Cognitive Schemata and Project Manager Regulation of Unplanned Change: Categorical Analysis of Structured Interview Reports
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A significant risk area for project sponsors is managing unplanned change. Theorists of organisational behaviour have attempted to understand the circumstances of how activity change occurs on projects and have identified the significant impact that time has on activity. This current research takes the study of cognition into the real world setting of project management at a level of analysis that is viable across diverse projects and industries to study project manager regulation of unplanned change. The project managers' cognitive representation of meaningful aspects of a project (their 'cognitive schemata'), which guides activity change during the project, was investigated and the effect of feedback evaluated in order to address the central research question of what triggers change on group projects. In the present research, leading edge projects from six major Australian industries (telecommunications, banking and insurance, information technology, railway signalling, inorganic chemistry and construction) were monitored at three key points through their lifecycle to understand how feedback impacts on project activity through the project manager’s cognition leading to change. Six key categories of feedback were identified, which potentially represented the foci of project-related schemata, within a project management mental model. These were validated as important indicators for project management performance by a panel of Australia's leading experts in project management. Sixteen project managers participated in the field study, with their verbal reports being collected through structured interviews (incorporating a 'laddered' interview technique), which were developed and piloted across diverse projects for this purpose. Interview data were coded for analysis in terms of sensitivity to each of the six feedback foci and one control category, for five types of feedback and five types of change. Reliability of the content coding was checked through independent coding and found to be high. The research investigation was conducted within a schematic information processing conceptual framework developed for application within the domain of project management. Strong evidence was found that linked key schemata to the hypothesized effects of feedback. Overall, the effects were found to be general across all industries, individuals and projects. A contrasting effect was observed for one type of feedback where schemata were poorly developed in inexpert project managers, which raised the issue of measurable differences in behaviour arising from project management competency. The findings of strong relationships between the variables led to the proposed model of project manager cognition, which reveals an underlying structure in the schemata between key areas of sensitivity to feedback and unplanned change. The model is proposed as underpinning observed behaviour in this and prior research and suggests a relationship between competency and change regulation.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Applied Psychology (Health)
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