Classifying improvisation

comments on managing chaotic evolution



This paper seeks to examine an accelerating phenomenon in the field of project management, namely, the assertion that a shift is occurring in our understanding of the important elements or constructs that influence the evolution of project management as an academic discipline. Management of projects is growing in importance to practitioners, but is accepted as a “young discipline” academically (Jugdev, 2004, p. 15), especially compared with the traditional areas of economics, strategy, and organizational theory. It is, however, a discipline where considerable research activity is taking place to position it within the existing academic landscape, and where the rigor of the research output is increasing significantly.

Additionally, there is an emerging contested space where evidence points towards a shift from the planning and control embedded in traditional project-based work, towards a relaxation of process, and an appreciation of the evolutionary and emergent nature of progress based around environmental and behavioral actions driven by turbulent project contexts. This shift is resulting in an increased focus on complexity and ambiguity within the project domain, as project-based management of large and multifaceted activities becomes more accepted. The shift that is taking place within the global body of project knowledge generally is resulting in moderation of the traditional “plan, then execute” paradigm in favor of a more organic, composite framework that incorporates improvisation, and in an acceptance of the project as a complex adaptive system with many interlinking relationships.

As evidence is indicating a shift away from process and towards behaviors within emerging project management research, these issues are becoming more salient. There is growing evidence that some traditional project-based organizations are uncomfortable with ceding the organization of project-based work to an emerging paradigm that places decision-making and situated action in the hands of project team members without the explicit “safety net” of consensus-based project plans and other control mechanisms.

To help organizations deal with this changing landscape, we provide a classification scheme that characterizes organizations in two dimensions: by their improvisation activities or by their analytical activities. This allows project managers and, indeed, organizations to assess their position relative to other successful entities. They can therefore address the management, skills, tools, and techniques that need to be encouraged, developed, and nurtured.

Key words: improvisation; project evolution; adaptability; time; complexity


Projects have been adopted across many organizations and within many sectors as the dominant framework for carrying out discontinuous, exceptional, or unrepeated actions. There is also a growing literature that seeks to engage with and understand the underlying constructs and antecedents of project-based work, with a view to offering academics and practitioners an insight into the development of the field. Within this domain, there is, however, an academically contested space inside which are two distinct camps: a more traditional one, where the management of project-based activity is related to process and control, and an emerging view that is sensitive to the need to resolve uncertainty caused by environmental turbulence and changing requirements, utilizing creativity, intuition, and the tacit knowledge built up over time and through experience (Cooke-Davies, Cicmil, Crawford, & Richardson, 2007; Leybourne, 2006b). This latter view is influenced to a great extent by the tenets and imperatives of organizational behavior, rather than by the operations-influenced literature that provides authority to the project “process” approach.

It has also been accepted for some time that the management of change in and across organizations is increasingly falling within the remit of the program or project manager (Obeng, 1994; Partington, 1996; Turner, Grude, & Thurloway, 1996). Notwithstanding this emerging acceptance, there is increasing evidence that the roles of the change manager and the project manager require different but overlapping skills (Pellegrinelli & Partington, 2006). Notably, it is argued that projects are a functional manifestation of strategic imperatives, although in many organizations there is a “blurring” of the boundaries between change and project managers (Leybourne, 2002a).

This paper will examine a number of issues and perspectives that are gaining in momentum within the project literature; including the shift towards skills and behaviors that can assist in resolving issues of uncertainty and ambiguity in changing project environments, and elements of underlying theory that may inform the potential divergence of thinking between historic views of how change and project skills have been used in organizations, and the emerging new paradigm that is placing decision-making and situated action in the hands of project team members without the “safety net” of consensus-based project plans and other control mechanisms. The paper will also develop a matrix that differentiates projects on the basis of creativity and analytical adaptability. This section recognizes that although there is arguably a shift toward the behaviors of project actors in current project management research, the creative use of tools and techniques is not excluded in this examination of project evolution.

The shift towards an acknowledgment that projects are not as predictable as earlier literature suggested has been accelerating over the last few years, and has been evidenced by a significantly higher incidence of published papers that focus on behavioral aspects within projects, to the possible detriment of literature focusing on planning and control. This shift is by no means denigrating the use of planning and monitoring tools within the project domain. Indeed, the creative use of project tools is acknowledged. Rather, it reflects a growing realization that it is project team members that construct project-based deliverables, and the way that behaviors are managed within that cycle has a significant influence on the quality of the project outcomes.

