It's Just Rocket Science, Not Project Management

Mikkel Vangsgaard, Christian Thuesen

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    This paper presents an inductive, empirically based research on the Danish non-profit voluntary space association Copenhagen Suborbitals. The purpose was to execute a qualitative constructivist grounded theory study to discover and explain the behavior and operation of the case subject. Based on this, grounded theory methodology was found highly adequate, as it allowed an investigation without predetermined hypotheses, specific research questions, and a theoretical framework. The central question was: What are they actually doing? Therefore, prior to the study, the researcher formed no specific expectations or demands, and thus, the research could develop in either way. The primary data collection involved observations, open interviews, and conversations. Observations of meetings and conducted work at the organizational location enabled the study of participants who acted in their natural environment, while interviews and conversations enabled a source of more concentrated and direct information. Secondary data was also collected, which primarily consisted of an extensive research of web-blog posts from the study subject. Primarily based on the primary data the grounded theories were developed. Subsequently to the analysis, the study was contextualized with literature to identify the academic relations. The study showed that the subject had successfully integrated the concepts of consensus and initiative, and achieved an organizational form that, at one level promoted member unity and collective steering, and at another level encouraged individual initiative. The association rejected hierarchy, and thus the executive coalition involved all members. Moreover, the study discovered two distinctive operational processes: (1) direction, established a flexible organizational heading, and (2) navigation, allowed liberated groups to develop accordingly, but ensured that evaluation and coordination was done in collectivity. The processes of direction and navigation were congruent with well-known methods of trial-and-error and parallel trails, and based on iterative processes and learning by doing. Unexpectedly the research evolved to support contemporary claims that the practice of project management has forgotten these values, and that intuitive and alternative methods should be accepted as viable project management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWorking Paper Proceedings - Engineering Project Organization Conference (EPOC) 2015
    EditorsCarrie Dossick, Gretchen Macht
    Number of pages21
    Publication date2015
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventEngineering Project Organization Conference 2015 - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
    Duration: 24 Jun 201526 Jun 2015


    ConferenceEngineering Project Organization Conference 2015
    LocationUniversity of Edinburgh
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • Grounded theory
    • Project organizing
    • Rethinking project management
    • Consensus vs. initiative


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