In a 2018 article in the International Journal of Project Management (Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 4-11), Jorg Sydow and Timo Braun provide a rationale for conceptualizing projects as temporary organizations. They relate that within the practice and study of project management, projects have generally been viewed as components of other organizational systems, rather than possessing an ontological existence of their own. From the perspective of the material we’ve covered in class, we can suggest that if it’s appropriate to view projects as organizations then they will necessarily require a form of governance.
While the temporary nature of projects may be the key element in characterizing this form of organization, it is only one part of what is referred to as the 4-T framework. In this framework, projects are described in terms of time, teams, task, and transitions. The time element indicates that projects are initiated with a particular end date in mind, even when circumstances require adjusting that date. The team component emphasizes that those working on the project will be removed from their normal work routines and responsibilities, in order to put their full attention on the project. Whatever positions or levels of authority they held within their home organizations are now secondary to their role and function as a member of the team. The authors indicate that it’s far from self-evident that teams will be inherently cohesive, even in the face of what on the surface may appear to be a singular well-defined common goal. With respect to task, a big part of the justification for embarking on a project in the first place is that the objective or goal is more complex than any single organization, or regular operation of a single organization, is capable of handling. Finally, the notion of transitions refers to both the establishment of the temporary organizational form (the project), as well as the dismantling of that form upon completion of the project. Further, we can think of the transitions as a reflection of the context of the project, as characterized by the conditions prevailed prior to the project and what conditions prevail afterward.
Temporary organizations provide an interesting illustration of the principal-agent problem. Sponsoring organizations as the principals identify a project and put together a team of appropriate individuals to carry out that project. Especially in the case of inter-organizational projects, the shared interests of the participating organizations may only represent a portion of what those organizations expect. Each sponsor is likely to possess and look for the fulfillment of its own specific interests within the context of the project. At the same time, the social interaction that takes place among the members of the team will lead to a collective understanding of what needs to be done and how it should be done, that may not match what the principals, either collectively or individually, had intended. Given the distinct ontological existence of the project group, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the sponsoring organizations to significantly influence what takes place within the team.
Are temporary organizations more likely to exhibit hierarchical, market, or network governance structures? If we view projects as temporary organizations, what impact might this perspective have on the way conceive, undertake, and evaluate community economic development projects?