Lundin, R.A. and Tryggestad, K. (2015), "Guest editorial", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 8 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMPB-10-2014-0074
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Volume 8, Issue 1.
When research areas go from being relatively new to become ripe two related things seem to occur. The first is that research efforts seem to go off in a multitude of different directions leaving a fairly coherent state of common ground for a growing and wild dynamism. The other thing is almost a corollary of the first in the sense that it is nearly impossible for anyone to keep updated on what is going on since the new directions are taken to new fields of traditional research. Thus there will be a market for literature reviews making it possible to at least categorize what is going on. While the selection of papers to this Special Issue illustrates the various directions research on temporary organizations and projects are taking they are also vibrant contemporary examples of what has come to be known as the “Scandinavian school of project management” (e.g. Lindkvist et al., 1998; Sahlin-Andersson and Söderholm, 2002; Cicmil and Hodgson, 2006; Hällgren et al., 2012; Morris, 2013; Tryggestad, 2014).
The five papers were presented in their original form in August 2013 at the 22nd Nordic Academy of Management Conference (NFF) held in Reykjavik, Iceland (predominantly researchers from the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden but also scholars from other parts of Europe and the world). The selected papers and contributions were all part of the track “Researching Temporary Organizations and Project Practices” which was a major one in terms of submissions. The track and the program resulted in more than 40 abstracts and papers demonstrating the growing interest in research on projects and temporary organizations. The range of papers and the topics they raise also demonstrate the breadth of the research in this field internationally and trans disciplinary, covering not only what is going on at business schools and in research areas such as management and organization studies but also adjacent research such as engineering, construction management and design. In brief then, the collection of papers in this Special Issue shows both the diversity of research topics and approaches as well as the fascinating organizational complexity of the project phenomenon.
The first paper by Nina Fowler, Marcus Lindahl and David Sköld, titled “The Projectification of University Research – A study of resistance and accommodation of project management tools & techniques”, might make the reader from an academic institution interested since it treats what is happening in connection with research projects at universities. The authors describe how researchers set up applications for research funds and compare that with how they handle their research projects in practice. The general point is made by many students of project work, i.e., project managers tend to talk the talk of project management but do not necessarily walk the walk prescribed for project managers. In this university case, applications and plans are written in such a way that they are in line with research funding rules and regulations. But in practice most researchers tend to forget the rules and regulations in their research practice. However, when reporting back to the foundation, following the rules becomes important again.
The authors describe and analyze a more constrained relationship between research and funding and it is tempting to conclude that this increasing emphasis on formalization might be a dark side of projects in universities as well as in society at large. The authors, however, appear to have a more subtle message. Projects rarely exist completely isolated from the rest of society and are not immune from attempts to install more formalization and bureaucratic control. Universities are no exception and the authors show the costs of increased bureaucratization of the research project. When the authors conceptualize this bureaucratization in terms of projectification of university research it is because their study shows that main stream project management bodies of knowledge have been successful in equipping the research funding agencies with the tools and techniques required for bureaucratic control. These tools and techniques might make the work in the funding agency more efficient but when it comes to university researchers’ projects and results the tools and techniques can be counterproductive and imply high costs. There seems to be a rule in practice that in the long run people who talk the talk tend to adapt their walk. In other words, if this study was to be repeated some time from now, would an adaptation of behaviors be found? Or will we see a return to the “good old days”, when research topics were chosen more freely and when guidelines for doing research were implicitly understood rather than explicitly enforced? Insofar as the paper outlines a more constrained relationship between research and funding, it also raises the question how research proposals might, in a next step, be associated to teaching. An imminent question for universities seems to be: how is this research related to the teaching we do? What is then the fate of “free research”?
The second paper in the selection by Torild Alise W. Oddane, and titled “The collective creativity of academics and practitioners in innovation projects” is also related to functions of the academy. It is about how academics and practitioners can work together and through their different vantage points contributes to creativity and innovation. The main argument is that collective creativity is enhanced through the diversity of backgrounds, experiences and points of views for the two categories of people working together. The theoretical argument is also that redundancy makes a difference. Rather than streamlining the project and tentatively making it a linear process, parallel activities in the project encourages problem solving from various perspectives. In other words, effectiveness rather than efficiency is at the fore. The reasoning appears to be in contrast to the above case of streamlining university research. Parallel teams were combined with joint collaborative efforts across professional and organizational boundaries, implicating production workers and researchers from both industry and external research institutes. The author conceptualizes this as the “ensemble approach” to emphasize the collective-temporal dimension of being together at the same time. This, then, in contrast to the linear “relay” approach the company used to comply with – a bureaucratic approach that had proven to be costly and highly problematic due to the separation of people and knowledge domains in time and space which resulted in a lack of hands-on understanding of what was actually going on in the R&D projects.
The theoretical discussion is brought to bear through an example – a case study – on how a technical R&D project focussed on how aluminum die life can be extended. The project is called the Die Life Project and concerns aluminum extrusion. The technical result of the project was a success without doubt since die life was extended to 15-20 times longer than for the original die. Interestingly, the case and analysis shows how industry is capable to innovate their own approach to R&D projects by discarding the kind of conventional streamlined bureaucratic rule following that university research projects are struggling to comply with.
