The purpose of this paper is to address hierarchies in a large program of projects. It explores cultivation of communities of practice (CoP) within a hierarchical client organization that manages multi-billion-euro infrastructure programs and projects.
This paper is based on an exploratory longitudinal case study approach involving action research. In-depth semi-structured interviews, company records, industry reports and observation from a case study in the hierarchical bureaucracy were translated into the language of cognitive maps for software analysis and subsequent interpretation.
The findings highlight the importance of hierarchy constraints and program management practices in project-based firms. The involvement of senior management in CoP cultivation reinforced the community’s contribution to strategic value creation in the firm under scrutiny.
This paper mobilizes the concepts of boundary spanning and loose coupling as a way of analyzing the role of CoPs in bureaucratic hierarchies to promote learning and knowledge transfer. The results of the study suggest that application of those concepts can contribute to sustainability of CoPs in hierarchical organizations by giving them social space to span horizontal and vertical boundaries.
The authors practically contribute to the field by demonstrating the process and the impact of CoP sponsors’ engagement in their cultivation. This was enabled through the research-oriented action research component. The paper also concludes that cognitive mapping may provide a useful addition to engaged research, potentially simulating and influencing change in practice.
The academic contribution concerns understanding the roles of hierarchies, program management and CoP cultivation in project-based firms. It offers clear guidelines for managers of hierarchical bureaucracies to cultivate CoPs to address hierarchical constraints and how CoPs differ in organizational form.
The research was undertaken as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership funded by the UK Government through Innovate UK, involving UCL working with the client, although the evaluation in this paper should not be interpreted as representing the views of the client organisation.
Duryan, M. and Smyth, H. (2019), "Cultivating sustainable communities of practice within hierarchical bureaucracies: The crucial role of an executive sponsorship", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 400-422. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-03-2018-0040Download as .RIS
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