Project Networks: Governance Choices and Paradoxical Tensions
to be managed—or practiced—not only
in projects but also in project networks.
We thank John Steen and Arnold
Windeler and, in his role as Project
Management Journal® editor-in-chief,
Hans Georg Gemünden, for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this
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experiences with the outcomes of prior
collaboration influence expectations of
Beyond the debate of whether project
networks are a temporary or more than
temporary organizational form, project
networks are amorphous because they
can be governed and coordinated in a
variety of ways. Like other networks,
project networks may be either governed by a lead organization, in a shared
form, or with the help of a network
administrative organization. In addition, responsibilities, routines, roles,
and relations contribute to the coordination of project networks. Though
in the focal project, these four R’s—
not least in the face of well-established
project management techniques—are
more an outcome of intentional design,
on the level of the whole network they
are more likely to be dominantly of an
emergent nature. The more the four R’s
develop on this level behind the back of
project managers, the more additional
reflexivity may be needed with regard
to the project network—for instance,
in terms of sensing and seizing opportunities and reconfiguring capacities
In sharp contrast to other types of
interorganizational networks (cf. Sydow
et al., 2016), project networks unsurprisingly dominate the business of projects. In consequence, project networks,
not unlike project-based organizations,
marry temporary activities with more
permanent forms of organizing (
Sahlin-Anderson & Söderholm, 2002). However, from this marriage tensions arise,
some of which are of a paradoxical
nature. In this article, we pointed to five
such tensions that have to be managed:
the distance paradox, the learning paradox, the identity paradox, the difference
paradox, and the temporal paradox.
Although future research should devote
more attention to unearthing these paradoxes, project management should be
more conscious about their indissolubility and acknowledge that they have
management literature (Lundin et al.,
2015; Söderlund, 2011).
The temporal paradox: Tensions exist
between past, present, and future
Project networks experience tensions
between their past affiliations with
project participants, their present
requirements of these participants, and
their future expectations of working
with these participants. In more general terms, the present unfolds in the
light of the past as well as the future.
In fact, previous research has demonstrated that project network membership often is based on a consideration
of past project history (the shadow of
the past) when selecting project participants (Manning & Sydow, 2011; Schwab
& Miner, 2008).
The degree to which a project relies
not only on the shadow of the past
but contains a credible shadow of the
future (expectation of future project
work with the same participants) can
impact how a project network governs
its interactions with project participants. Some evidence exists that the
flexibility shown by a project network
coordinator toward performance by
its project partners is in part determined by positive experiences in previous interactions and expectations of
possible future collaboration (Ligthart,
Oerlemans, & Nooderhaven, 2016).
By contrast, projects where participants have no shadow of the past face
the challenge of determining whether
their current project participants are
likely to be considered for future project engagements. Drawing on detailed,
quantitative data on 102 construction
projects in Germany, Ebers and Maurer
(2016) find that a successful outcome
of prior collaboration motivates project
partners to continue their partnership,
and that an increasing frequency of prior
collaboration accentuates this positive
effect. In addition, the authors identify two boundary conditions—namely,
the degree of trust and relationship-specific investments—that affect how