Responsible vs. Responsive project management: Proposing a framework
How does Responsible project management differ from Responsive project management? And what is the makeup of each of these types?
The evolution of project management (PM) has been an interesting affair. The utility of PM has expanded far and beyond, and apparently PM philosophy and principles are used for formal and informal work carried out by both individuals and organizations. While that’s good news, there are also concerns that not so much has changed in terms of how PM is conceptualized and operationalized. In fact, integration of new thought into the PM fold has remained a slow and silent affair.
The situation presents opportunities to understand and learn from evolution of other disciplinary domains such as business management, information systems, psychology and behavioral sciences, social and sustainable development, just to mention a few. One of the areas that has seen some uptake and integration in PM is the principle of sustainability. Accordingly, research interest in sustainable or green project management has grown over the past few years. Some people extend this line of thinking and call for focusing on responsible project management, which is about integrating sustainability and accountability into the PM processes and culture.
However, given the value that PM offers, it is prudent to find a balance between the needs it is expected to serve and the responsibilities it needs to fulfill. Or, in other words, we need to build an understanding of responsible versus responsive PM and, from there, find a balanced approach for the further evolution of the profession. This is important as projects are considered investments, and relevant stakeholders would expect that their needs (e.g., ROI, benefit realization, innovative solutions) are met while ensuring that things are done in a responsible and accountable manner.
For the sake of clarity, let’s first define responsible and responsive PM. Responsible PM is the application of PM knowledge for project delivery while taking into account and complying with the underlying principles of accountability towards society and its organs, as well as understanding the consequences and implications of actions taken for project delivery. Responsive PM is the application of PM knowledge that takes into account the needs of society, its organs and the relevant stakeholders and continuously improves its effectiveness in fulfilling such needs.
Having defined the perimeter and scope, it is important to look at some of the key components to build a framework that could guide achieving the goals of a responsible and responsive PM. Below, we discuss a few of them. Needless to say, the components discussed below are aimed at building an initial framework and are by no means exhaustive or conclusive in nature.
Responsible PM framework
1) Responsibility: This component refers to taking actions that are regarded as responsible for the broader good of society and its organs. These actions involve the completion of tasks necessary for project delivery. For instance, while creating a new product or service as part of project delivery, actions such as using components that are expected to have low or no impact on the environment and society or ensuring that the product being created by the project will not cause waste of raw materials or efforts during actual production will be deemed to contribute to responsible PM.
2) Accountability: This component refers to being accountable for actions taken during project delivery. Hence, if actions are not aligned or beneficial for the broader good of society, then one needs to be ready to accept accountability for such actions. For instance, creating a product or service that helps yield higher returns for the client while causing long-term negative impacts on society could be counterproductive, and the project organisation needs to be accountable for such actions.
3) Awareness: This component refers to awareness of the consequences of actions taken during project delivery. So, project organisations should analyse, identify, and understand the consequences of their actions not only for society and its organs but also for the project organisation itself. Therefore, understanding the product or service lifecycle impacts at the conceptualization or planning stages of a project and being aware of the consequences will help contribute towards responsible PM goals.
4) Compliance: This component refers to an understanding of compliance requirements for various sustainable development principles, ethics principles, and rules and regulations for creating products or services as part of project delivery. The project organisation should clearly know the laws, rules, regulations, and principles that the project must adhere to not only for creating a product or service during project delivery but also the compliance requirements for the product or service lifecycle. It may not be easy to foresee everything that may happen in the future, but project organisations should make their best efforts to identify compliance requirements for the entire product or service life cycle to plan and execute project work accordingly.
Responsive PM framework
1) Need awareness: This component refers to understanding the needs of society, its organs, and the relevant stakeholders of the project when delivering it. If the project organisation is not aware of such needs, the project output will most likely have some negative impacts. For instance, a client may be keen on investing in an innovative product or service. However, if the project organisation has no perspective in relation to the need for such a product or service and the benefits it will produce for the good of society (and consumers at large), the project creation may fail to produce the desired ROI or benefit to the client and society.
2) Proactive disposition: This component refers to taking actions in a proactive manner rather than being reactive. So making sense of the environment and future and understanding what is at stake is vital to a responsive PM. This means the project organisation should make efforts and build skills in sense-making to be able to guide clients and relevant stakeholders during project delivery.
3) Ongoing integration: This component refers to the integration of new thoughts and ideas into PM on an ongoing basis. Things like the integration of new technologies, management thoughts, ethical principles, and policy guidelines, just to mention a few, into the PM fold will be deemed to contribute to the goals of responsive PM.
4) Continuous improvement: This component refers to continuously improving PM knowledge, direction and approach, skills set, and ideals. The stagnation of thought is counterproductive from a responsive PM perspective. Therefore, finding ways and means to continuously improve PM as a body of knowledge will contribute towards responsive PM goals.
The fast-paced technological and social developments across the globe necessitate taking steps to remain aligned and keep up with the pace of such developments. PM is expected to be an integral part of making such development happen and giving life to ideas. Therefore, it is vital that PM contribute positively and substantially in this regard.
Hence, in this article, we have looked at responsible versus responsive PM and proposed a framework to achieve the goals of responsible and responsive PM. It is important to realise that responsible and responsive PM go hand in hand, and actions taken for one will have an impact on the outcome achieved for the other. Therefore, when implementing the framework, one needs to keep that in mind to achieve bigger benefits. The framework includes some initial components but is scalable to make it comprehensive as needed.
© 2023 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.
Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.
He has a growing portfolio of work on issues related to artificial intelligence, machine learning and large language models (LLMs). His work has been published in top scientific journals.
Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the contemporary issues confronting project management and business management in various industry based outlets.
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