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Review: Management Science, Operations Research and Project Management—José Ramón San Cristóbal Mateo

Chris Felstead
April 15, 2015

As a project manager who has always struggled with mathematics this book’s title and contents appeared daunting. However, following the maxim that I have never read anything about project management without getting value, I persisted.

My overall approach to projects has tended to be qualitative and focused on communicating with all stakeholders to a successful outcome. Often when communicating with stakeholders, however, we need a factual basis to break through the uncertainty inherent in all projects. Modelling can often be a way of attempting to make sense of what might happen as you move through the project lifecycle.

The book Perspectives on projects (Turner et al, 2010) uses this metaphor to suggest that models are built to explain why a project behaves the way it does and what would happen if we were to manage them differently, in other words, adjusting a project’s variables and looking at the model to see what happens. While models can be used to look at both social constructs as well as a quantitive measures, this book focuses on the latter.

In my project world there is room for both approaches as I want to understand both the social reality of a project but also be able to provide factual data to drive stakeholder behaviours and better manage their perceptions. So I approached the book with the intent of determining if the models were accessible to the average reader or whether one needed specialist knowledge to make sense of them.

The book starts with an introduction where the author sets out his working definitions of a project, a project manager and what modelling entails. San Cristóbal defines some of the inherent issues faced by all project managers with a particular concern around uncertainty.

He then uses each chapter to describe the models and what uses they can be put to in order to better understand a project. He does this setting out the problem or issues that the model is being used to clarify. Examples of the problems identified are uncertainty around scheduling, the optimal use of resources, determining the value where there are conflicting objectives. A range of models is described including simulations, decisions making, game theory and forecasting.

So all in all this is a comprehensive attempt to link models with problems giving the project manager some useful additions to his or her toolbox. However, after the initial chapter introduction, the going gets tough as the model is explained in terms that would require what I would see as an advanced level of mathematical competency.

For me, this was beyond my level of understanding. Accepting the broad range of projects and the people that manage them, however, I am aware that many will have those skills—for those I would suggest they have a look at the contents to see if it is a worthwhile addition to your toolkit.

For those of us without the necessary skills it is a useful reminder that these tools exist and we might want to obtain the knowledge or resources to better understand them. For the profession I would encourage the publisher and author to make the mathematics more accessible for common use.

Management Science, Operations Research and Project Management
By José Ramón San Cristóbal Mateo
RRP £70.00 (buy online)
Published by Gower (Ashgate)

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Chris Felstead
Chris Felstead has more than 20 years' experience in IT projects at CIO and General Manager level. He has worked in four countries in tourism, airline administration, air freight and financial services and published papers and given presentations on project management. He is passionate about finding better ways to deliver outcomes that delight all stakeholders.
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