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News & Press: Thought Leadership

African vs Western Philosophy of Management in PM

Thursday, 11 October 2018  
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Is there a need to decolonise African project management?

This is one of the questions that will be up for discussion at the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) National Conference, taking place from 14 to 16 November 2018, in Johannesburg.

As the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) approved professional body for project management across industries, PMSA sees the conference as a valuable opportunity to reinforce its methodology agnostic and autonomous state by facilitating such leading and controversial conversations.

In PMSA’s case, autonomy does not imply a lack of regard for prevailing international standards and methodologies in project management such as the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), Association for Project Management Body of Knowledge (APMBOK) and PRojects IN Controlled Environments 2 (PRINCE2). In fact, it is quite the opposite. PMSA and its volunteers have made notable contributions to global standards over the years and their early conferences featured international thought leaders called upon to relay their knowledge for delegates mostly comprising local South Africans and other non-Western participants. In addition, all credible certifications and accreditations are recognised during assessment of candidates applying for the South African professional designations in project management, as are the qualifications achieved from local institutions of higher learning, and foreign qualifications recognised by SAQA’s evaluation processes. 

The last decade or so has, however, seen a natural shift towards featuring more and more local thought leaders in PMSA’s communication channels, who have either integrated international knowledge into more homegrown practices, or invented – out of necessity – practices suitable for the African project management environment. The latter are still few and far between, and this has sparked academic interest in the role of African Management Philosophy (AMP), as opposed to Western Management Philosophy (WMP), in project management.

Professor Carl Marnewick of the Department of Applied Information Systems at the University of Johannesburg recently published a paper intended to stimulate conversation around AMP and project management curriculum development. Titled: Infusing African management philosophy into project management, it was published in Acta Commercii - Independent Research Journal in the Management Sciences in July 2018. 

 Approaching decolonisation from a philosophical perspective, his paper highlights principles that resonate with PMSA, and indeed, the broader 2018 Conference theme of ‘Strength in Diversity’. These principles include: 

All humans have a right to self-determination and independence.
There is an acknowledgment of cultural diversity and a willingness to coexist with it.
Intellectual diversity may exist because of how the world is perceived by diverse people.
Transferral of ideas, as in education, should be available in a manner to those who seek it.
Knowledge may be more relevant and valuable to the context in which it was created.
Established knowledge can and should be supplanted by knowledge that is proven to fit reality better.

Much of the discussion in Prof. Marnewick’s paper centres around the inclusion, or ‘infusion’ of ‘Ubuntu’ and AMP in the local project management curriculum. Project management involves the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to deliver on project requirements. Tools and techniques such as the prevailing standards and methodologies, are not dependent on management philosophy, so for the most part the infusion can be considered at the knowledge and skills level.
By featuring a panel discussion focussing on Ubuntu vs Western Ethics, the PMSA conference welcomes its delegates to the philosophical conversation that brings the infusion of African management philosophy into our knowledge sharing to the table. 

At its conference in 2010, PMSA facilitated a debate about whether or not project management could be considered a profession in its own right, and within three years it has earned SAQA recognition of no less than three professional designations. There is no reason, then, why action towards the inclusion of AMP into the theoretical knowledge for future generations of project managers can’t arise from the philosophical discussion at this year’s event. 
The aim, as is the focus of PMSA’s knowledge facilitation, is not to replace Western concepts, but to integrate the two to the extent that it lets the African voice be heard and that the outcome of such conferences contributes to growing local knowledge resources.

Carl Marnewick will be joined on the panel by Schalk Engelbrecht, Associate Director: Forensic at KPMG who co-authored an industry research paper titled Towards an Ubuntu-based Stakeholder Theory that looks at Ubuntu as an alternative to those Western theories that inform business ethics. PMSA invites all project professionals to attend the conference and participate in this and other compelling discussions over the three-day event.

Registration for the 2018 PMSA National Conference is open now at

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