The University of Iceland strives to ensure that learning and research meet the needs of Icelandic society and industry and promote a sustainable world. The University offers a Master's programme in project management, which is designed to respond to the demand for well-educated people with expertise in managing complex and extensive projects.
We tackle projects in all areas of our lives: in our day-to-day activities, in our studies and hobbies, and of course especially in our careers. There are certainly many possible approaches, but the larger and more complex the project, the more important it is to oversee all aspects of the process, checking every detail to ensure progression, sustainability, efficiency and realistic scheduling and budgeting. These are just a few examples.
The Icelandic branch of the International Project Management Association, an organisation that aims to spearhead development and advancement of project management in Iceland, presents an annual award for the best Master's thesis in project management. The winning Master's thesis this year was written by the UI PhD student Ingibjörg Karlsdóttir and is entitled "Project benefit co-creation in the Icelandic fisheries sector: Stakeholder involvement and integration of sustainable development."
"This award is really important to me, because it motivates me to persevere with what I'm doing in my PhD. I am also delighted that research into Icelandic project management is being recognised, because this is a vital and constantly expanding factor in all areas of industry," said Ingibjörg, explaining that her award-winning thesis looks at projects in the Icelandic fisheries sector and related industries from the perspective of project management methodology.
"I explored how projects create shared benefits for all stakeholders in the sector and highlighted the aspects that support sustainable development in the Icelandic fishing industry."
Ingibjörg says that the project management programme at UI includes several fascinating elective courses and that she took a course focusing on the fisheries sector, which had sparked her curiosity.
"I actually don't have any particular background in fisheries studies, but I wanted to broaden my knowledge. I saw an opportunity to learn more, apply what I had already learned on the project management programme as a whole and identify issues relating to sustainable development in the Icelandic fishing industry."
Ingibjörg's supervisors for her award-winning thesis were Inga Minelgaité, professor of business administration, and David Cook, postdoctoral researcher in environment and natural resources, both at the University of Iceland. They also helped her to develop the research plan for the thesis.
Environmental, economic and social sustainability
The UN Sustainable Development Goals are prioritised as part of the new Strategy of the University of Iceland, which identifies sustainability as the basis of all work at the University. How should project managers handle this complex relationship between sustainability and project implementation?
"People tend to fixate on environmental issues when it comes to sustainability, which are of course extremely important when you look at the big picture," says Ingibjörg's supervisor Inga Minelgaité, who specialises in this field. "But on the programme we also highlight the importance of economic sustainability and social sustainability. These get less attention, but we believe that social sustainability is crucial for our future. Social sustainability is when processes, systems, structures and relationships actively support current and future generations to create a healthy and viable society."
Inga explains that by managing the processes used in projects and applying recognised methods, it is possible to reduce waste and exploit natural resources in the most responsible and efficient way possible, considering both the present and the future.
"We want students to think about sustainability from the initial planning stages through to project implementation, by considering all three pillars of sustainability, i.e. environmental, economic and social. I'm seeing increased interest in sustainable leadership and sustainable project management in industry, which is also reflected in the Master's theses I supervise. It's brilliant to see students looking ahead and actively taking part in shaping the future, endeavouring to achieve sustainability through efficient project management."
"My Master's degree at the University of Iceland showed me how project management supports sustainable development," says Ingibjörg. "For my thesis, I wanted to explore how sustainability is incorporated into the Icelandic fishing industry, since this has been one of the most important industries in Iceland for centuries. The fishing industry has also created many jobs in the technology sector, which relies heavily on project management." Ingibjörg is here with her supervisor, Inga Minelgaité, professor of business administration. image/kristinn ingvarsson
Sustainability incorporated into all project management courses
Inga says that Ingibjörg's thesis is very practical, as is the entire project management programme. Industries are constantly evolving to become more project based, with the operations of companies and institutions increasingly organised in the form of clearly defined projects.
"Project management is about the ability to complete a project on schedule, within the budget and to the intended standard. By managing specific projects, you quickly learn from experience. On the programme, though, we place emphasis on introducing students to the tools they need to manage several projects at once. These are things like project schedules, project portfolios and organisation that is as strategic as possible at the project management level," explains Inga, who specialises in leadership skills, particularly for women in business.
Inga explains that Ingibjörg's research looks at the important topic of sustainability in the fishing industry. Sustainability is such an urgent priority that it has already been incorporated into all project management courses taught at the University of Iceland.
"My Master's degree at the University of Iceland showed me how project management supports sustainable development," says Ingibjörg. "For my thesis, I wanted to explore how sustainability is incorporated into the Icelandic fishing industry, since this has been one of the most important industries in Iceland for centuries. The fishing industry has also created many jobs in the technology sector, which relies heavily on project management. One of the things that project management looks at is the management of industry stakeholders and I wanted to get a better insight into how this is achieved."
Ingibjörg reports that she conducted semi-standardised interviews with experts in different fields working for companies that specialise in fishing and processing, particularly high-tech companies and experts in certification projects and sustainability analysis.
"Those interviews revealed, for example, that relationships with stakeholders are an important factor in creating the conditions for successful projects within the industry. The research also shows the importance of getting people to cooperate on projects, because this approach creates the most value for stakeholders as well as benefits that emerge on completion of the project. But despite this, social sustainability is given low priority in the fisheries sector," says Ingibjörg.
The financial benefits, Ingibjörg argues, are indisputable. She reports that the benefits to stakeholders grow when fish processing companies manage projects better and process products more efficiently, thereby increasing production rates and creating a competitive advantage.
"My research findings can help project managers define the three pillars of sustainability in projects within the fisheries sector. The research also touches on the importance of identifying stakeholders from the start of a project."
Strong links with industry
Inga reports that staff on the project management programme are always trying to find ways to strengthen links with industry and ensure that graduates are equipped to make positive changes at the companies that employ them.
"Our newest course is called 'Projectification and sustainable governance of projects'. This is a unique course with a strong focus on links with industry, not just companies here in Iceland but also abroad. Students on the course have the opportunity to travel abroad, get to know companies there, and tackle realistic project management issues.
Inga argues that the focus of the degree programme is threefold. "Students such as Ingibjörg get insight into the foundations of project management, but we also concentrate on those elements of project management that help students to understand what we call strategic vision. We explore how projects and project teams can be used to implement a new strategy. We look at organisational structures and the different approaches to project management that can create a competitive advantage for a company. We also place enormous emphasis on the future. We look at things that have already improved processing rates and will improve them even more in the immediate future. These are things like how projects are presented, how their level of complexity is handled."
Following completion of her Master's degree, Ingibjörg is now hard at work on her PhD at UI, which is almost entirely research-based. She believes that the importance of research lies in its role in revealing where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed.
"You can think of research as a measure of progress and a tool to expand the knowledge we already have. Furthermore, I believe it is important to strengthen partnerships between industry and academia through research."
Karlsdóttir, I., Cook, D., Minelgaite, I. (2021). Efficiency management in catch handling onboard small boats – Standardisation of processes in Icelandic fisheries. Sustainable Futures, Vol.3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sftr.2021.100060
Karlsdóttir,I., Cook, D., Minelgaite, I. (2021). Project Benefit Co-Creation in The Icelandic Fisheries Sector with Stakeholder Involvement And Integration Of Sustainable Development. Journal of International Doctoral Research, Vol.8 (1), p. 27-96