Friday, January 22, 2021

About Me

I research and write about management techniques for a world increasingly challenged by rapid change. I study dynamic environments across all industries, with a recent focus on the effects of technology in the higher education industry as it makes a transition to technology time. I combine research with a long standing role as a commercial and higher education management practitioner.

I'm still excited by the potential for technology to enhance organizations, and revolutionize industries. There is much more to come, and increasingly the biggest challenge is keeping pace. That’s why I turned my professional attention to dynamic management, as the subject of my research and my PhD. My professional vision is to help the world more rapidly and appropriately leverage the technology revolution for genuine benefit. I believe the increasing rate of change presents both a threat to, and opportunity for, the success of projects conducted across all industries. This challenge has been acknowledged as a key unresolved issue in management, and one that will become even more important as time goes on.

My Studies on Project Dynamism

I've completed three research projects into the problem of dynamism. The first project was an analysis of existing research revealing suitable management approaches already available. In the second study I interviewed leading project managers around the world about how they dealt with dynamism. Some of these participants were high profile industry leaders. In the third study, focus groups were conducted with leading practitioners across many industries, in order to verify and expand upon the findings of the second study. Participants have come from ten different industries: defence, community development, construction, technology, pharmaceutical, film production, scientific startups, venture capital, space, and research. I have developed a continuously evolving theory on the management of dynamism in projects.


I'm a project management practitioner with 27 years commercial and higher education management experience. I conducted research as part of a cluster at the UQ Business School at the University of Queensland in Australia. The opinions I express on this site are my own and do not represent the official position of any organisation. I'm very interested in working on challenging public-good or innovation projects, reporting directly to the key stakeholder.

Dr Simon Collyer

Wednesday, February 06, 2019


Occasionally I get asked about my experiences as a research higher degree student, so I'll put my thoughts here to make it easier to share.

I completed a masters in project management in around 2005 and then my PhD in 2013.
I was a management practitioner during all of my studies and I still am a full time management practitioner now, although I still publish papers. When I did my PhD I worked full time and had half time responsibility for raising my kids, and also did a real-estate development. I started late in 2008 and finished in 2013 (5 years). My thesis was on management for dynamic environments.

Why did I attempt a PhD?

· To investigate material not covered by coursework degrees: I was working in industry – applying for jobs – I had certain career aspirations so I did a Masters. My masters included a research subject that I enjoyed because I could investigate problems directly related to my professional work – that had not been covered in my coursework degrees. I liked this because sometimes the coursework felt irrelevant. I work in Technology and Higher Education so most of my problems were about how to plan and manage amidst rapid change- so that’s what I wanted to investigate.
· I wanted to investigate challenges I was having in my own job to see if I could fine tune and improve the way I did things.

- Start earlier than you enroll: I spent a year narrowing down my research subject and the literature hole before I enrolled. I highly recommend this approach to reduce the pressure on yourself – if you can.
- Publish as you go: Writing papers during your research is not only satisfying but takes the pressure off your defence process. You will have already proven yourself amongst your peers.
- Working in industry for a number of years after my undergrad may help finding an interesting topic: - and be motivated by the chance to find knowledge that helps your work.
- Make it a daily part of your life. Budget time and stick to it: Set short term goals. Don’t worry about the end goal if you are investing time. Focus on enjoying the process and making it part of your life. 1-2 hours per day every single day during the week (weekends off). Research time should be like a treat - not a chore, interesting and fulfilling. Once I had some papers published I drafted the thesis and then it was constant refinement.
- Keep looking for new and additional supervisors that offer the skills you need (e.g discipline or the research method etc.). Ask the advice of other academics. Try to make the questions simple and quick but have the courage to ask different people to get different views. For instance you might have one supervisor that is good at PhD paperwork/process and one good at the discipline and one that’s good at the research method you choose… and one that’s a good editing or formatting or a general sounding boar, or a motivator.
- Try to enjoy the process – or you won’t make it.
Where did my PhD lead me?
o My PhD was in management and I honestly think its made be a better manager: Its helped me do my job better – I do actually apply some of the things I learned.
o I work at a University so its helped me understand academics.
o Gave me a feeling of being a little bit useful. People read and referenced my work. I continue to publish so I got a productive hobby.
o Sometimes I feel like I have my PhD in professional practice in case they think I’m too theoretical.. or I might be snobby or uncompliant.
o Best for the education industry OR anywhere you are expected to the your organisations expert.
o Satisfied my curiosity for a while in a useful way. I would not do a PhD for the title because it may not be sufficient motivation or reward.