Similarly, although it is accepted that project-based work is often used to manage and deliver change within organizations, there is a body of academic work that suggests that the skills and awareness required of project managers and of change managers is diverging. Notably, there is an appreciation that change managers may need to observe and analyze through a more “strategic” lens, whereas project managers are more focused on delivering “specific” initiatives at the operational level (Hassner-Nahmias & Crawford, 2008).

These issues will be critiqued by means of a review of the extant literature, with the intention of synthesizing a number of disparate approaches, and offering a discussion that may assist in the analysis and clarification of issues that are reflected in this paradigm shift.

A Review of the Literature

The Shift From Process to Behaviors

Although projects have traditionally been managed according to time, cost, and scope or functionality targets, it is often the temporal aspect of project delivery that receives the highest scrutiny, especially in turbulent organizational environments. Time is one of the three elements of the: “iron triangle” of factors against which the success of most projects is measured (Atkinson, 1999, p. 337), and for some time research into project success has considered performance against these criteria. There is, however, evidence to suggest that recently, time within projects is being considered in a more innovative vein (Rämö, 2002), in that “clock” time is being superseded by “economic exchange” time, or time considered in terms of Drucker's (1974) division between efficiency and effectiveness. Arguably, these conceptual appreciations of time can assist in “extemporaneous situations that must be handled swiftly, without relying on running-in periods or (nonexistent) formalized decision-making processes” (Rämö, 2002, p. 570). This is the essence of improvised activity.

Ciborra (1999) suggests that improvisation may be seen as “an extemporaneous process, open[ing] up alternative approaches to cope with time in business” (p. 77). The suggestion here is that improvisational working allows movement away from the constraints posed by “clock time.” Indeed, Ciborra makes the point that “ex tempore” literally means “outside the flow of time” (1999, p. 78). The inference here is that traditional or “clock” time is transcended by improvisational activity, supporting work by Crossan, Lane, Klus, and White (1996), which suggests that plans and procedures are more abstract, whereas improvisation delivers in real, or possibly “economic exchange” time, in that improvised work is intended to deliver tangible time and cost benefits.

In light of this mode of thinking, it can be argued that modern organizations operating within the aforementioned turbulent environments are finding the classic project paradigm somewhat restrictive, and are finding that different performance criteria may be more appropriate to their needs. These criteria are influencing the dynamic capabilities of organizations, and leading to a requirement for new models and techniques to rationalize and resolve complexity and ambiguity (Stacey, 1993).

The challenges of dealing with complexity and ambiguity within project-based work are becoming more recognized, and there is an emerging literature that recognizes projects and programmes of work as having parallels with the management of complex adaptive systems (Stacey, 2001). Complexity theory suggests that new outputs can be created in ways that are not predictable, and that the emergent results often manifest themselves at a “tipping point” between order and chaos (Stacey, 2001). The basic premise is that such systems produce these so-called emergent outcomes, and that these outcomes occur as the rigidity imposed by process and detailed planning is diluted in favor of flexibility and improvisation. The next step is towards Complex Adaptive Systems, where these emergent structures generate the capacity to learn from the collective experience of those involved, in turn generating a library of potentially reusable actions (Cooke-Davies et al., 2007; Stacey, 2001).

Recently, this embracing of the need to resolve complexity and ambiguity has resulted in outputs directed towards the project practitioner (Haas, 2008, 2009).

The Divergence of Views About Project Evolution

Historically, project management has been focused on the timely delivery of previously agreed upon and documented outcomes, utilizing a significant literature dating back to the late 1980s that considers a very traditional set of success criteria in projects (Kerzner, 1987; Pinto & Slevin, 1987; Morris & Hough, 1987). Since then, there have been a number of attempts to identify the factors that contribute to project success (Baker, Murphy, & Fisher,, 1988; Bryson & Bromiley, 1993; Gersick, 1988; Shenhar, Levi, & Dvir, 1997; Shenhar, Dvir, Levy, & Maltz, 2001), but with little agreement. There has, however, been a historical emphasis on well-proven success criteria, usually accepted as scope or functionality, cost, and the aforementioned “on time” provision of agreed upon deliverables. This set of deliverables aligns with Atkinson's (1999) “iron triangle” of historically accepted criteria.

