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Blog post 24 May 2011

‘Project Management and the Celtic Tiger’

‘Project Management and the Celtic Tiger’

The Celtic Tiger is a term popularly used to describe the transformation of the Irish economy since 1990. It was first coined in 1994 in a report by economic consultants Morgan-Stanley who noted that the rapid growth of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan during the 1980s - a phenomenon known as the East Asian Tigers - was being paralleled in Ireland. Throughout the 1990s Irish living standards rose dramatically to the point where the country is now, at least by some measures, one of the richest in the world. Most significantly Ireland was effectively transformed from a pre-modern, peasant society to a post-modern, high-technology economy.

There is no consensus as to why the Celtic Tiger occurred, but the following are usually identified as important: low corporate taxation, significant and long-term investment in education, the development of an advanced free-market economy, low-cost labour (at least initially), and EU investment.

The paper notes that these macro-economic reasons are in stark contrast to the usual reasons attributed to an earlier and similar economic 'miracle' that happened to the Japanese economy between the 1960s and the 1980s. Most of the primary reasons were to do with the micro practices of work and management, such as the introduction of new materials management systems (e.g. JIT), enhanced quality management, statistical process control, practices of continuous improvement, zero defects policies, etc.

This analysis is clear in many popular publications of the time including the Harvard Business Review articles with titles like What working for a Japanese Company taught me (Rehfeld 1990), Japan - where operations really are strategic (Wheelwright 1981), Behind Japan's Success (Drucker 1990), Dedicated Assets: Japan's Manufacturing Edge, (Dyer 1994), and Why Japanese factories work (Hayes 1981). Those that were perceived to have good knowledge of Japanese manufacturing techniques became best-selling authors or business gurus. Typical of the time was Richard Schonberger's (1982) Japanese Manufacturing Techniques - nine hidden lessons in simplicity, which sold 160,000 copies, and W. Edward Deming's 14 points for management, based on his deep study of and contribution to Japanese manufacturing excellence.

The study explores the hypothesis that, in contrast to the accepted wisdom, micro-practices of work and management, and project management practices specifically, are an (overlooked) reason for the Celtic Tiger.