Dynamics of New Business Creation

The Contribution of Project Management

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August 2020

Prof. Dr. Alexander Kock

TU Darmstadt, Germany

Prof. Dr. Hans Georg Gemünden

TU Berlin, Germany

Carsten Kaufmann

TU Darmstadt, Germany

Darmstadt and Berlin, August 2020


We are grateful to the Project Management Institute (PMI), who partly sponsored the research project “Dynamics of New Business Creation—The Contributions of Project Management” as well as to our institutions and the practitioners who supported our research by participating in our studies. We would like to express special thanks to Manager, Academic Programs, Heather Ramsey and our PMI liaison Martina Huemann for supporting our research project.

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Brief Literature Summary 5

Innovative and Exploratory Projects 5

Project Lineage 5

Project Portfolio Management 5

Real Options Reasoning 6

Strategic Process Theories 6

Research Methods 7

Literature Search 7

Survey Study 7

Practitioner Conference 7

Deliverables 8

Publications 8

Conference Papers and Presentations 8

Webinar 8

Findings 9

Project Lineage Through Roadmapping and Learning from Past Projects 9

Project Lineage Through Real Options Reasoning 9

Emerging Strategic Paths by Project Sequences 10

Conclusions 11

References 12


The aim of this research project was to explore how innovative firms create new growth paths, and how project management practices can contribute. In addressing this question, we wanted to use a new unit of analysis: sequences of projects, in which two or more consecutive projects build on one another. The specific focus was on project-to-project dynamics and on organizational growth paths enabled by successful sequences, which Midler and co-authors called “project lineage” (Maniak & Midler, 2014; Midler, 2013). We followed this central idea by investigating project lineage in a quantitative empirical study on practices in multiproject management.

Our empirical analysis uses data from three different kinds of informants per investigated project portfolio:

1. The decision makers from the top-management level who are responsible for strategy formation (i.e., development and implementation of strategies)

2. The project portfolio coordinators, typically heads of a project portfolio management office, who are responsible for planning and controlling the portfolio processes, the information systems supporting the decisions, and the quality of the information used in single projects and project portfolio decisions

3. The project managers who are responsible for leading the projects of a portfolio—they know if and how their project builds on previous projects and prepare future projects

Together these informants give us a rich account on the usage of project lineage principles in a project portfolio, in its projects, and the linkage to the business unit’s strategy. This is very different from existing research in this field. Our previous knowledge of project lineage is based on a few studies of successful cases. Despite their immense value for identifying and describing the phenomenon, these studies lack control cases that failed and a systematic variation of contexts.

In order to develop a better theory, we used contributions from different literature streams: innovation management, organizational learning, and strategic management. We document the application of these literature streams in the articles that we have published.

In our research, we found that it is very important how sequences of projects that build on each other get started. The existing literature suggests that firms use a prototype project to initiate a project lineage leading to a new path (Maniak & Midler, 2014; Midler, 2013). Typically, this project is an exploratory project (Lenfle, 2008). However, there are several problems with this assumption:

1. It remains unclear why someone in a firm decides to start such a project. In the case studies there usually is a power promotor, a high-ranked executive to initiate such a project. This would imply that without power promotion, a firm would not initiate a new growth path. However, an innovative growth path needs a lot of expertise regarding technology, market needs, organizational changes, and regulatory and societal barriers. Thus, there should be a broader initiative that also drives a new emerging strategy.

2. Important learnings often occur by accident. In this case, an organization needs people who recognize the importance of the learning and raise their voices.

3. Although firms perform exploratory projects, they often do not use the knowledge that the project delivers—its results become a lost opportunity. We know that projects increasingly become more agile, but their results may still be fragile. Under which circumstances does this happen?

In order to address these questions, we looked not only at the implementation of strategies by a sequence of consecutive projects, but also at the emergence of new strategies. The latter can be considered the front end of building new strategies. This front end has the highest degree of freedom for strategizing and potential impact, but it also contains the highest uncertainty.