However, this may be one consistent element of project-based management that is due for a change. Our understanding of the divergent and varied interests of the many stakeholders that populate complex modern projects may lead us to believe that other outcomes and success criteria may be more appropriate in the future. Notably, large construction projects that are delivered significantly over original time and budgetary estimates will still deliver the original planned benefits, and for users, the success criteria may be met, regardless of overruns. This is especially true if benefiting users—as may be the case with public infrastructure projects—do not have “personal” financial interest in the project in question.

There has also been a reliance on the “traditional” view of projects as a “planned” activity. We do not intend here to walk away from the accepted project paradigm of “plan, then execute,” although evidence abounds of the difficulties in operationalizing and adhering to planned activity for the entire duration of a complex project. Evidence of this is embedded in the work of Gersick (1988), who studied the life spans of a number of project teams, finding that rather than tasks being completed by gradual progression, projects progressed in a pattern of punctuated equilibrium (Miller & Freisen, 1980; Tushman & Romanelli, 1985; Romanelli & Tushman, 1994). Group progress and activities were triggered by time and deadlines, rather than by organized and controlled work practices.

This can lead to an abandonment of planned activity in favor of improvised and situated action, and although improvised activity to resolve issues of required time compression falls within Miner, Bassoff, and Moorman (2001) additional improvisation constructs, it could be argued that creative improvised activity is more desirable than improvisation generated by punctuated time challenges.

These trends are manifesting themselves in a shift away from a reliance on tools and plans, towards a project environment where overt structure around the project is giving way to a more creative use of control mechanisms and process, coupled with improvisational and emergent routines that are evolving to meet the challenges of managing complex and often ambiguous project requirements in turbulent organizational environments.

Some Issues and Influences

It is argued that in today's turbulent and uncertain world, the more successful organizations are those that recognize the need for change—in products, processes, and delivery. We are living in a time of multiple possible futures, where discontinuities in organizations and their environments create a need for constant reorganization and reinvention. Change is necessary, as it disrupts competitors, and affects market ecosystems, with a corresponding adverse effect on other competitors in that marketplace. Over a decade ago, Collins and Porras (1994) recognized that “exceptional” companies (their description) had core values and a purpose that were stable, but also had strategies and processes that did change, and that changed efficiently. A number of more recent studies (Birkinshaw & Gibson, 2004; Orlikowski, 2002) have reinforced this view, and both improvisational working and agile project management are assisting with that shift within the project domain. Given this shift, an analysis of the changing nature of project working styles may prove enlightening.

This is a significant challenge, as it entails a shift from the mechanistic view of project management as a set of tools and techniques that can be applied to most contexts by experienced practitioners, towards the realization that complexity abounds, and that creativity, intuition, and adaption are essential skills for project managers.

These skills need to be applied and utilized in conditions of constant change, in results-based environments, and in a timely and often time-constrained manner. A number of articles discuss the need to maintain a balance between order and chaos (Lewin, 1993; Highsmith, 2004; Cook-Davies et al., 2007), and much of this thinking runs counter to the various recognized project management principles discussed in the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008). Indeed, the PMBOK® Guide, arguably the most widely accepted of these documents, is almost entirely concerned with “process,” and only addresses behaviors within projects in one section of a text that runs to well over 400 pages.

In order to consider the linkages between the traditional historic understanding of project-based work, and the more improvisational and “agile” models that are becoming increasingly recognized as beneficial in the management of complex tasks within turbulent environments, there is a requirement to expose and understand the similarities and differences between traditional and evolving models. This is in itself a challenge, as both modes have evolved differently—one over many decades, with strong links to the planning and command and control aspects of bureaucratic management models, and the other in a more “organic” fashion, drawing on principles of flexibility and autonomy that are relatively recent to modern management practice. In fact, this paper argues that although tools and techniques are often regarded as not requiring intuition and creativity, interpretation of data early in the project life cycle is an inherently creative process.

For many project managers, the evolution of more recent and apparently uncontrolled working styles, imbued with a minimum of agreed process and documentation, are presenting a challenge to those who take comfort from the shared responsibility of documented process, Gantt charts, work breakdown structures, and the myriad other tools and mechanisms that have provided a foundation for project work. Additionally, although improvised work in general arguably is gaining a greater empirical underpinning, “agile”-based techniques are a comparatively recent development, with little extant literature predating the new millennium. However, in these turbulent times, where there is an undercurrent of resistance to the time and effort spent planning for events that will inevitably change, managements may “…make a conscious decision to improvise as a means of creating more flexibility of behaviour and more spontaneous decision making” (Chelariu, Johnston, & Young., 2002, p. 141). Crossan and Sorrenti (1997, p. 155) see this as “… intuition guiding action in a spontaneous way.”

