How do project managers acquire and exchange knowledge? An action research study of project managers in Australia

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This research study is based on a concern in the project management community, and Australian industry in general, about intergenerational loss of project management knowledge because of a talent exodus, resulting in a loss of capability within organisations. The results of an investigation conducted to understand how knowledge is acquired and exchanged in the delivery of projects in Australia by project managers are presented in this thesis. Two primary research questions were formed for this investigation: 1. How do project managers acquire project management knowledge?; and 2. How do project managers exchange project management knowledge? A secondary research question was developed to identify the knowledge sources which project managers use to acquire and exchange project management knowledge. The research also aims to demonstrate how a project manager’s personal behaviour, and the environment, influence how they acquire and exchange knowledge. An approach was required to separate what transpired during the acquisition and exchange of knowledge from the act of managing projects. The experiential approach is also used to examine the rhetoric of project managers, compared to observing actual behaviour. In the context of being situated in the workplace, conducting the investigation using an interpretivist research paradigm allowed themes to emerge and contribute to theory. A review of contemporary project management literature and practice resulted in a research framework based on a review of project management training, education and competency, and the areas underpinning knowledge acquisition and exchange. To structure this approach, four clusters were constructed to allow for interpretation covering knowledge acquisition; knowledge exchange; knowledge environment; and knowledge drivers. As the research evolved, emerging information and related topics to address the research questions, could be accommodated within these clusters. To accommodate the research paradigm an action research methodology was selected for the study, which involved iterative cycles of interaction and reflection to examine the project manager’s situation. Within these cycles, changes were made in order to evaluate how project managers could exchange knowledge more effectively. Several spin-off cycles were also employed to generate timely input from an external reference group to augment the rigour of the investigation. To identify research participant led, themes a systematic process was designed to collect, transcribe, and analyse the data, while recording the researcher’s reflections for interpretation. The themes relating to how project managers acquire and exchange knowledge were compared to the literature to identify divergence or convergence, and compare theories of social exchange, action, and reasoned action. The evidence from the research indicates experienced project managers in Australia acquire knowledge primarily from workplace experiences and interaction with, and guidance from, work colleagues. Further, project managers in the study were observed using formal ways to exchange knowledge and did so in an impersonal manner. However, in the exchange of knowledge, inconsistencies existed between project managers’ observed behaviour, opinions of their work colleagues, and the project managers’ view of themselves, indicating different perspectives of practice. Findings from the research contribute to social, action, and reasoned action theory relating to project management, with opportunities to apply the action research methodology to project management research, and to embed knowledge acquisition and exchange in project management policy. The research advances the practice of project management by establishing how knowledge is exchanged at project manager level.
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