Exploring the Shadows of Project Management

Abstract: The project has become a preferred way of organizing work. Two major reasons for this trend are demands for increased market responsiveness and the empowering of workgroups in order to improve employee commitment. The implementation of project work has greatly been influenced by the project management school, with its roots in military-industrial projects during the Cold War period and the construction industry. The project management school focuses on single projects and puts an emphasis on the planning and execution of a systemic breakdown of the project task. The mechanistic single-project focus of the project management school is complemented by the increased standardization of the multi-project environment.

Acknowledging that both rationalistic planning methods and standards are important tools for making a project-based organization efficient, this thesis recognizes that the project is also an ad-hoc organizational form, suited to dealing with uncertain tasks, while the bureaucracy is the organizational form best suited to repetitive tasks. A number of mainly Scandinavian researchers criticize the project management school for overemphasizing the technological characteristics while neglecting the informal characteristics of projects. This thesis aims to revisit the informal perspective of projects in order to improve management in multi-project environments. Findings drawn from data collected at Swedish organizations indicate that the covertly informal behaviour of project managers makes instrumental contributions to project success. This covert behaviour within the shadow system is an important mechanism for dealing with shortcomings in the formal system of the organizations. These findings served as a basis for two different interventions at a Swedish pharmaceutical company which aimed to set up formally legitimized arenas for creating learning within the shadow system. The results show that shadow systems, contradictory to earlier theory, can be subjected to influences in ways which strengthen their constructive qualities. Such influences presuppose that the formal system of the organizations refrains from attempts to regulate and control by making the informal legitimate. Informal management tools can be used to improve project results as well as provide management with general feedback on the actual operations of the projects and on the formal system of the organization.

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