The third paper by Malin H. Näsholm and Tomas Blomquist, and titled “Co-creation as a Strategy for Program Management” is in a completely different empirical setting but still similar in the sense that the case concerns parallel activities. In addition, the authors question the conventional top-down bureaucratic approach to program and project management. The context of the case is that Umeå, a city in northern Sweden, is the cultural capital in Europe in 2014 by an announcement by the European Union (EU). Every year the EU decides on two cultural capitals in Europe. In 2014 Riga is the second one. The approach always taken when such a capital is chosen has been that the local government is in charge but also that the local government plans for all cultural events to take place during the year. This paper is about co-creation. Rather than using a top-down procedure, an effort was made to activate the entire population of Umeå City and to encourage the population at large to come up with projects to be included in the activities of the year.
The authors’ study shows that it is the collection of activities that make up the program for the year rather than a predetermined set of activities. In a sense this is a case of programmification (in contrast to the bureaucratization and streamlining of projects noted above) where the resulting program is not to be streamlined per se but rather to provide a platform and forum through which novel cultural activities and projects can emerge and develop in interaction with citizens and the surrounding society. It will be interesting to see how the result of the co-creation strategy is evaluated and how the result compares with what has been happening in Riga.
The fourth paper titled “Developing a supplier’s third-party relationships and cooperation in project networks” by Miia Martinsuo and Rami Sariola contributes to our understanding of the interactions and role dynamics in a classical project setting. Drawing upon an empirical study on architects and structural engineers as consultants in complex construction projects, the authors show how these third-parties influence the client’s decisions and their relationship with the main contractor and component suppliers. This is in contrast to previous research contributions which suggest that designers such as architects are becoming less important as more of the design process is led by the main contractor and customer, often assisted by professional project management. While the authors acknowledge that the formal role and power of architects in the construction project can be different across countries, their study contribute to our understanding of the role dynamics at play by suggesting that the power and influence of architects and structural engineers comes through their expertise in developing designs, product plans and proposals for materials, which in turn are used by the other project parties as guidelines for their decision making. Yet, the relationship is also a mutual one in the sense that the third-party is increasingly under time pressure and thus dependent upon support, for example when formulating suggestions and requesting design changes that helps to refine designs but also to deliver these in a timely fashion. Again, the design process and plans becomes the important link in facilitating this joint collaboration and partnering opportunity.
The fifth and last paper titled “Flexible contracting in project business” by Jaakko Kujala, Soili Nysten-Haarala and Jouko Nuottila contributes to our understanding of the role of contract law in both hampering and facilitating collaborations among project parties. The authors’ review of the formal juridical rules and regulations provides novel insights into contracting in business. The paper discusses what flexibility is and how it can be achieved during the contracting process in both legal and business perspectives. Interestingly, the authors points out that there is more flexibility when it comes to contracting than what is often assumed by the project parties, but it takes knowledge and insights to appreciate how the law can be mobilized to benefit the overall project task. When taken too literary the formal legal rules can become an unproductive constraint that hampers the project and the parties involved. Thus, it seems that flexibility (or constraint) is not an inherent property of the law, but rather an outcome and achievement from the specific ways in which the project parties mobilize and use the law. The authors’ paper and contribution is particularly useful in considering this from both formal legal and broader organizational-theoretical perspectives.
Taken together, the five contributions provide interesting insights into the role of the project in business and society. It does not seem to be playing the rational “best practice” role of exploitation of already existing knowledge, as in the conventional case of efficient project execution according to set goal and plan. Rather, the collection of papers and cases suggest the role of the project to be more complex. The case of the university research project can serve as a helpful reminder about the more complex innovative role and rationale for projects in society; in producing new knowledge, in exploring the world and possible futures. The reader might also find it interesting to learn more about project practices that are able to question and drop conventional rationalistic and bureaucratic approaches explore alternatives and benefit from that in terms of innovation in both processes and products/outcomes. We hope that the novel project practices and papers that make up this Special Issue can be a source of inspiration. Especially for businesses and universities that struggle to cope with increasing demands for streamlining and bureaucratization, novel project practices can perhaps serve as a role model for how to break out of the “iron cage”. The project phenomenon, it seems, could very well be about temporary organized innovation, with rule breaking supplemented with novelty and path creation.
Professor Rolf A. Lundin
Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden
Dr Kjell Tryggestad
Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark and Department of Business Administration, Hedmark University College, Rena, Norway
Cicmil, S. and Hodgson, D. (2006), “Making projects critical: an introduction”, in Hodgson, D. and Cicmil, S. (Eds), Making Projects Critical, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY, pp. 1-28
Hällgren, M., Jacobsson, M. and Söderholm, A. (2012), “Embracing the drifting environment: the legacy and impact of a Scandinavian project literature classic”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 695-713
Lindkvist, L., Söderlund, J. and Tell, F. (1998), “Managing product development projects: on the significance of fountains and deadlines”, Organization Studies, Vol. 19 No. 6, pp. 931-951
Morris, P.W.G. (2013), “Reconstructing Project Management, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester
Sahlin-Andersson, K. and Söderholm, A. (2002), “The Scandinavian school of project studies”, in Sahlin-Andersson, K. and Söderholm, A. (Eds), Beyond Project Management: New Perspectives on the Temporary-Permanent Dilemma, Liber, Abstrakt, Copemhagen Business School Press, Malmö, pp. 11-24
Tryggestad, K. (2014), “Projektledelse”, in Vikkelsø, S. and Kjær, P. (Eds), Klassisk Og Moderne Organisationsteori, Hans Reitzel, København, pp. 523-542