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Long Range Planning

41/1 February 2008

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Special Issue

 

Joseph Lampel, Harry Scarbrough and Sebastian Macmillan Theme Editors

Managing Through Projects in Knowledge-based Environments

 

Charles Baden-Fuller Editorial

It is a great pleasure to introduce the Special Issue: Managing Through Projects in Knowledge-Based Environments edited by Professors Joseph Lampel, Harry Scarbrough and Sebastian Macmillan. The editors come from both sides of the academic-practice divide, and the partnership was evident in the developmental workshops and selection of the papers bringing some really interesting papers and themes. Project-based organising has been on the ascendancy, moving beyond industries such as construction to being visible almost everywhere. Often a response to the negative side of hierarchically-driven thinking, managing through projects provides focus for teams to complete creative and demanding tasks with fewer distractions. But project management in the knowledge- based environment has challenges. As the excellent overview by the editors points out, project managers have to mobilise, create and integrate disparate sets of knowledge from within and outside the project team.
The editors provide an over-arching framework for thinking about the ‘‘what and why’’ of these issues. They have also organised an interesting set of pieces that demonstrate the wide variety of contexts where project-based organising can be effective. We start with Andrea Ordanini, Gaia Rubera and Mario Sala, who look at project-based organising in the music industry, with a focus on intraorganisational arrangements. Sue Newell and colleagues explore the dynamics of inter-organisational arrangements in the biotechnology industry, highlighting some of the dynamics of the innovation process. Henri Burgers, Frans van den Bosch and Henk Volberda examine how new product development teams in a major Dutch electronics company communicate across each other and the rest of the organisation. Jennifer Whyte and colleagues look at the way the design industry uses visual objects to effect a highly creative process that is simultaneously tightly controlled. Chris Ivory and Roger Vaughan look at the engineering industry, and see how Virgin used framing to improve performance in train construction projects. And finally, with a specially-invited piece from Angus Finney, we have insights into how independent film producers manage projects to achieve effective results, balancing creativity and financial performance. In short, there is something here for everyone.


The global contest for business knowledge
In 2001 we published a piece that looked at the state of research in the field of business and management in Europe. In this issue we take a very comprehensive look at the global contests in the production of business knowledge. Our aim is not to provide ‘‘another ranking’’ of business schools, but rather to assess where leading-edge research is being undertaken for the benefit of academics and users of management education. We find that leading-edge business research as we now know it, although once dominated by US institutions, can now be found globally. Although the group is select, there are several hundred business schools that are engaged in leading-edge research in a serious manner and users can look close to home to find institutions of quality.


Moving the journal forward
In this first editorial of the year, I wish to look back on 2007. Academically the journal has done wonderfully well; Thompson International has noted that our citation score is, for the second year running, around 1, which places us academically in the top 30 of all journals in business and management. We have not forgotten the practice audience. Our download statistics are excellent and still rising, but we know we can do more here. We need to publish more pieces and make sure that they reach out to our practice audience. During the last year, the board advertised and appointed three people to become my editorial colleagues to provide more support for the journal. Rob Grant (Georgetown University and Bocconi University), Hugh Courtney (formerly McKinsey and now Professor of Practice at Maryland University) and Simon Peck (Case Western) are playing a very special role as Associate Editors, having responsibility for dealing with manuscripts and creating initiatives to move the journal forward to a higher plane. We have had several meetings, and with their support we have plans to broaden the journal’s reach. One initiative is of notedin addition to pieces that fulfil traditional criteria, we actively seek pieces that: document in a careful manner important phenomena that are relevant to academics and practice, such as

  • Significant actions and behaviours by senior executives and boards of directors that are rarely documented but have obvious important consequences
  • Novel company processes that break traditional ways of doing things but seem to be successful
  • New organisational forms that are emerging that are really different


We will also invite, on a selective basis, authors to provide pieces that review the state of the field in an original way that is valuable to academics and practitioners.


Thanks
As in previous years, I would like to thank our reviewers who helped us identify valuable contributions for the journal, and to make suggestions to authors on how their ideas might be clarified and improved. This is an onerous task as they have to tread the fine line between allowing authors the freedom of expression, yet encouraging them to clarify their thinking and recognise past work in the field. I would also like to thank our Editorial Board and the publishers Elsevier for their encouragement and support to the editorial team, and of course Alessandra Marsh, our editorial assistant, who keeps the journal’s wheels running.

