The social reality of organisational project management at the interface between networks and hierarchy

Monique Aubry (Department of Business and Technology, School of Business and Management, University of Quebec at Montreal, Montreal, Canada)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Publication date: 21 June 2011



Today's organisations still face the duality of organising for both innovation and projects through organic structures while at the same time maintaining stability within their hierarchical structures. Issues, tensions and conflicts arise at the interfaces between these two/competing modes of organising. The purpose of this paper is to explore what really happens at the interfaces between the structures and governance modes that result from the prevalence of project‐oriented organisations. The theoretical framework is based upon the actor‐network theory (ANT) in order to capture networks construction around project management offices (PMO) deliverables that cross multiple organisational boundaries.


This research is of explorative nature. Even though the number of cases is limited to two, a strong research design was obtained through maximizing together their homogeneity and heterogeneity. Data were primarily collected from semi‐directed interviews with 29 individuals. Data analysis were done within a grounded theory approach. This study focus on one particular PMO deliverable: the project status report. The itinerary of the project status report was followed within each organisation.


What this study shows is the complexity of the translation process followed by a project status report. It highlighted specifically the existence of multiple arenas for negotiation. Interfaces can then be seen as translation centers where multiple perspectives on the project are discussed. Issues, tensions and conflicts are to be resolved when converging towards an irreversible unique point of control. Translations are not free. They incurred significant transaction costs which are invisible to the management team.

Research limitations/implications

While many other perspectives would permit a better understanding of what happens at the interface between hierarchy and projects, this research focused on networks constructlon within the ANT framework. This research is exploratory and as such there are certain inherent limitations. First, it was limited to two case studies only. Second, only one deliverable was scrutinised through ANT. Further research should also be undertaken to link project monitoring and control functions to project governance.

Practical implications

Practical implications relate to the capability of anticipating the consequences of organising within dual structures. This research leads to three major conclusions: PMO is part of the power system and politics; there are costs to hyper‐control; and interfaces could be seen as learning opportunities.


This originality of this paper is twofold: the research subject and the theoretical framework. First, the research subject looked at politics and power systems within the organisational project management. While previous researches have identified issues, tensions and conflicts surrounding the management of multiple projects, none has clearly focused on this subject. Second, this research adopted asocial approach based on an ANT framework. This approach focuses on the networks construction where issues, tensions and conflicts can be observed while they unfold.



Aubry, M. (2011), "The social reality of organisational project management at the interface between networks and hierarchy", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 436-457.

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