Our framework thus covers the emergence and the implementation of new growth paths. We use a new term for the management of both challenges and call this adaptive project management. The term “adaptive” captures the fact there are no final decisions, but only temporary ones, based on the currently available evidence. There is a new strategic idea giving a new direction, guiding exploratory search activities, but the path itself is not yet known, and it is also possible that the journey will be terminated.

Adaptive project portfolio management describes how to generate new strategies from project portfolios, and how to implement new strategic paths by sequences of projects that build on each other. Project portfolio management means to manage concurrent interdependencies between projects, so that resource spending reflects strategic goals, synergies are exploited, and risk accumulation is reduced (Jonas et al., 2013; Killen & Hunt, 2010). Adaptive project portfolio management proactively manages longitudinal interdependencies between projects in a sequence.

Our research aim was to develop a theory, which (1) delineates the critical elements of project lineage and distinguishes it from other kinds of project sequences, (2) specifies antecedents of these elements and explains how these antecedents influence the existence and quality of these elements, (3) explains how these elements and moderating conditions influence the success of the business development process and its results, and (4) explains how emerging strategies that drive new growth paths are developed.

Brief Literature Summary

Innovative and Exploratory Projects

In the management of single innovative projects, “one size does not fit all” (Shenhar, 2001). For example, in cases of low project innovativeness (incremental innovation) process formality improves project success, but in cases of high project innovativeness (radical innovation), process formality has negative effects (Salomo et al., 2007). A reason for this is that in highly innovative projects the knowledge for structuring the processes is limited and a too-strong emphasis on avoiding the risks of the past will limit future opportunities. Innovation leaders rely more on people-oriented strategies than on highly structured processes: They improve collaboration quality in teams (Hoegl & Proserpio, 2004), and support champions and promotors of innovation (Gemünden, Salomo, & Holzle, 2007). They focus on learning and probing new options and give more autonomy to their project teams (Gemünden, Salomo, & Krieger, 2005; Patanakul et al., 2012).

Similarly, according to Maniak et al. (2014) and Lenfle (2008), exploratory projects have a knowledge creation and feasibility testing mission. These authors recommend different project management practices for exploratory projects. The approach parallels the innovation management literature, which finds specific management requirements for incremental and radical innovation projects. Such a contingency approach is necessary, but not sufficient. It does not consider, what happens after an exploratory project, and how a potential succession is systematically planned and controlled. Fewer studies analyze how projects build on each other, although the problem of transferring knowledge from one project to the follow-up project has been known for a long time (Prencipe & Tell, 2001; Wheelwright & Clark, 1992).

Project Lineage

Innovations are usually not created by one single project, rather a sequence of projects is required. In 1961, John F. Kennedy committed the United States to the goal of putting a man on the moon before the decade was over. The goal was a vision that required several sequential missions to finally be realized. Neither Kennedy’s vision nor the missions that he had initiated started from scratch. Rather, they built on previous visions and missions and it was clear that a roadmap of consecutive projects was necessary for the future.

Many years later, Midler (2013) published his article on how to create a completely new business, based on managing a project sequence. He called this systematic management of a project sequence project lineage management. Using the Logan case from Renault’s Daccia division, Midler’s case study framed project lineage management as a way to expand the initial move into a diversified range of products and a multi-continent deployment, while keeping the key specificities of the pilot project. It is typical that different generations of a product innovation are developed, and profitability may rise during such a sequel. For example, for the Renault Logan and the following product family, profitability was 8%, 23%, and, finally, over 100% (Midler, 2013; Midler & Silberzahn, 2008). This case study describes a very successful example, but there are others: the Toyota Prius; the sequels to the Star Wars movies; or the iPod, iPhone, and iPad products from Apple, which generated sequences of product iterations and associated service platforms, making Apple the first trillion-dollar company.

The project lineage management approach has thus far only been analyzed in the form of qualitative studies of successful cases without using control cases or control variables. Furthermore, we are interested in project lineage management as a typically applied practice for an entire set of projects that are bundled under the same project portfolio management regime.