 

Joseph Lampel, Harry Scarbrough and Sebastian Macmillan Managing Through Projects in Knowledge-based Environments - Special Issue Introduction by the Guest Editors j.lampel@city.ac.uk

Knowledge-based competitive advantage erodes if it is not continually refreshed. Organisations increasingly rely on projects to enhance their knowledge-base through specific project deliverables such as new products and technologies. But, to do this, projects must go beyond the specific deliverables for which they are designed, and also become sites and opportunities for the creation, mobilisation and integration of knowledge. In this article we argue that projects interact with the organisation's knowledge base primarily through three key activities: (a) by mobilising knowledge that is needed to meet project objectives; (b) by creating knowledge within and through the project; and (c) by integrating knowledge during the project. We further argue that these knowledge-related activities take place at multiple levels of the organisation. Specifically, they occur at the interorganisational level when multiple organisations work together, at the intraorganisational level where different functions and business units are called to support and collaborate on projects, at the interproject level where populations of projects share and exchange knowledge, and at the intraproject level where knowledge is bound up with team and leadership dynamics. We use examples from the Special Issue to illustrate different project-related knowledge activities and different organisational levels at which these activities take place. This analysis helps to illuminate the wider range of roles which projects may play in exploiting knowledge within and between firms. A number of practical implications flow from this analysis. We conclude with reflections on the evolution of projects as key sites for improving the competitive performance of the organisation.

 

Andrea Ordanini, Gaia Rubera and Mario Sala Integrating Functional Knowledge and Embedding Learning in New Product Launches: How Project Forms Helped EMI Music andrea.ordanini@unibocconi.it

NPD processes in the creative industries face specific difficulties, these authors claim, in terms of knowledge creation, retention and transfer. They examine the decision of EMI Italy to use project forms to try to raise the success rate of new record releases in the market place above the typical ten percent figure. The authors follow two cases -  of a new Italian rap artist, and of the Italian release of a follow-up by a successful UK boy-band - to look at whether and how the project way of working succeeded. In the first instance, project forms helped the purposeful alignment of the different forms of knowledge of the A&R and marketing sides of the operation, and establish joint decision-making rules to promote the synchronization of previously sequential activities, both upstream and downstream. In the second, the Italian branch was allowed to define its own local marketing strategy, and chose an experimental viral campaign where the fan-base of the band acted as its marketing agents. The lessons learnt from this local success were transmitted back to HQ and thence to other branches. The authors note how these solutions successfully challenged the behavioural problems where organizational disincentives mean that, too often, people in separate departments or centres are unwilling, rather than unable to share knowledge.

 

Sue Newell, Anna Goussevskaia, Jacky Swan, Mike Bresnen and Ademola Obembe Interdependencies in Complex Project Ecologies: The Case of Biomedical Innovation snewell@bentley.edu

Project working -relatively autonomous, avoiding established organizational routines, responding flexibly and speedily to external demands, crossing organizational and disciplinary boundaries - has become seen as providing an important locus for organizational learning and as well-suited to developing innovation. But innovation in many high-technology domains, including biomedicine, can typically feature multiple projects distributed across different places, times and organizations. Such complex project ecologies may operate with high levels of uncertainty and no clearly defined program or organizational structure to coordinate work across projects, and over the personal relationships, networks and localities from which projects draw.
The authors note how, given the challenge not just of integrating but of transforming knowledge across diverse groups, a more ‘reciprocal’ approach to managing project interdependencies, involving high levels of project interactivity, might seem most appropriate. However, their detailed analysis of nine biomedical innovation cases - of which three are detailed - reveals in fact, very limited collaboration between the various projects involved. Laying the blame at the door of defensive ‘black-box’ attitudes to knowledge transfer, power dynamics between project partners and the pragmatic realities of the sector’s dominant knowledge regime, they show how such low project interactivity creates problems for the innovation process.

 

J.Henri Burgers, Frans A.J. van den Bosch and Henk W. Volberda Why New Business Development Projects Fail: Coping with the Differences of Technological versus Market Knowledge hburgers@rsm.nl;

Companies seeking to keep a competitive advantage in the face of technological and market change often set up projects to develop new business opportunities. Such projects demand that two different sets of knowledge be intertwined: technological and market. This paper examines how the fit between the creation of technological and market knowledge and important project management characteristics, such as project autonomy and completion criteria, influences the success of new business development (NBD) projects. The authors conducted in-depth longitudinal case research on NBD projects from 1993 to 2003 in the consumer electronics industry. Their findings highlight that technological and market knowledge should have a different effect on project autonomy. Similarly, the findings highlight that a single approach towards NBD projects does not do justice to the diversity of projects in terms of their required exploration of technological and market knowledge. For example, if a project receives more autonomy it needs more time to develop technological knowledge, as it cannot draw on available knowledge, skills and personnel. Meanwhile, NBD projects requiring new market knowledge significantly benefit from a managing-through-projects approach during the commercialisation phase. The paper concludes with important lessons for managers, the main one being that companies should have a range of managerial and organisational arrangements for NBD activities tied to the specific knowledge requirements of projects, instead of applying one standardised arrangement to all types of projects. The authors also advocate using strategic alliances to access market knowledge as they significantly reduce development time and costs.

