The Non-Adoption of Best/Accepted/Promising Practices in Projects: Towards a Theory of Complicity

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dc.contributor.author Maylor, Harvey
dc.contributor.author Brady, Tim
dc.contributor.author Thomas, Janice
dc.date.accessioned 2009-09-22T10:59:08Z
dc.date.available 2009-09-22T10:59:08Z
dc.date.issued 2009-04
dc.identifier.citation Harvey Maylor, Tim Brady and Janice Thomas, The Non-Adoption of Best/Accepted/Promising Practices in Projects: Towards a Theory of Complicity, International Centre for Programme Management at the Cranfield School of Management en_UK
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/1826/3701
dc.description.abstract This paper describes an observed phenomenon: The non-adoption of beneficial practices in a project-based organization and the subsequent adoption of some basic project management techniques which are then heralded as best-practice. We examine two theories to explain this phenomenon, rational choice theory and institutional theory. Neither of these, however, explains satisfactorily what we observed. The phenomenon occurred in a project-based organization that was contracted to design, develop, and produce a major piece of military hardware. In the early years of the project, the project team performed very poorly, and their effort was marked by delivering prototypes that continually slipped behind schedule by many years, overruns that also involved accompanying cost escalation. It was only when an external auditor intervened that the team’s performance was properly identified and the whole basis for the project renegotiated. This renegotiation involved creating new requirements for managing the project. The team’s performance subsequently improved slightly, but eventually, again, stagnated. The organization did not identify or implement further practices to improve the team’s performance. While the organization exerted considerable effort to promote itself as performing best practices, the team’s actual performance continually failed to meet expectations. This paper constructs a theory of complicity so as to explain the phenomenon described above. The complicity occurred between the organization and its major customer and between multiple levels within the organization. We turn to insights from organizational learning research (specifically, the use of defensive routines) to shed light on the phenomenon. The theory proposes that practices and processes will remain within the defensive routines of the organization where such complicity exists. The level and rate of improvement of project performance by organizations has been a concern for some time. This paper contributes to the discussion of this concern and provides some illumination of one of causes hindering the team’s performance, namely, that there is considerable complicity in project-based organizations. Comparing this project with another case where many best/accepted/promising practices have been adopted has yielded numerous major insights. Complicity, as we describe here, was totally absent in the comparator case; the organization was making significant progress in developing practices. However, we found that complicity was temporarily suspended when the minor changes were implemented in the case organization and evident in the periods of no improvement. Further investigation into the conditions for the removal of complicity provided evidence of complicity being removed by coherent policy deployment, knowledge management and performance management. This paper supports the use and utility of phenomenon-based research in the development of the discipline of project management. en_UK
dc.language.iso en en_UK
dc.publisher Cranfield University School of Management en_UK
dc.relation.ispartofseries International Centre for Programme Management (ICPM) en_UK
dc.relation.ispartofseries 0006 en_UK
dc.title The Non-Adoption of Best/Accepted/Promising Practices in Projects: Towards a Theory of Complicity en_UK
dc.type Working Paper en_UK


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