Project Portfolio Management

Leading firms put more emphasis on innovation in balancing their project portfolios (Gemünden, Lehner, & Kock, 2018). They have implemented strategic buckets for highly innovative projects to protect them against a cannibalization by incremental projects (Hutchison-Krupat & Kavadias, 2015). Their control logic is not the iron triangle (time, budget, and scope), but ambitious, future-oriented goals regarding value creation and innovation leadership (Kopmann et al., 2015; Maniak & Midler, 2014). They invest much more in a proactively created pipeline of project ideas and concepts, and give their employees more autonomy and support to develop these (Kock et al., 2015), and they are more responsive to changes (Kock & Gemünden, 2016). However, in project portfolios, decisions are typically made about the projects that are currently in a portfolio, whether they should be continued, terminated, and how they should be prioritized (Jonas et al., 2013). Although current project interdependency is an important concern in project portfolio management (Killen, 2013; Killen & Kjaer, 2012), a longitudinal view is usually neglected. Project portfolios are typically seen as a means to implement deliberate strategies (Meskendahl, 2010), whereas emergent strategies have not yet been sufficiently analyzed in the context of project portfolio decision strategies (Kopmann et al., 2017; Mirabeau & Maguire, 2014).

Real Options Reasoning

Market entry, joint ventures, natural resource exploration, new product development projects, and many other strategic initiatives have been studied through a real options lens (Tong & Reuer, 2007). Originating from financial option theory, real options reasoning (ROR) was introduced in the 1980s as a behavioral approach to cope with the uncertainty associated with real asset investment decisions (Driouchi & Bennett, 2012; Tong & Reuer, 2007). Whereas a financial option gives a financial asset’s holder the right, but not the obligation to postpone an investment decision, a real option gives the asset’s holder the right, but not the obligation to postpone an investment decision regarding a real asset. ROR allows for sequentially reducing uncertainty, maintaining flexibility, and anticipating future performance (Klingebiel & Adner, 2015). Klingebiel and Adner (2015) delineate three dimensions of resource allocation behavior that allow for distinguishing between real options logic and alternative resource allocation regimes. These elements are sequencing, low initial commitment, and reallocation. Sequencing means that an investment is distributed sequentially over a period of time, instead of deciding whether or not to fully finance an investment at a certain point in time. Low initial commitment facilitates future decisions regarding an option’s continuation. And reallocation means that independent of the option’s current phase, all the available options, regardless of their relevant phase, compete against one other for (further) resources.

Sequencing, which distinguishes dynamic allocation regimes more generally, is associated with significantly higher new product sales. Low initial commitment and reallocation do not show individual direct effects on new product sales. However, when assessed as a match, the authors find that the fit between low initial commitment and reallocation increases performance significantly. Thus, for the management of project sequences, real options reasoning can create value. However, the question remains: To what extent are managers aware of this method and its requirements? The explorative article from Tiwana et al. (2007) documents that for IT projects, bounded rationality exists in using different kinds of real options.

Strategic Process Theories

The influence of clearly defined and well-communicated deliberate strategies is well documented. There is also an increasing body of knowledge on this in the realm of projects (Meskendahl, 2010). However, in cases of turbulent environments, which are prevalent in the context of this study, the performance effect of emerging strategies might increase. Such emerging strategies may react more quickly to opportunities and risks observed by midlevel line managers and project managers. Emerging strategies are supported by strategic control (Kopmann et al., 2017) and by giving voice to project managers (Ekrot, Rank, & Gemünden, 2016). However, we do not know which role project sequences play in strategic decision making and in project portfolio decisions: Is there an operational practice to enable, plan, and control project sequences systematically—or do they just emerge?

Research Methods

Literature Search

We first performed a systematic literature review in the fields of project and portfolio management, innovation management, organizational learning and ambidexterity, and strategic management. Literature was identified from top-rated journals of the respective fields. An integration of these literatures served as the basis for the subsequent empirical study.

