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Improvisation and agile project management: a comparative consideration

Stephen A. Leybourne (Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 11 September 2009




The purpose of this paper is to examine two aspects of the increasing body of research in the field of project management, namely improvisational working and agile project management (APM).


This is a comparative paper, considering the extant literature on improvisational working within projects and APM. The paper is essentially conceptual, and concludes with a comparative table of constructs, and their segregation into components and outputs. The growth in the recognition of improvisation as a useful addition to the armoury of the project manager stems from the shift that is taking place within the body of project knowledge generally, in that historically the greater proportion of the project management literature has been the epitome of planning in the prescriptive mode, but that a shift has taken place over the last decade or so towards a more behavioural, and as a result of this, a less structured and more improvisational focus. The second area of scrutiny within this paper seeks to position the limited emerging literature on APM within the wider project literature, and to examine overlaps and commonalities with improvisational working within projects.


Common areas across the two working styles are exposed and documented, and there is analysis of recent attempts to combine them with more traditional models. Linkages with complexity theory and complex adaptive systems are also briefly addressed.

Practical implications

There is growing awareness amongst practitioners of the potential benefits of improvisational working and “agile” methods, and some potential benefits are identified.


This paper moves further from the “traditional” project‐based paradigm of “plan – then execute”, offering insights into potential emerging best practice for practitioners in some organisational contexts.



Leybourne, S.A. (2009), "Improvisation and agile project management: a comparative consideration", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 519-535.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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