At this point in the discussion, it is useful to consider the possible origin of some of these emerging working styles. It may be useful to start from the Latin root of the word improvisation, which is improvisus, meaning “unforeseen.” It therefore follows that unforeseen means or at least includes “unplanned” activity. There is also an assumption that within the execution of those fundamentally unplanned actions, a degree of expertise is present. Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986), in a study of the phenomenology of expertise, suggested that experts in any subject achieve a level of proficiency whereby they improvise constantly. As Montuori (2003, p. 249) states, “they know the rules, but do not have to think about them. They have developed the ability to act spontaneously and intuitively without needing to refer to rulebooks.” This is certainly recognized in the improvisation literature, with intuition being accepted as a recognized construct.

There are also several philosophical issues to address when considering the links between knowledge, the application of that knowledge, and modes of action. Or, in other words, “How do we know what we know?” Further, what are our justifications for claims of knowledge, and for the purposeful application of that knowledge? There is an assumption that knowledge comes from experiencing, and there is evidence that the improvising project manager draws on a personal library of successful interventions that have been applied in different scenarios (Leybourne, 2002a). They use a combination of rationalist theory, intuition, and logic, and adjust the detail of the intervention to meet current criteria and requirements.

This fits with Kant's assertion that we must have knowledge of subject areas in order to recognize, identify, and explain observed phenomena, in order to hypothesize a solution by deduction (see Aucoin, 2007, pp.25-25). We do, however, need to take account of the fact that people know more than that demonstrable knowledge that they actually acknowledge or display, as there is a considerable “tacit” knowledge base (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Polanyi, 1958, 1966) that we as individuals, and as project managers, are able to draw on. Baumard (1999, p. 4) suggests that we all possess: “different types of knowledge and… [when applied, these] lead to the analysis of various patterns, deliberate or spontaneous, which organizations follow whilst struggling with ambiguity.” It follows that ambiguity is a social construction, in that what is ambiguous for one social actor or group of social actors may not be ambiguous for another, and that often project managers (who are the principal social actors in this scenario) apply their particular set of knowledge-based solutions according to their individual or group knowledge base.

Also, if the purpose of project-based change is to maximize the dynamic capabilities of the organization for competitive advantage, then it is useful to consider Teece, Pisano, and Shuen's (1997, p. 516) definition of dynamic capability as: “the firm's ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competence to address rapidly changing environment. Dynamic capabilities thus reflect an organization's ability to achieve new and innovative forms of competitive advantage…” It is therefore becoming more evident that the ability of an organization and its actors to achieve this dynamic capability is based more and more on agility and the ability to mobilize scarce and available resources quickly and effectively—i.e., a combination of many of the constructs of organizational improvisation, and particularly embracing the notion of bricolage.

So, if the internal orientation of a project manager is mainly based on the culture, values, beliefs, ethics, and assumptions that are accepted within the organization, then it also follows that this orientation is constantly affected by changes in these manifestations, as well as the relative turbulence of external environments. Given that in such environments project requirements are continually shifting, it is not surprising that the traditional “plan, then execute” paradigm applied to projects is being perceived as less effective in some organizational contexts. This would assist in explaining the burgeoning tendency for project managers to embrace improvisational working practices and the tenets and concepts of agile project management. However, a tacit assumption here is that the organization is comfortable with the reduction in planning and the minimization of project documentation that may flow from such practices. Often this is not the case, hence the attempt to combine “agile” activity with more traditional “stage-gate” processes (e.g., Karlström & Runeson, 2005).

There is also a widely held view within traditional economic theory that a decision-maker “optimizes”—i.e., that the decision arrived at is the perfect decision. However, Simon (1955) has argued that in reality the selected choice is not a complete or perfect achievement of objectives, but is merely the best solution that is available under a given set of circumstances, and with a given quota of information. It follows therefore that the effective economic actor is actually a “satisficer,” who arrives at a workmanlike and acceptable decision. This concept of bounded rationality (Simon, 1955, 1956; March & Simon, 1958) arguably negates many of the benefits of detailed planning, and supports improvisational and intuitive solutions, including those advocated by emerging agility in project work, which is arguably generated by the need to resolve ambiguity and complexity in turbulent organizational environments.

