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Project management : learning by breaking the rules

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Disciplines
  • Engineering

Abstract

The paper explores project management in action in a large public research organisation – NLAT which decided to change its internal organisation from team-based to project-based organisation a few years ago. A systematic and comparative analysis of 8 projects reveals that adherence to the ISO 9000’s standardized rules of project management - specific staffing and project leaders, definition of milestones ex ante, procedure manuals, and formalized learning accumulation mechanisms - had little to do with the organisations success over recent years: Looking for explanations for this success, the paper focuses on the process of transferring from one project to another, enhancing organisational learning through rules breaking. We identify three elements which encourage the accumulation of knowledge and competencies, as organisational learning: low project core staffing levels which stimulates the circulation of engineers and researchers between projects and blurs project boundaries, implementing and managing thematic projects which build on specific competencies developed in dedicated projects and encouraging ‘bricolage’ to hybridise project management with traditional hierarchical management practices.

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