Speaking to really interesting people. Doing research was an excuse to speak to people like the head of NASA’s project office, astronauts, staff at Virgin Galactic, drug manufacturers, movie directors etc. It also feels useful when people come to hear to share your thoughts at conferences in places like Washington, Beijing, Sydney and Singapore, occasionally getting enthusiastic ovations.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Keeping Pace in Higher Education

Read full post for this topic on my Technology Enhanced Learning Blog

The slides from my EduTECH presentation on this subject are available on slideshare

The full video of this presentation will be available again soon.

In 2014 the Group of Eight Universities chair lamented a “technology  tsunami sweeping across our campuses” (Young 2014) suggesting  technology is changing at a much faster rate than universities can presently absorb. Since then we have increasingly needed management approaches suitable for dealing with rapid change. The benefits of technology enhanced learning (TEL) have already been established (JISC, 2008; US Department of Education, 2010), and studies show that neglecting broad technology adoption in favour of individual innovation, risks significant productivity losses by as much as 45% (Comin, 2012). The need for broad change requiring effective communication, support and change management is now arguably a larger challenge for universities than the need for more innovation or pedagogical advances (Diego and Mestieri, 2010; Ertmer, 2005).


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Link to National Wealth

Studies show a relationship between the speed of technology adoption and national wealth. Significant delays in initial technology adoption was calculated to account for a 25% reduction in GDP compared to that of the U.S. More significantly however are the cost of delays in pervasive adoption, which were calculated to account for a further 45% reduction in GDP. Taken together, the studies indicate that up to 70 % of differences in cross-country per capita income can be explained by delays in technology adoption. For new product development in the technology industry a delay of 10% was found to have a more significant impact on total revenue than 10% overrun in production cost. Management techniques that help innovation are therefore critical, but even more important is management for wide and rapid deployment of new technologies.



Simon Collyer


Comin, Diego A., William Easterly, and Erick Gong. "Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 B.C.? ." American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association no. 2 (3):65-97.

Comin, Diego, and Bart Hobijn. 2012. How Early Adoption Has Increased Wealth—Until Now. Havrard Business Review Magazine, Mar 01, 2012.

Comin, Diego, and Martí Mestieri. 2010. The Intensive Margin of Technology Adoption In HBS Working Paper 11-026.

Dumaine, Brian. 1989. How Managers Can Succeed Through Speed. Fortune, February 13, 1989, 54-59.

Nobel, Carmen. 2012. How Technology Adoption Affects Global Economies - A review of the works of Diego A. Comin

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Leadership: Balancing Change and Stability

Leaders in dynamic environments must be equipped to cope with chaotic change. This requires leadership capabilities focused on leading and managing projects in constant flux, facing new challenges that require new solutions virtually every day. Dynamic project managers must be fast and flexible problem solvers, able to mobilize resources to diagnose problems, identify options, make decisions, and implement solutions quickly. They should be adept at translating change every day into effective action, while maintaining appropriate amounts of stability and order. Dynamic projects should shift, and adapt in a way that matches the degree of turmoil in the external environment, without compromising quality unnecessarily. So stability and order must be combined with the right amount of experimentation, discovery, and flexibility.

Dyer and Shafer (1999) say agile companies like HP, Nike, and 3M balance stability and flexibility well by striving to develop the following capabilities:
  • Reading the market: Continuous scans of the project and external environment, to identify change which is quickly translated into options and solutions;
  • Mobilising rapid response: Rapid decision making capability, and rapid resource redeployment ability;
  • Embedding organisational learning: The ability to use change developments to improve current operations, and challenge current ways of thinking and operating.

Simon Collyer

Dyer, Lee, and Richard Shafer. 1999. "From human resource strategy to organizational effectiveness: Lessons from research on organizational agility." In Strategic human resources management research in the 21st century, research in personnel and human resource management, edited by P. Wright, L. Dyer, J. B. Boudreau and G. Milkovich, 145–174. Stamford, CT: JAI Press.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The cost of lost opportunity

