
NSW, pp. 1-10.
Bridging the practitioner-academic divide
Project Management Institute Australia Conference 2017
29-30 May 20177
... As a late-career academic working to bridge practice and academia (Taborda, 2018), I fully embrace the need to formally define what it is we project managers do and how we do it. However, as a PM practitioner, I am also challenged to keep research relevant to my colleagues operating in the trenches. ...
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Editorial for PMIAC18 Proceedings published in Project Management Research and Practice (PMRP) Journal - Opening comments from the Academic Program Chair. The justification for attending conferences can be challenging to make. There are constraints on both budgets and times while the benefits of attendance are often unclear. Some conferences can appear to be a junket, especially as the value of merely meeting peers and discussing topics of interest can be hard to quantify in financial terms alone. For academics, the justification for attending a conference often comes down to the presentation of a paper, yet there can be significant benefits that can arise from learning new perspectives at a conference. In the case of the Project Management Institute's Australian Conference held in Melbourne in May 2018 (PMIAC18), practitioners and academics were both present to share their thinking and challenge each other where appropriate. While purely research conferences have value in bringing together the tightknit community of project management (PM) academics, it is essential that we do not feel too comfortable operating in a silo. While academics work to develop the theoretical foundations of the PM discipline further, this can only legitimately be done by understanding the practitioner's experience. (PDF) Practitioners as Partners in Knowledge Creation. Available from: [accessed Jan 27 2021].
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Synopsis This paper contributes to stakeholder engagement analysis through social network theory and analytics. An integrated healthcare project was implemented in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, to improve integration and advice sharing between stakeholders of a healthcare system. The aim of this paper is to use social networks theory and methodology to examine how stakeholders (healthcare services) interact and provide professional advice to one another after the implementation of an integrated care project and to identify the correlation between social network variables and integration. Research design A whole network design was conducted, where 56 participants were asked to complete a survey questionnaire that aimed to collect information on advice relationships and examine perceived service integration in the health system. Relevance for education and practice This study demonstrates how social network methodology can inform stakeholder analysis by exploring stakeholders’ relational attributes and identifying key and marginal stakeholders. The results will assist practitioners in their interventions and strategies towards improving integrated care efforts. Main Findings The Pearson correlation results show no correlation between social network properties and perception of integration (integrated care). However, key and marginal stakeholders are identified, and the advice network structure is explored. Research Implications This information will help project leaders to engage stakeholders and identify gaps in healthcare integration projects.
(This article originally appeared in Management Science, April 1970, Volume 16, Number 8, pp. B-466–B-485, published by The Institute of Management Sciences.) A manager tries to put together the various resources under his control into an activity that achieves his objectives. A model of his operation can assist him but probably will not unless it meets certain requirements. A model that is to be used by a manager should be simple, robust, easy to control, adaptive, as complete as possible, and easy to communicate with. By simple is meant easy to understand; by robust, hard to get absurd answers from; by easy to control, that the user knows what input data would be required to produce desired output answers; adaptive means that the model can be adjusted as new information is acquired; completeness implies that important phenomena will be included even if they require judgmental estimates of their effect; and, finally, easy to communicate with means that the manager can quickly and easily change inputs and obtain and understand the outputs. Such a model consists of a set of numerical procedures for processing data and judgments to assist managerial decision making and so will be called a decision calculus. An example from marketing is described. It is an on-line model for use by product managers on advertising budgeting questions. The model is currently in trial use by several product managers.