 

Jennifer Whyte, Boris Ewenstein, Mike Hales and Joe Tidd Visualizing Knowledge in Project-Based Work J.Whyte@reading.ac.uk

Traditionally, project knowledge is captured, codified and then transferred. But an alternative ‘practice-based’ view highlights strategizing craft skills, sees tacit and codified knowledge as inseparable, and knowledge as emergent, developed through interactions between people and objects. As a class of objects specifically designed to convey meaning, how do visual representations ‘hold’ and help manage knowledge in project-based work? The authors look at two contrasting settings - a capital goods manufacturer and an architectural firm - and note how practice between the two differs significantly. Particular kinds of visual tools are seen to aid either exploitation or exploration within a project, leading, for example, to a focus on making decisions either swiftly for maximum efficiency, or deliberately more slowly to ensure full value from all project members’ input. The authors also point to the question of elements that seem to be ‘invisible’ to project participants. They suggest that what is not seen in such contexts may be under-represented because it is so well-known it needn’t be illustrated, or perhaps, because it concerns factors to which project managements ought to be paying more attention.

 

Chris Ivory and Roger Vaughan The Role of Framing in Complex Transitional Projects c.j.ivory@ncl.ac.uk

As design and manufacturing companies attempt to cope with shifts in the business and technological environment, they can use project-based forms of organisation to innovate by identifying and delivering new strategic directions. However, the authors of this paper point out that design and manufacturing is ‘path-dependent’ and consequently rather difficult to change. In other words, the process is defined by a series of frames, which is a particular ordering of the perceived priorities. However, by reframing, management can alter trajectories to suit new strategic requirements. They take as their case study the example of Virgin Trains modernising its West Coast Mainline Route by ordering rolling stock from Alstom Transport. The case study focuses on the four main frames which Alstom and Virgin worked to promote as key to the success of the project: design for passenger experience; design for cost; design and build to time; and design for maintainability. Such framing, say the authors, allows managers (and customers) to identify the points at which failures to share an understanding of the project’s goals might occur. They conclude by saying that reframing demands a creative approach to identifying the required framing at all levels of the project and from strategic to operational processes before implementing change management techniques.

 

Angus Finney Learning from Sharks: Lessons on Managing Projects in the Independent Film Industry Angus.Finney@gmail.com

There are few industries where project leaders and managers have as little control over results as in the independent film industry. Yet the film industry is one of the best examples today of a project-based industry. Films get made and distributed, but the knowledge that is required to take a concept from script to screen is highly idiosyncratic, relying heavily on the individual producer. While the big Hollywood studios are well-oiled production machines, the independent sector suffers from being fragmented and ill-structured. The author makes a start in imparting knowledge by detailing three case studies and the lessons learned from each. The first deals with management of the development process; the second with the production process; and the third looks at distribution. Sometimes the lessons are harsh, resulting in film flops or company collapse. The author concludes by saying that while big studios provide examples of slick operations, it is the paradox of contending with ‘‘creative’’ and ‘‘commercial’’ imperatives that makes production so risky for the independent sector.

 

The Global Contest for Business Knowledge

Vincent Mangematin and Charles Baden-Fuller Global Contests in the Production of Business Knowledge: Regional Centres and Individual Business Schools c.baden-fuller@city.ac.uk

Where is the best business research conducted in today’s increasingly global world? Guided by institutional theory, the authors assemble an enormous database (65,000+ articles by 54,000+ authors from 8,000+ institutions) to show that the crown worn proudly for twenty years by American schools appears to be slipping. Extrapolating from 1992e2005 trends, the claim that, by 2010, the US is set to account for less than 50% of world business research output, and the challenge is coming from Europe and from Asia.
The authors trace the history of business research and scholarship over 25 years, drawing Industry Life Cycle parallels to show how the generous open door policy of US schools set the early norms, and promoted a dominant design which has been diffused world-wide. But they point out how academe, now a mature industry, is seeing innovation and adaptation producing new models, with research and teaching increasingly dependent on multi-country data and non-US methods. They illustrate the intertwined nature of basic research and paper publications, claiming that, if universities are where scholars work, journals are the core of the community where they exchange ideas and discuss results, and where the research agenda is defined and recognised. And this community of recognition, too, is moving towards a broader global canvas, with non-US scholars now capturing an increasingly significant share of top international conference papers and prizes. They suggest the challenge to the US schools’ dominance has been overlooked or under-estimated by several influential commentators who use too-narrow journal lists to give a misleading impression of the real academic achievements of non-US schools. In fact, they claim it is simply no longer necessary for international businesses to travel to US institutions to find leaders in thought today.



This issue is available in full on-line at www.sciencedirect.com

 

 
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