Survey Study

A cross-industry sample with medium- to large-sized firms provides the empirical basis. In a first step, we contacted project portfolio coordinators—typically working in the project management office—of 850 firms with at least 20 simultaneously running projects by email and telephone with general information on the study and the participation. After their successful registration for the study, we sent the portfolio coordinators an email with detailed instructions and personalized links to an online survey tool. For each portfolio, we collected answers from three different informants: (1) a senior manager, who (co-)decides on selection, prioritization, or termination of projects and who typically held positions like CEO or head of business unit; (2) a portfolio manager or coordinator, who possesses an overview of portfolio practices and was typically working in the project management office; and (3) several project managers of single projects, who experience project work within the focal project portfolio environment. The three-informant approach allowed us to achieve a broad assessment of each portfolio, thus limiting the potential influence of common-method bias. We received 147 decision-maker questionnaires, 150 coordinator questionnaires, and 440 project manager questionnaires. Matching the responses and accounting for missing values yielded 135 to 138 portfolios for the different analyses. Table 1 shows descriptive information on the sample of investigated organizations and their project portfolios.

Table 1: Sample

Industry   Revenue in €  
Manufacturing 21.48% < 100 million 20.74%
Finance 20.74% 100-500 million 47.41%
Logistics 15.56% > 2,000 million 31.85%
Electronics/IT 14.07%    
Public administration 8.15%    
Pharmaceuticals/chemicals 5.93%    
Others 14.07%    
Employees   Portfolio Budget in €  
< 500 27.41% < 10 million 19.26%
500-2000 28.89% 10-30 million 45.93%
> 2000 43.70% > 100 million 34.81%

We operationalized the conceptual constructs (such as project lineage, project portfolio success, real options reasoning, etc.) using multi-item scales with a minimum of three items per construct. If possible, construct items were taken from existing literature. The items were coded on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”). We applied a confirmatory factor analysis to assess the validity of the scales and then used Cronbach’s alpha, accepting constructs with values larger than 0.7, to assess scale reliability. The study’s multi-informant nature limits the influence of a common-method bias. We used multiple regression analyses and structural equation modeling to analyze the data.

Practitioner Conference

After the study, each firm received an individual report on findings from their organization. The overall study results were presented, discussed, and validated during a conference with approximately 60 participants.



The main outcomes of our study were three paper publications that have been successfully presented at major project management and innovation management conferences, receiving two awards. Two publications are also already accepted in major project management journals. The last paper has passed the first round of review at a major innovation management journal.

List of publications:

1. Kock, A., & Gemünden, H. G. (2019). Project lineage management and project portfolio success. Project Management Journal, 50(5), 587–601.

2. Kaufmann, C., Kock, A., & Gemünden, H. G., (2019). Strategic and cultural contexts of real options reasoning in innovation portfolios. Under review (second round).

3. Kaufmann, C., Kock, A., & Gemünden, H. G. (2020). Emerging strategy recognition in agile portfolios. International Journal of Project Management. In Press. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijproman.2020.01.002.

Conference Papers and Presentations

The results were widely disseminated at international research conferences and practitioner events.


A webinar will be scheduled with the Project Management Institute.

Table 2: Dissemination of Results

Mode of Dissemination Date Information
Practitioner conference for participating firms (Darmstadt, Germany) November 2017 Presentation of the overall survey results to 60 delegates from the participating firms
EURAM Conference (Reykjavik, Iceland) June 2018 Paper presentation “Project Lineage Management and Project Portfolio Success”
R&D Management Conference (Paris, France) June 2019

Paper presentation “Emerging Strategy Recognition in Agile Portfolios”

Award for best paper of the conference

Innovation and Product Development Management Conference (Leicester, United Kingdom) June 2019

Paper presentation “Real Option Thinking as Behavioral Attitude to Improve Portfolio Innovativeness and Portfolio Success”

Runner-up best student paper of the conference


Project Lineage Through Roadmapping and Learning from Past Projects

The objective of the first study was to show to what extent project lineage management practices exist in project portfolio management and to what extent they are related to the performance of the project portfolio. In addition, we wanted to know if this effect was stronger the higher the share of exploratory projects in a project portfolio is. While successful examples of project lineage have been demonstrated in previous qualitative case studies (Jullien et al., 2013; Maniak & Midler, 2014; Midler, 2013), the current study is the first quantitative analysis of project lineage and thus contributes to this emerging field of studying project sequences. We identify two related yet distinct components of project lineage practices: proactive lineage and reactive lineage. Proactive lineage means the planning of a project roadmap that enables the implementation of a complex innovation by a project sequence. Reactive lineage means to secure learnings from the past and to actively use them in follow-up projects. We thus operationalize lineage management in a portfolio management context and empirically demonstrate its existence over a larger sample of firms.