In a dynamic environment the quality of your product diminishes rapidly the longer you delay its delivery. In fact the value of your perfections will be completely outweighed by the lost opportunity from not having your product in use before it becomes irrelevant. Often this will require some tough decisions about scope.
The cost of excessive scope is shown as the waste component in Figure 1. Quality in dynamic environments needs to be interpreted as bare minimum fitness for use in a limited time window of opportunity. Conversely, the cost of insufficient scope or quality at some point outweighs the lost opportunity cost, as depicted in Figure 2.
A critical consideration in managing dynamism is balancing the risks of insufficient quality against the cost of lost opportunity as shown in Figure 3, and this can require close attention and pragmatic decisions. They key is understanding the actual material cost of delay and constantly comparing that to the value of the proposed enhancements. Anything that does not stack-up can go on the list for stage 2.
cost of lost opp
Figure 1 – The cost of excess quality in lost opportunity (Collyer 2013, p135)
cost of low quality
Figure 2 - The cost of insufficient quality (Collyer 2013, p135)
Figure 3 – Quality balanced against the limited window of opportunity (Collyer 2013, p136)
Simon Collyer
Collyer, S. (2013). Managing Dynamism in Projects - A Theory-Building Study of Approaches Used in Practice, The University of Queensland. PhD

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Is your work environment dynamic?

If you are working in a dynamic environment then some of the dynamic project management techniques in this blog might be useful to you, but how do you know you are working in a dynamic environment?

Lets contrast two extremes, … a project in a static environment with one in a dynamic environment…

Table 1 - Comparing static with dynamic (Collyer 2013, p142)

Static Environments

Stability Is the Norm

Dynamic Environments

Rapid Change Is the Norm

The future is mostly predictable

Goals are stationary

Environment is relatively static – changes yearly or over decades

The future is difficult to predict

Goals are moving

High technology –

changes daily or weekly

Change brings more harm than good

Allowing change is mostly damaging

Change brings more good than harm

Resisting change is mostly damaging

Work is directable like a bullet –

like a factory production line

Work is guidable like a missile like –

cars in traffic guided by drivers, rules and signs

Business cases stay valid

Business cases change constantly

Strategic input is required at the start

Strategic input is required throughout

Goal Achievement

Targeting system compatible with stability of target

Aimed bullet 

Aim, aim, fire

A detailed plan hits a stationery target

Initial plan focuses on maximum accuracy


An accurate plan saves repetition

Goal: Time/cost/quality

Guided Missile

Aim, fire, aim

Rapid feedback hits a moving target

Initial plan focus on expedient adequacy

An adjustable plan achieves expedience

Goal: Optimised business benefits



Control approaches compatible with predictability of environment

Control with detailed plans,-  processes and checklists

Guide with a framework plan, -boundaries, inputs, goals, discussions

Higher emphasis on control to achieve goals (reduce change)

Higher emphasis on adaption to achieve goals (relinquish some control)



Project duration compatible with component product lifecycles

Gain economies of scale with size

Achieve relevance with quick iterative releases




Flexible, collaborative, organic, adaptive



Authoritarian, tall hierarchy

Planned, strict, structured

Stakeholders expect and –

understand static environments


Formal framework, informal core

Collaborative, flat hierarchy

Organic, experimental, adaptive

Stakeholders expect and –

understand dynamic environments



Rapid Informal complimenting Less Regular Formal

Only formal counts

Slow, formal, thorough

Tall hierarchy

Formal informs informal

Mix of formal and informal

Includes rapid, informal, and practical

Flat hierarchy

Informal and formal inform each other



Exploratory Vision driven using Collaboration and Delegation

Drives down path

Clear view of path

Highly structured

Knows the path

Leads a hierarchy

Plans dictated centrally

Manages with plan

Workers follow plan

Team driven from above

Explores around the path

Clear vision of destination

Highly adaptable

Knows the jungle

Collaborates with a team

Actions decided by team

Guides with intent

Specialists deliver vision

Team pursues goals


Decision Making

Rapid – adequate – in time

Decisions focused on accuracy

Accuracy achieves lasting perfection

Intent and objectives set at top

Decisions made at the top based –

on information passed up the – hierarchy

Action taken when confident of –right  decision

Planning for the next stage occurs – when execution for previous stage is complete


Decisions focused on expedience

Speed capitalises on fleeting opportunity

Intent and objectives set at top

Decisions made in the middle –by experts with situational/subject –

matter knowledge

Action taken in time to capitalise –

on fleeting opportunities

Planning for the next stage occurs in –parallel with execution, and some –decisions prepared in advance based –on intelligence gathering on possible –outcomes

The reality is most projects lie somewhere in between these two extremes, and so we need to use professional judgement to work out which techniques to apply to a given project.

Simon Collyer


Collyer, S. (2013). Managing Dynamism in Projects - A Theory-Building Study of Approaches Used in Practice, The University of Queensland. PhD

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121. doi: 10.1002/pmj.20199

Collyer, S., Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments, International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364