It is important at this point to differentiate between support for or acceptance of improvisation by managers, and its use in the implementation of project-managed change. Obtaining acceptance for improvisation in organizational life has two levels of difficulty. First, people have a cultural prejudice that suggests that what they plan and execute has more value, and is more likely to be effective, than what they spontaneously generate. Plans anchor people's ideas and actions, but people become attached to such plans, and return to them even when they are ineffective. There is a historical perception that it is problematical not to adhere to a plan, even in situations where plans, maps, and models are deficient. The concept we will explore here is that of “analytical adaptability.” Faced with data indicating cost and schedule overruns, how does the project manager react, and indeed employ creative analytical skills to manage the situation.

Suchman (1987) sees this problem in terms of human-machine communication, and reflects on how humans respond in a “situated” way. Her explanation of situated action is “that every course of action depends in essential ways upon its material and social circumstances” (Suchman, 1987, p. 50). Essentially, this means that as it is not possible to plan for every material and social circumstance, humans improvise, whereas machines can only respond to something that has been programmed. Machines therefore cannot innovate, and it appears that some organizations have the same problem, and for almost the same reasons. Many organizations plan for all eventualities, and many employees ensure they have a plan-based artefact to display to senior managers for protection and justification of their actions. This does not, however, negate their ability or desire to improvise.

A second difficulty is related to the fear experienced when employees overstep a safe boundary into the unknown. This fear is often linked to a fear of stepping outside the risk framework that surrounds most organizations. Often employees will decide to follow plans, and negate risk, notwithstanding the fact that it may be less effective to do so. Risk-averse organizations may also prefer this approach. There is also a political dimension as, when employees improvise, they have nobody to blame, and no shared responsibility for the decision to take a situated action. An organizational culture that supports employees can assist, and more organizations are attempting to move toward this kind of culture.

Keegan et al. (1999, p. 4) refer to projects as being “heavily dependent on…specific human inputs in the form of project team members who bring skills together in unpredictable ways.” The recognition of unpredictability forms a link with improvisation within projects. The work of Chelariu et al. (2002, pp. 141–142), which considers environmental conditions for improvisation, and its use in creating flexibility of behavior and spontaneous decision making, has already been identified. Two decades ago, Cleland (1988, pp. 52–53) provided a number of actions that assist performance, including giving members of project teams ownership of decisions, and encouraging creative approaches to problem-solving. Both areas support improvisational activity, despite the fact that 20 years ago the improvisation literature was in its infancy.

However, there is a fundamental problem with improvisation when it is considered alongside projects. Improvisation involves immediate action in order to achieve against a tight time scale, or to solve an immediate problem. This often means having to take action without a full set of information. Because traditional project management has historically been strongly linked to planning and control, with the shift towards improvised project-based work, a plan is of little assistance. Nevertheless, there is significant evidence that projects have been identified as a fertile breeding ground for improvisational practices (Leybourne, 2002b, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c).

Notwithstanding the need for flexibility and the rapid responses facilitated by improvised activity, an element of control within projects is still needed. It could be argued that modern project managers are working at the boundaries between order and chaos, as complexity and ambiguity need to be resolved in order to achieve project milestones. It would be unreasonable to ask any sponsor to subscribe to anarchic and entirely unplanned activity, even though the modern project landscape requires skills that may be closer to entrepreneurship than to traditional management. This offers the opportunity to consider a principle more widely associated with entrepreneurial activity to the project domain.

Effectuation is a construct of entrepreneurial expertise, and has emerged from empirical research undertaken within the cognitive sciences using a wide spectrum of data, and assists in understanding the dynamic and interactive process from which new products and services emerge (Sarasvathy, 2008). Effectual reasoning is based on the principle that the future is fundamentally unpredictable, yet controllable through human action, and that effectual logic, which is used to deal with situations where the ability to predict is low, but the need for control is relatively high, can assist with this. It follows that if we consider the environment to be influenced by the actions of the actors within it, and we consider the required goals and outcomes to be influenced and constructed by stakeholders, then project managers with entrepreneurial tendencies, as well as specific skills in the area of effectuation, may produce more successful outcomes. This link between entrepreneurial skill and project management competence could warrant further investigation and research.

