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Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Motivation rehashed

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Ah, motivation!  All project managers want to find that magic button that will, when punched, fire up their teams to ever-higher levels of achievement.  I’m no different. So when a paper entitled, Motivation: How to Increase Project Team Performance, appeared in a recent issue of the Project Management Journal, I was motivated enough to give it a read.  Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed on reading it. Although well written, and perhaps even useful to practising project managers, the paper does not belong in a professional, peer-reviewed academic/research journal. Read on for my reasons why.

To begin with, a paper published in a peer-reviewed academic/research journal ought to contain one or more of the following:

  1. Original research.
  2. A new or different perspective on existing knowledge.
  3. A comprehensive critical review of an existing area of knowledge.

This paper contains none of the above – a claim which I substantiate below. Ergo, it doesn’t belong in an academic or research journal. 

And so, on to the content.

The paper begins with a review of existing theories of motivation. The usual suspects are all present and accounted for: McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y; Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory; McClelland’s Theory of Needs and motivation based on individual Myers-Briggs personality types.  The applicability of each of the above – which the author lists under “roles and responsibilities”, “advantages” and “disadvantages” – are well known, and the paper adds nothing new.

The next section discusses the impact and resolution (or correction) of so-called “motivational mistakes” that are outlined in the book Essential People Skills For Project Managers by Flannes and Levin (see pages 80-81 of the book). These “mistakes” – which are essentially ineffective techniques often used to motivate people – include approaches such as: “whatever motivates me will motivate others” or “they are are professionals and don’t need motivating” etc. (see the paper for a complete list). These “mistakes” are well known, as is their impact and resolution (see the book listed above, for example)

The author then delves into the use P-CMM framework in the context of project teams. Regardless of the utility of the framework in improving  processes for managing and developing workforces  (and opinions on this vary),  the paper does not state anything new on the topic.  Advice such as laying out well defined expectations, having well defined project processes, involving the project team in planning etc. etc. are offered. However, these have long been a part of project management lore.

In the penultimate section, the author offers some “directives” (which I prefer to interpret as advice) to assist in the development of a “team culture”.  Most of the advice offered is, again, well known. The fourth item in the list, for example, states, “Reward the team and the team members.” So tell us something we don’t know…

The paper concludes with the observation that, “...Taking the time to to work with each team member to understand personal work drivers will allow the project manager to uncover basic human needs and individual motivators.” No contesting this point, for sure. But again, what’s new?

Having reviewed the paper, I should reiterate that it is well written and worth a read for practising project managers  – if only as a reminder of what they already know. My main quibble, as you’ve undoubtedly gathered, is that the material presented isn’t new or comprehensive, and as such does not fulfil the criteria for a paper in an academic or research journal. 


Peterson T. M., Motivation: How to Increase Project Team Performance, Project Management Journal, 38 (4), 60-69 (2007).

Written by K

January 16, 2008 at 10:11 am

One Response

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  1. […] Management Journal (PMJ) within last six months. I reviewed one some time ago, in my post entitled Motivation Rehashed. Here, I review the other: a paper entitled, Motivation in Project Management: The Project […]


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