By Martina Huemann

Organizations regularly assume that the culture, values, dynamic and organization of their temporary project organizations are merely a smaller version of the original parent. Given that project organizations are made up of people and teams drawn, in most cases, from outside and inside the parent, these assumptions are nonsensical. But they do explain why the HR function finds it difficult to adapt to the project environment. Martina Huemann’s research in Human Resource Management in the Project-Oriented Organization, offers insight into an approach that is designed to align HR to the needs of the project organization, in terms of management structure, reward, recruitment and performance systems. The text analyses how the modern HR organization stacks up alongside the temporary organization that is the project, to identify the HR constraints and needs of the project organisation and offer a model of project-oriented HRM. Professor Huemann had a deep interest in how and why change processes come into existence and how to design and enable them. In her book she endeavors to bridge theory and practice, strategy and operations.

Available through Amazon here.

Review by Dr Erin Evans – Former Director of Education and Research ICCPM

The centrality of people to complex project management and human resource management (HRM) to the success of any organisation establishes the importance for this new title by Professor Martina Huemann, Human Resource Management in the Project-Orientated Organization: Towards a Viable System for Project Personnel. Huemann highlights that a viable HRM system is supported by and supports the organisation’s strategy, structures and culture to ensure its sustainable development to any organisation, especially the project-orientated organisation.

The author seeks to understand changes to the HRM system in the context of the project-orientated organisation as a means to sustain human resource advantage. The passion and thoroughness of the author for the topic comes through the pages. Huemann has worked and published in this field over many years. This title brings together and builds on thinking about the theory, as well as her work as a consultant interested in change and development processes.

This title; adapted from a formal research program, ensures that it has a rigorous theoretical basis of social system theory and systemic-constructivist research paradigm. Whilst the project practitioner may not readily read the details of this, it provides a solid foundation for the proposals put forward by Huemann. These details will be of interest to academics and students in the field. Huemann provides a well-researched and clearly outlined history of the development of HRM, project management and the project-oriented organisation.

This helps to broaden the view of the practitioner about the purpose of what is prioritised in the way that HRM and projects are managed and why. The view of HRM to provide strategic advantage for the organisation highlights the tension of economic and human/social value that is created. Whilst the former is often focused upon in organisations needing to prioritise adding value to shareholders, the human system must focus on the social wellbeing. In the long run, a balance must be found between economic and social orientation of the HRM system in an organisation to provide long term viability.

The conceptualisation of projects as temporary organisations carries with it a number of consequences that Huemann outlines. The differentiation of the project based organisation and the project-oriented organisation is well argued, with the latter being a strategic choice and project management conceived as leadership rather than tools and controls.

Readers who follow concepts of complexity will recognise central themes that Huemann raises of the implications of projects as temporary organisations and the implications for HRM, organisational viability and alignment. A more networked understanding of the HRM system is central to Huemann’s proposal, where the HRM is carried out beyond the line manager. Further she argues that the project oriented organisation accelerates the devolution of HRM from the HR department to line managers and beyond.

The presence of viability in the title and discussion of networks and decentralisation of decisions and functions needing to be carried out in the organisation suggests that Beer’s Viable System Model (VSM) may have been used in the development of ideas and proposals that are presented, however this does not appear to be the case. The VSM is a model that is specifically designed to deliver organisational design based on function rather than title and hence deals with decentralisation of roles across organisations. Some of Beer’s concepts may help to support some of the mechanisms and advantages that Huemann seeks to achieve with her model.

Huemann provides a well-developed thesis on the project-orientated organisation and the HRM considerations. The areas for further research are issues that pique interest as they highlight the kinds of challenges that project personnel face such as working in partnering arrangements and need for alignment as well as understanding of the career path and intrinsic motivations for project managers for this to be a fulfilling career.

Available through Amazon here.