Technical Communication Special Issue: “Emerging forms of Project Management in Technical and Professional Communication”

Special Issue Editors

Benjamin Lauren Michigan State University

Joanna Schreiber
Georgia Southern University


Recently, scholarship in technical and professional communication (TPC) has examined economic and structural transformations that have influenced how projects are being managed at different workplaces. For instance, the near ubiquitous use of information communication technologies (ICTs) has brought on “the rise of networked organizations” (Rainie and Wellman, 2012) which has contributed to decentralized team structures (Spinuzzi, 2015), and changing production cycles and processes (Dubinksy, 2015). Furthermore, these changes have influenced how we define our values as field and the career paths available to us (e.g., St.Amant and Meloncon, 2016: Brumberger and Lauer, 2015). Unfortunately, lost in conversations about these large-scale changes are discussions about project management (PM). Dicks (2013) has argued, despite being “critically important” to TPC, PM lacks a “dedicated” body of research in the field. A review of the literature in TPC in the last ten years since Joanna Hackos’ (2007) Information Development seems to support this claim.

In a recent integrative literature review we conducted on PM in TPC, we found two apparent themes in both academic and practitioner accounts:

  1. PM is often presented as an adjacent practice to other concepts or practices (e.g., content management, leadership, or collaboration), instead of grounding such practices together theoretically (e.g., providing a framework for related concepts like collaboration, leadership, interpersonal communication, and teamwork) and contextually (e.g., contextualizing relationships between several related workplace practices and structures like information management and management philosophies); and,
  2. PM is described or discussed primarily in terms of skills (e.g., as a necessary skill or as something requiring particular skills) and relationships (e.g., how it relates to teams, collaboration, intercultural communication, communication theory, and educating people).

Our themes suggest what Dicks (2013) argued: TPC has regularly studied circumstances that influence how projects get managed, but rarely PM itself. In much of the existing scholarship, we are in danger of treating PM as a fixed process or a mere skillset—a method—as if it is devoid of methodology and epistemology. But we assert that PM methodologies, as John Law (2004) reminds us, make arguments about how knowledge is created, and so they are political and contribute in tangible ways to people’s experiences at work.

Given the (lack of) research on PM, one useful area that TPC might contribute to is emerging forms of PM. As more organizations assemble cross-functional teams staffed with TPCs and adopt Agile, SCRUM, Lean, SixSigma—or perhaps some combination of these—we might examine how emerging methods influence workplace experiences. As well, TPC might argue for more rhetorically-grounded approaches to PM in the field (e.g., Kampf, 2006) to counter the effects of emerging methods on individuals, teams, and customers (e.g., see Carliner, 2012; Dicks, 2010; Walton, 2013). Finally, research on PM might also give useful insight into essential questions raised about the role of TPCs as they contribute to cross-functional teams (Hart and Conklin, 2006).

In this special issue, we hope to address the empirical research gap on PM in TPC that Dicks (2013) identified and publish articles exclusively focused on emerging PM methods in TPC. We invite proposals that engage with one or more of the below questions. We also invite proposals that focus on emerging forms of PM beyond the questions identified here.

For more information, and submission details, please see this document.