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Projectification: The forgotten variable in the internationalization of firms’ innovation processes?

Christophe Midler (Centre de Recherche en Gestion, Institut Interdisciplinaire pour l’Innovation, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS, Palaiseau, France)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 26 July 2019

Issue publication date: 8 October 2019



The last few decades have seen the rapid emergence of two transformative streams in large firms. The first is the development of project management, aimed at improving the performance of innovation management, while the second, the internationalization of innovation organizations and processes in response to strategies of redeployment toward emerging countries. Both streams have been closely analyzed in the fields of project management and international management, respectively. However, the links between the two have been less studied. The purpose of this paper is to consider the hypothesis that a firm’s projectification might have an important impact on its pattern of internationalization in innovation.


First, we present the models of internationalization of innovation processes used in the multinational corporation literature. This field essentially focuses on the components of permanent organizations: global internationalization strategy and legacy, R&D footprint, characterization of local subsidiaries and the role of central head offices. Projects figure only as a context in which those elements operate, not as a structuring variable of the global innovation process pattern. The authors challenge this view by exploring whether the specificities of the firm’s projectification pattern can influence how it builds its global innovation process. The paper is based on a longitudinal case where the authors analyze the organizational transition within the Renault group, an emblematic case of a multinational that implemented a spectacular internationalization transition in the 2000s.


Our results demonstrate project organizing’s major impact on the internationalization patterns of innovation processes within the firm. They show how the deployment of a polycentric innovation footprint has been the consequence of a specific projectification transition, giving the project and program functions the autonomy to transgress centralized product development norms to adapt their project to the local environment; use the initial breakthrough project as the foundation for a new and specific global product development network through a lineage logic; and sustain this innovation global network as a permanent process of the firm.

Research limitations/implications

The paper demonstrates the importance of the organization’s projectification characteristics as an important vector for successfully implementing the most advanced internationalization strategies (i.e. reverse innovation) and innovation processes models (i.e. integrated networks).

Practical implications

The paper characterizes project management related conditions that can govern the success of innovation strategies in high-growth emerging countries: the autonomy and empowerment of project functions; colocation and integration of teams; existence of a program function; and HR policies capable of supporting lineage management and project-to-project learning processes.


Bridging project management literature with multinational management literature. Demonstrate the key impact of projectification on internationalization pattern of the firm. Longitudinal analysis of a firm internationalization transition on a ten-year period.



The author would like to thank Prof. Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini for the constructive and encouraging exchanges that stimulated this paper. The author would also like to thank the reviewers and editor for their constructive, valuable and detailed inputs, which have contributed to the improvement of this text.

This paper forms part of a special section on “Projectification and the impact on societies”.


Midler, C. (2019), "Projectification: The forgotten variable in the internationalization of firms’ innovation processes?", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 545-564.



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