Organisational routines in project-based organisations: an exploratory study

D'Andrea, Dajana (2012) Organisational routines in project-based organisations: an exploratory study. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

PDF - Published Version
Download (27MB) | Preview


This research explores the existence and evolution of organizational routines in small firm
Project-Based Organisations (PBOs). To reach this aim, it investigates the interplay
between the two aspects making up a routine: ostensive – i.e. the abstract representation –
and performative – i.e. actual implementation. PBOs represent an interesting context,
because project differences and discontinuities challenge the emergence, development and
evolution of routines, yet the requirements of efficiency and co-ordination through
repeated, similar actions would suggest the need for routines even in small firm PBOs.

I have adopted an inductive case study research. The empirical setting is a Public Relation
and Communication agency, where small firm PBOs are a typical form of organisation.
The process nature of the subject of inquiry required a combination of bottom up and top
down approaches that enabled me to identify and analyse routines in depth. As per the topdown approach, relying on extant theory, I developed a list of concepts discussed in the
literature on organisational routines that in turn provided the basis for a framework within
which analyse the empirical evidence. The bottom up approach draws on descriptive
narratives, visual mapping, and grounded theory.

The research provides both theoretical and empirical contributions towards a better
understanding of the characteristics and evolution of organisational routines in small firm
PBOs. Routines exist and are important for coordination and efficiency even in small firm
PBOs. They are project procedures not necessarily embedded in any artefact, but perceived as regular processes by project participants. Across projects routines evolve by adapting to the context where they take place. Contexts are in turn shaped by contingencies pertaining to the actors, the project, organisational departments, and the specificities of the customer and the markets they serve. These contingencies define problems and issues that actors involved in the routine face. Facing problems and issues causes the routine to adapt, making the sequence and the content of the actions forming it different across projects. Predictability and recurrence of contingencies and related issues determine how routines adaptation occurs. When contingencies and issues are expected and recur across several projects, adaptation is planned in advance and is supposed to concern both ostensive and performative aspects of the routine. When contingencies and issues are less predictable or occur in just a single project, adaptation concerns only the performative aspect, keeping unchanged the ostensive one. In line with the low level of codification that informs small firm PBO activities, routines’ adaptation is not necessarily embedded in any artefact. However, when adaptation is imposed by the owner or senior management, it can be communicated clearly to the interested actors.

For small firm PBOs, the research suggests that adaptation of the routines they implement
is fundamental to carrying out project activities effectively. It also implies that when aiming
to change the way the organisation operates, entrepreneurs and managers should pay
attention to both to the design of the routines themselves and the way actors perceive and
implement changes to the routines. In addition, the study suggests that further
investigation on how firm size and sector shapes the characteristics and dynamics of
routines would be invaluable to the field. Regarding theory, the thesis contributes an
articulation of the relationship between the two aspects of routines, performative and
ostensive. Further research on the nature and functioning of routines in other types of
organisation and sector would address the limitations of extant literature and achieve a
more comprehensive understanding of routines.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour > HD0028 Management. Industrial Management
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2012 14:08
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015 13:52

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update