Associate Professor in Management Practice
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street
Harvey Maylor has worked with Saïd Business School since 2013.
He has served as a programme director in the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), our programme for the leaders of the UK government’s 150 most significant projects. In April 2017, he joined the faculty as Senior Fellow in Management Practice, and in June 2018 was awarded the title of Associate Professor. Prior to working with MPLA, Harvey was the Founding Director of the International Centre for Programme Management at Cranfield University, delivering a US$4M portfolio of research and development activities over five years, and founding Cranfield’s MSc in Programme and Project Management. From 1993 to 1998 he was a lecturer at Cardiff Business School, and from 1999 to 2006 at University of Bath.
In addition, Harvey has taught and consulted for global firms (full-time 2013-2017) and still spends part of his time in this arena. His approach combines teaching, research and practice, and continuously seeking innovations that might solve some of the big problems he has encountered in his work. In doing so, Harvey is minded that our research can have the effect of normalising practices that are not necessarily effective, as the bulk of projects under-perform. For this reason, it is imperative that the opportunity is taken to highlight both current great practice, as well as provide thought leadership, drawing ideas from multiple domains to generate new or reconfigured alternatives for the future.
The focus of Harvey’s attention is major projects: those projects of sufficient scale or importance that their achievement represents a significant endeavour for the organisations that are undertaking them. This significance could be in terms of either budgetary scale, the level of risk encountered or the complexity of the interaction of stakeholder groups. This includes both transformation and infrastructure projects.
Harvey’s subject home is Operations Management; he is concerned with systems of work, and in particular the interface between formal systems and behaviours. Major projects are an especially rich context for the study of such systems. His interests are not limited to what has conventionally been called ‘project management’, and span an eclectic mixture of contexts and perspectives. Further details are under the ‘research’ tab.
Professional organisation memberships:
Academy of Management, British Academy of Management, European Operations Management Association (board member 2000-2003), Project Management Institute, and the Association for Project Management.
All of Harvey's research has begun with a practitioner or an organisational problem.
His current research projects exist either to understand better an organisational problem, (e.g. complexity, lean, capabilities, delivery by design) or to develop the foundations for this in the future (ambidexterity, What do major project leaders do?).
View Harvey's research.
Here are some impact case studies:
Impact case: Complexity, How hard can it be?
Working with project leaders over a number of years, it was evident that the complexity of the tasks they were attempting to achieve, was increasing. Extended supply chains, changing legislation, greater diversity of stakeholder groups, and higher levels of scrutiny, are just some of the causes. The result in performance terms for major projects is perennially low success rates. Yet the use of the project as a form of organisation to deliver work, is enduring, and some say even increasing.
The work started with a naïve question asked of hundreds of project leaders: what makes your project complex to manage? The results, combined with systematic literature review, led to the structural, socio-political and emergent framework – the first both comprehensive and comprehensible framework for assessing subjective complexities. This enabled understanding of the terrain of complexities in which project leaders were working. As part of the research projects around this topic, many workshops were conducted with project leaders. Armed with this understanding, it was noticed that these same leaders began to question why the projects were so complex to manage. Indeed, some even began what is now known as the second stage of the active complexity management approach: reduction. This approach has been included as part of teaching courses for several years is now in use in a number of organisations, including Airbus. It is generating considerable benefits, particularly at the outset of projects, when the organisational designs in particular, can be influenced.
Impact case: AdvantageHP
The brief for the work carried out with HP was to generate improved capabilities for the organisation. Specifically, it required that project capabilities could add to the competitive advantage of the firm’s offerings. With a significant part of their profitability reliant on the successful delivery of projects, the firm urgently needed new approaches that would go beyond the conventional practices, tools and techniques, associated with project and programme management. By taking an Operations Strategy view of the organisation, a full suite of approaches was developed under the banner of AdvantageHP. The realisation of value for the organisation began with an assessment of their competitive maturity. This necessitated developing a new model for such an assessment, which went beyond the traditional conformance models, e.g. ITIL and CMMI. Gaps identified in the assessment, went through a prioritisation tool to identify areas requiring specific actions from business leaders, in terms of competitive focus, alignment and the configuration of resources needed.
Impact case: Advanced Project Thinking
Projects routinely run late, over-budget and otherwise don’t deliver against promises. Much research has focused on identifying the causes of such problems. However, just fixing the problems is not going to be successful if the underlying approach is the limiting factor on performance. Rethinking the underlying approach was an avenue that appeared to warrant further investigation. Combining the principles of Lean (elimination of waste, materials and information flow), Theory of Constraints (bottlenecks), some elements of Agile (evolving work schedule), with rigorous application of project planning provided a totally different landscape of delivery. The APT approach was originally trialled in Transport for London from 2009 onwards, and immediately delivered a £19M construction project early, under-budget and with accounts closed six days after works completion. Subsequent applications gained similar results. APT was eventually mandated as the approach for working with contractors in TfL’s Surface Transport directorate.
Leadership of Major Projects
Areas of interest:
- Complexity response. We now have a good basis for understanding the complexities of major projects (see Maylor and Turner, 2017). We are interested to research the duality of the perceived complexity and the response of the dispersed leadership of major projects. What impact does a response (or a complexity deliberately denied, ignored or avoided) have and how do the different complexities interact? What are the routines in which leaders are engaged for coping with such complexities and for instance, are complexities tradeable?
- Systems design. In our taught programmes, we stress the role of the leadership of major projects, in determining the design of the delivery system (including support, governance, supply chain). The context of major projects provides a particular challenge due to both exogenous and endogenous dynamics, and high levels of behavioural complexity. As a result, some of the traditional approaches to organisational design (e.g. by examining alignments and tensions in Galbraith’s Star) are limited. What, for instance, are the routines that leaders use to design their major project systems, their heuristics and how do they determine whether or not the chosen design is working as well as they wanted? What is their frequency of review and how prevalent are particular ‘defaults?'
- In Search of Project Excellence. Assessing the performance of major projects is problematic, with temporal, expectational and limited perspectives biasing the assessment. As a result, determining what leads to ‘high performance’ or excellence at the major project level is very difficult to assess. We do observe that within many large projects, there are innovations and ‘pockets of excellence’ at the systems level. In order to encourage greater levels of innovation, it is necessary to gather exemplars at various systemic levels within major projects (see e.g. Holweg and Maylor, 2018).
- Design Thinking and Innovation. Design Thinking is finding application within major projects and practices described as ‘agile’ have been in evidence for a long time, most notably in IT applications development. However, the narrative of these has largely focused at a task level, rather than how systems of systems using large varieties of design philosophies, systems and tools can be designed. The opportunity exists to contribute to a wider discussion of the applications of design thinking in major projects, beyond the constraints of agile.
We are open to a range of lenses being brought to bear on these areas of interest, though would prefer that the subject basis is Operations and Supply Chain Management.
Holweg, M. and Maylor, H. (2018), ‘Lean Leadership in Major Projects: from predict and provide to predict and prevent.’ International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Vol. 38, No. 6, pp. 1368-1386.
Maylor, H. and Turner, N (2017), ‘Understand, Reduce, Respond: Project Complexity Management Theory and Practice.’ International Journal of Operations and Production Management, Vol. 37, No. 8, pp. 1076-1093.