Pluralism in Project Management: Navigating the Crossroads of Specialization and Fragmentation


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Academy of Management Conference in Anaheim in 2008. The paper has benefited from comments and help from workshop and conference participants and numerous colleagues in Scandinavia, the UK and the US. In particular, I am grateful for the valuable support and constructive comments from Erling S. Andersen, Karlos Artto, Elliot Bendoly, Floortje Blindenbach-Driesen, Mats Engwall, Lars Lindkvist, Rolf A. Lundin, Peter Morris, Ralf Müller, Johann Packendorff, Jeff Pinto, Anders Söderholm and Graham Winch. I also acknowledge the suggestions from the Associate Editor and four anonymous reviewers.


Project management is a rapidly expanding subfield of management and organization studies. This paper seeks to make sense of this development and the current state of project management research. It reviews the literature published over the last five decades in 30 leading management and organization journals. In total, 305 articles were included in the data set. The paper proposes a categorization of the published articles into seven ‘schools of thought’: Optimization School, Factor School, Contingency School, Behaviour School, Governance School, Relationship School and Decision School. The schools vary in terms of their main focus and use of the project concept, major research questions, methodological approaches and type of theorizing. It is suggested that a better awareness on how to make use of the schools and the identified perspectives would stimulate cross-fertilization, unification and thus enhance a pluralistic understanding of projects and project management at the same time as it would prepare research to frame more accurately the problems of contemporary projects. In that respect, the paper offers ideas on how to navigate at the crossroads between specialization and fragmentation, between the search for novel topics and improvements of existing knowledge.