Knowledge processes and capabilities in project-based organizations

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: The beauty of projects lies in their ability to integrate different knowledge bases and expertise in novel ways. Projects, though, are temporary in nature and this has consequences for the organization that uses them as a business strategy to improve its efficiency. Project-based organizations are representative of this organizational form and can either be standalone or subsidiary organizations within a larger corporation. In project-based organizations the majority of products or services are produced through projects for either internal or external customers. Nevertheless, project-based organizations are characterized as loosely coupled systems with independent sub-units resulting in sparse internal knowledge processes and capability development. Real estate organizations are often composite organizations where one part is project-based with a temporary perspective, and the other parts perceive the organization to have a longer term perspective, represented by facility management, asset management, maintenance, operational services etc. Real estate organizations thus often maintain a long-term relationship with customers and end-users, although are frequently found to be lacking in their management of end-users. Moreover, they are often found to have inadequate competence in project management and in connecting their business and project networks, resulting in inefficient use of resources. The present research investigates how practices in project-based organizations impact upon internal knowledge processes and capability development with the aim of fulfilling end-users’ needs and requirements. The research question is formulated as follows: how do project-based organizations’ underlying mechanisms impact on internal knowledge processes? This is investigated through a knowledge-based view of project-based organizations and explores it from the bottom up through the organizational hierarchies, that is, from the interaction with end-users in projects, through the project management office and up to top-management and its knowledge governance strategies. The research adopts a critical realism perspective, holds knowledge processes as the unit of analysis and combines literature reviews with 14 qualitative case studies and a final qualitative sample survey, and is published in five peer-reviewed research journal papers. The empirical dataset consists of 100 semi-structured interviews, 17 workshops and meetings with researchers and practitioners, plus document analysis. The thesis is divided into two parts: Summary of the research and Appended papers. The Summary part of the thesis provides a synthesis and reflection of the findings in the papers through (a) developing six knowledge governance strategy profiles of project-based organizations, (b) extending existing contingency framework of P- and M-form corporations, (c) proposing a tentative multilayer knowledge governance framework for knowledge processes and capabilities of project-based organizations in the real estate sector and (d) suggesting an interplay focus among identified factors and layers in the proposed framework to comprehend emerging knowledge processes in PBOs.