The nexus between organizational routines and projects A goal-based perspective

Moses Olufemi, Alex Hope, Allan Osborne

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster

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It has long been established that routines can be sources of stability and change within organizations. It has been suggested however that an understanding of routines alone is not enough for explaining how new actions emerge in organizations. In arguing that traditional forms of organizational structure are not flexible enough to adapt to new actions (Ansoff, 1980), some theorists have proposed projects as management methods for adapting to fast changes occurring in the business environment. At the centre of this argument is the notion that organisational routine, whilst facilitating cognitive efficiency, inhibits the strategic change which projects are intended to achieve (Feldman & Pentland, 2003). This does not dismiss the fact that strategic changes originate from both routine and non-routine actions (Obstfeld, 2012), but proposes that the balance between flexibility and stability requires expounding the nexus between project and organizational routine. Interaction within projects may evolve beyond simple iterations of balancing routine and non-routine actions. The prescriptive view of projects contends them as tactical initiatives that follow strategy. Here projects are expected to respect the pathways anticipated by the dictating strategy. However, the flexibility of projects is embedded in its emergent nature, to the extent that projects need not be subordinates, but shapers of organizational strategy and goals (Artto, Kujala, Dietrich & Martinsuo, 2008). Projects facilitate a wide range of interactions and relationships horizontally, vertically and simultaneously. As temporary organizations, they operate within a bounded timeframe. The result is that whilst projects are intended to facilitate finite outcomes, the project process itself often creates unintended outcomes, some of which become meshed within organizational routines (Balogun & Johnson, 2005). The organization may be viewed as a system of multiple, interdependent projects initiated as a means to achieve specific strategic goals (Cyert, 1963). It is often assumed that such projects, developed as they are out of overarching organisational strategy, will be mutually reinforcing. In fact they could undermine strategy as a result of competition between project goals and the dynamic of multiple goal attainment in the face of competition for resources and prioritization (Shinkle, 2012). Another challenge is the high level of influence that exogenous factors assert at the project level (Cyert and March 1963). Focusing on projects as the predominant means through which to operationalize organizational strategy requires a shift in the goal architecture of the organisation and the creation of a new dynamics of multiple goal attainment. However such challenges conspire to result in a spiral of unintended consequences. Existing theory may be utilised as a means to connect project work to routine action. Teleological theory emphasizes the repetitive sequence of goal formulation, implementation, evaluation, and modification of goals based on what was learned or intended. Similarly, lifecycle theory emphasizes a pre-defined goal as being an accumulation of characteristics acquired from earlier stages to derive common underlying process (Van de Ven & Poole, 1995). Whilst these theories accentuate the mindful aspect of project (goal) work, less attention is paid to the non-mindful facets of routine that result in unintended consequences. The extent to which these unintended consequences persist long enough as elements of organizational routine will depend on the variation, selection and retention dynamics within the organisation (Aldrich, 2008). We propose that the connection between projects and organizational routine is traceable though the unintended consequences created by projects through competition between goals and the dynamics of multiple goal attainment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventOSWCXXI - 21st Organisation Science Winter Conference - Utah
Duration: 1 Jan 2015 → …


ConferenceOSWCXXI - 21st Organisation Science Winter Conference
Period1/01/15 → …
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