The results show that both proactive and reactive lineage are positively related to project portfolio success. This study is therefore the first study to provide quantitative evidence for the performance relevance of project lineage management. Previous studies have centered on the importance and coordination of concurrent project interdependencies in portfolios (Kopmann et al., 2015; Teller et al., 2012) or programs (Dietrich, 2006; Hoegl et al., 2004). We contribute to this research by also showing the relevance of coordinating temporal interdependencies. Contrary to our hypothesis, the performance effect of both types of lineage does not depend on whether the portfolio has a high percentage of exploratory projects.

Our findings have important implications for project portfolio managers. The results suggest that portfolio managers should practice both proactive and reactive lineage management. Measures to support proactive lineage could be an improvement of roadmapping practices (Bengtsson & Lindkvist, 2017) and corporate foresight activities (Rohrbeck et al., 2015). Measures to support reactive lineage are lessons-learned systems (Ekrot, Kock, & Gemünden, 2016) and practices that support team continuity.

Furthermore, the finding of project lineage’s performance relevance over and beyond portfolio management maturity shows that only using a static perspective on portfolio decision making is not sufficient for success. Managers should complement their underlying logic of short-term, interproject competition for resources with a long-term, temporal cross-project learning perspective.

Finally, project lineage does not only apply to project sequences that aim at completely new functionalities and apply new technological solutions to reach such goals. It can also be used for innovation programs that are more focused on improving existing functions but want to reach quantum leaps in performance or efficiency.

Project Lineage Through Real Options Reasoning

The second paper investigates the core principles of longitudinal intertemporal interdependencies from a real options perspective. We can empirically show that firms perform better when they make small initial investments in a variety of exploratory projects and then reallocate their portfolio. Our empirical results confirm that there is a positive relationship between real options reasoning (ROR) and portfolio innovativeness, as well as between portfolio innovativeness and portfolio success. This is in line with the argument that ROR encourages project portfolio decision makers to venture into more innovative and, therefore, uncertain options.

We further show that it also depends on the strategic and cultural context. We hypothesized that there is a positive interaction between the firm’s entrepreneurial orientation and ROR with respect to the innovativeness and success of the portfolio. Our findings confirm the interaction and also show that a sufficiently high level of entrepreneurial orientation is required for ROR, mediated by portfolio innovativeness, to have an effect on portfolio success and in order to become significant. We conclude that a strong entrepreneurial orientation seems to be conducive for managers to rely more on high-option values and to be willing to take considerable risks to use these options if there is sufficient evidence of eventual success. In our analysis, the innovation climate is positively related to portfolio innovativeness, which is consistent with previous findings (Kock et al., 2015). However, in terms of the innovation climate as an organizational context factor that interacts with ROR, the story differs from ROR’s interaction with entrepreneurial orientation. We initially presumed that a higher level of innovation climate should provide a suitable environment for ROR in terms of both decision makers and employees involved in or affected by the innovation portfolio decision making. However, while a high level of entrepreneurial orientation is necessary for the relationship between ROR and portfolio innovativeness to become significant, the interaction effect between innovation climate and ROR is insignificant.

The results of our study are important for managers, as they support ROR’s application in portfolio decision making in order to increase portfolio innovativeness and portfolio success. We encourage managers to apply ROR to cope with innovative projects’ higher degree of uncertainty. However, we also recommend that managers should assess a firm’s strategic and cultural contexts before introducing ROR. According to our empirical results, a higher level of entrepreneurial orientation provides a supporting context for ROR, not only in terms of contributing to higher portfolio innovativeness, but also in terms of higher portfolio success. With regard to the innovation climate, we recommend that managers need to be aware of a potential mitigation between ROR’s rather financial character and the innovation climate. Following our findings, both entrepreneurial orientation and innovation climate are positively related to portfolio innovativeness. This could be of additional relevance to managers when the portfolio management’s primary goal is to increase the portfolio innovativeness. In a subsequent second step, the elevated portfolio innovativeness could translate into greater portfolio success. We confidently recommend ROR as a suitable approach for firms with a matching organizational context (i.e., a strong entrepreneurial orientation) to cope with innovative projects’ uncertainty and to ultimately increase the portfolio success. Companies with low entrepreneurial orientation might, however, not profit sufficiently from adapting a real options perspective.

