Chaperoning: practices of collaboration in the Panama Canal Expansion Program

Karen Smits (Department of Organization Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Alfons van Marrewijk (Department of Organization Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Publication date: 15 June 2012

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how project partners respond to contractually agreed collaboration in an infrastructural megaproject. Problematic performances of megaprojects have shifted away attention from the instrumental towards the interpretative, focusing on daily work life, practices, power, ambiguity and sense making in project organizations. Such an interpretative perspective helps to better understand practices of collaboration in complex mega projects, which the authors studied in the Panama Canal Expansion Program (PCEP).

Design/methodology/approach

Given the focus on daily work life, the authors chose an in‐depth single case study. Practices of collaboration have been studied during a one‐year ethnographic fieldwork period in Panama, in which the daily work life of project participants was intensely observed.

Findings

First, it was found that practices of collaboration in complex projects change in periods of conflict. In these periods actors are forced to reflect upon their practices and to negotiate about new practices. Second, the authors identified collaborative practices in which a consultancy firm teaches their client and supervises its appropriate behavior. The authors have labeled these as chaperoning.

Practical implications

This study illustrates that when innovation in contracts requires an innovative relationship between project partners, specific attention to this innovation and the related practices of collaboration enhances the collaborative relationship among partners, which can prevent cost overruns and delays.

Originality/value

Ethnographic fieldwork has not been used frequently to study project management practices. The paper builds upon a one‐year ethnographic fieldwork period to study practices in the daily work life of the project participants from “within”.

Keywords

Citation

Smits, K. and van Marrewijk, A. (2012), "Chaperoning: practices of collaboration in the Panama Canal Expansion Program", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 440-456. https://doi.org/10.1108/17538371211235317

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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