Given the importance and likely influence of some of the influences documented in this section, it may now be useful to develop a taxonomy of improvisational competence to assist with the management of complex and challenging project-based work.

Improvisation requirements—creativity vs. analytical adaptability

Figure 1: Improvisation requirements—creativity vs. analytical adaptability.

Figure 1 considers this issue, and looks to develop a simple matrix that classifies along two axes: “creativity” and “analytical adaptability.”


The creativity axis is characterized as high and low. High creativity is associated with change and risk events, and projects that face many unknowns. These changes are expected to be fundamental and not just represent simple scope creep and/or cost escalation. Since many projects seem to undergo cost and schedule escalation, we do not regard these changes as requiring a high degree of creativity.

Analytical Adaptability

Project tools and techniques for analyzing project status (typically costs and schedule) are often thought of as fixed in place. However, particularly early in the project life cycle, much creativity is required in the data collection and analysis. For example, the project team may have just completed the first few deliverables and reported data on CPI, SPI, quality metrics, etc. From these the project manager must determine the true status of the project. Questions that must be answered include: Are the data typical, or did special conditions hold? Is the project facing a genuine or apparent cost overrun?

In Figure 1, the vertical axis describes the project's level of creative challenges, which can be high or low. The horizontal axis describes the project's level of analytical adaptability, which again can be high or low. For the purposes of this matrix, creativity can be considered as an “assumption breaking process,” in that it defies the acknowledged and accepted paradigm in a specific area or for a specific process. Analytical adaptability is required when the project regulations or processes are unpredictable and subject to change, and the tools and techniques generally associated with project planning cannot be applied with any degree of certainty.

An explanation of the matrix is as follows:

In Box 1, we have projects with high creativity but low analytical requirements. Small nonprofit organizations fall into this category. Nonprofits often encompass creative arts organizations conducting fund-raising projects or putting on performances. They typically require considerable creative energy, but the projects often resemble previous efforts: previous fund-raisers or previous performances. Therefore, while the projects require considerable creativity, the analytical aspect of the projects is often similar to previous efforts and is therefore low on the analytical adaptability scale.

In Box 2, we have small software maintenance (IT) projects, which require low creativity. Maintenance projects typically inherit their characteristics from the parent system, which presumably has existed for a while. Therefore, we do not expect the project will require much creativity.

In Figure 1, the horizontal axis describes the project's level of analytical adaptability, which can be high or low. For example, in Box 2 of small software maintenance projects, we do not expect the project will require much in the way of new or innovative tools to analyze the project. Maintenance projects typically exist in a regime where the processes and tools were already rigorously defined, and the team is expected to follow the existing protocols.

In Box 3, we have projects with very high creativity along with highly adaptable analytical requirements. The drug and pharmaceutical industries characterize the projects in this box. New drugs require research and development, and high degrees of creativity. The industry is also highly regulated, so there is a great deal of analytical work to plan the cost and schedule for the trials and acceptance. A high degree of analytical adaptability is required to manage the project through the lengthy process.

In Box 4, we have projects with very high analytical requirements but low creativity. Many Department of Defence projects fall in this category. The government imposes many and varied standards and procedures. For example, the government recently imposed a new earned value standard, to which new and existing contractors are expected to adhere. On the other hand, while data reporting and analysis requirements in this category of project are significant, the projects are developed to a very specific scope statement, on which compromise is rarely possible.

Following on from this matrix, it is evident that early in the project life cycle, considerable analytical creativity is required to process the information coming from the team. A general rule of thumb is that 50% of the way through the project, the cost and schedule predictions are very accurate. From this point on, it could be argued that the processes should be much more fixed, and the tools standardized so that the project manager's job is much more proscribed and less creativity and improvisation are required. However, evidence suggests that this is often not the case. This tension between analytical creativity and proscribed activity warrants further research.


In this paper, projects (and, to some extent, their broad organizational sectors) have been characterized according to their improvisation and analytical adaptability. The schema that has emerged from this analysis should be useful in helping project managers to deal with creativity. Some examples of organizations have been identified, and this paper has provided a general sense of the challenges and requirements inherent in successful project management, although this is contingent on where the project sits in the improvisation matrix.

An extension of this paper could give project managers a sense of when to allow and when not to allow creativity, and what management structures are appropriate. This would involve extending the research to myriad other areas, including HR practices, etc. This is an area for further research.


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