Emerging Strategic Paths by Project Sequences

The third paper addresses the aspect that project sequences often lead to bottom-up changes in strategy (i.e., emergent strategy). We empirically show that strategy emergence in these multiproject environments is driven by agile competences, voice behavior of project employees, and entrepreneurial orientation. Regarding the consequences, the results support the beneficial influence of agile capabilities on emerging strategy recognition and eventually portfolio success. A high degree of agile capabilities is related to a high degree of emerging strategy recognition. Agile projects, with their high autonomy, resemble such first exploratory projects that can then dynamically be followed by a sequence of exploiting projects in the portfolio (Maniak & Midler, 2014). In agile portfolios, projects could autonomously develop themselves in directions that were opened up by previous agile projects. Eventually, emerging strategy recognition could serve as a way of transforming agile projects’ autonomy and interaction into higher portfolio success.

Regarding the growing popularity of agile practices in single projects, we can encourage managers to support the introduction and extension of agile capabilities. Following the argument on agile portfolios as complex adaptive systems, an increasing share of agile projects potentially leads to higher portfolio complexity through the exchange of information and resources among the portfolio’s projects. The emerging structures arising from the exchange can, however, be beneficial in terms of emerging strategy recognition as one essential part of the strategy development process. In addition to previous findings that also stress the importance of emerging strategy recognition (Kopmann et al., 2017), we can further support the relevance of agile capabilities for the emerging strategy recognition and also portfolio success. Managers should therefore actively support the formation of emerging structures and subsequently be open for strategic contributions from the portfolio.

Furthermore, as suggested by this study’s results, a suitable organizational environment can be beneficial for the application of agile capabilities. In this regard, promoting an autonomous mindset of employees, for example, by actively stressing the firm’s entrepreneurial orientation and voice behavior, seems to constitute a valid approach to foster agile competence in portfolios. We especially encourage managers of firms with a rather high entrepreneurial orientation and high voice behavior to actively promote the application of agile practices in single projects, which leads to an agile portfolio. By continuously emphasizing a high entrepreneurial orientation of the firm’s strategic mindset and supporting employees to voice constructive suggestions, managers can further increase the application of agile capabilities and ultimately increase portfolio success.


Our research has shown important principles that should be applied to make project sequences successful. These principles guide the sequence by project roadmapping and by preparing the next steps already in the current project. This is the future-oriented side of project lineage. It is complemented by another side that supports the learning from previous projects, so that learning opportunities are exploited and do not become lost opportunities. Both principles complement each other. Following them increases the success of project portfolios, but the two principles strengthen different components of project portfolio success. From real options theory, further principles were derived that firms should use in addition to the other two principles. These are: starting with relatively small investment for exploratory projects, making firm decisions about follow-up projects only when the evidence is sufficiently positive, and if the follow-up project is approved, it should be funded sufficiently. This may conflict with the resource needs of other projects already in the portfolio. We suggest that firms should try to acquire new resources, and not only redistribute already existing ones, because the already existing projects might generate the cash that the new project will need in the next step of the project lineage. The remaining gap should then be financed in time by additional financial resources. If the firm is really aiming at growth strategy and can provide evidence that the prospects are good, then it should also be able to get additional funds.

The findings regarding emerging strategies show that agile principles drive emerging strategies. This can be explained by the adaptive and iterative approach of agile practices, which aim at reducing uncertainty about user requirements in an intensive interactive process that can be supported by a higher autonomy of agile joint teams. However, agile practices themselves are driven by an entrepreneurial mindset of senior managers, which infuse the whole organization, and by the voice behavior of experienced project managers.

There may be further determinants triggering emerging strategies, and also further success factors for implementing strategies by project lineage. Our report describes the current stage. Our vision is to develop a modern triple-A project management approach that builds on ambidextrous, agile, and adaptive project management principles.


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