Enduring Lessons in Project Management?


Advances in Project Management


By Robert Buttrick

United Kingdom

The purpose of this paper

In 1997 when The Project Workout [1] was first published, it included ten lessons from working with and learning from large organizations which claimed to be undertaking projects well. Obviously, for those lessons to result from research done in 1995 and appear in a book in 1997, they needed to have been practiced long before that. I have since incorporated these lessons in my work in many organizations and they are mostly unaltered in the later editions of the Workout books [2] [3].

This paper goes through the ten lessons and then compares them to the 12 principles which were derived from a study [4] undertaken in 2022/23 to see if the lessons are still relevant today. The outcome of the analysis is that there is remarkable alignment between the 10 lessons in this paper (dating from the mid-1990s) and the 12 principles from the recent study (2023) which does indeed point to the lessons being enduring.

Look for what works and why, then check they still work

The objective in creating the lessons I have used over the past 25 years was to ‘learn from the best’ and continually verify those learnings as time moved on. A number of industries are highlighted in the research, in both growing and mature markets, including:

  • aerospace;
  • construction;
  • computer hardware;
  • telecommunications;
  • manufacturing;
  • management consulting;
  • systems integration.

There is a marked similarity in approach taken despite the diverse industries. They were all using a ‘staged’ or ‘phased’, ‘cross-functional’ framework within which to manage their projects. The number of stages differs from organization to organization, but all invest (a stage at a time) a finite amount of the organization’s resources to obtain more information across the full range of activities which impact the project’s outcome, namely:

  • market;
  • operational;
  • technical;
  • commercial and financial.

They then decide on whether the project should continue, needs modifying or terminating.

There, however, the similarities between organizations end and the individual culture and the nature of the different industries and their outputs takes over. Figure 1 illustrates how any process or approach (including project management) sits within a context of culture, systems and structure; alter any one and it will affect the others. This single observation means that although project management in many organizations might be similar in principle, the culture and behaviours which make it work (or prevent it working!) can be very different.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles and papers by authors of books on new and emerging concepts in PM published by Routledge worldwide.  See Mr. Buttrick’s bio at the end of this article.

How to cite this work: Buttrick, R. (2023).  Enduring lessons in project management? PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/pmwj135-Nov2023-Buttrick-Enduring-lessons-in-project-management-2.pdf

About the Author

Robert Buttrick



Robert Buttrick is an independent advisor on portfolio, programme and project management, specialising in business-driven methods, processes and standards. Recent clients include the UK’s Cabinet Office and Infrastructure and Project Authority, Network Rail, and AXELOS. He is a Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick, a member of the British Standards Institute’s committee MS2 for project management and is a UK Principal Expert on the equivalent ISO technical committee, TC258 (dealing with international standards on portfolio, programme and project management.)

After graduating with a first-class honours degree, he joined consulting engineers, Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners (now Jacobs) working in countries as diverse as Kenya, Mauritius, Yemen, Senegal and Sudan. He has also worked with the World Bank, in Washington DC on investment appraisals for major development projects.

Robert is a Master of Business Administration (Henley Management College), a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. In 2010, Robert received a Distinguished Service Certificate from the BSI for services to national and international project management standards, and in 2013 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management.

Robert can be contacted at robert.buttrick@projectworkout.com

To view other works by Robert Buttrick that have been published in the PMWJ, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robert-buttrick/