Toward a theory and practice of learning in project management systems


Associate Professor, British University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Adil Eltigani

Research Fellow, British University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates


The aim of this research is to identify learning mechanisms in project management by focusing on relationships between learning processes, dynamic capabilities, knowledge management, and project management resource assets. An exploratory, micro-practice approach was adopted to identify activity configurations that represent the inflection points of business-value creation and appropriation in an integrated project management system. The research was based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and consisted of a literature review and pilot study based on a qualitative research methodology using semi-structured interviews in a variety of private and public-sector organizations. A conceptual framework has been developed and partially tested based on an integrated systems approach that spans project, program, and portfolio management (PPPM) systems. The initial results are promising and demonstrate the increasing role of tacit knowledge sharing, strategic leadership and human resource management (HRM) practices in project management. The research also contributes toward developing a new theoretical perspective to investigate at a micro-level the practices within PPPM systems and the learning mechanisms that can lead to change and enhanced value creation .The paper lends itself to further enquiry and debate.

Keywords: learning process; knowing in practice; dynamic capabilities; knowledge management; business value


All organizations seek to use and develop their project management resource assets effectively. The role and function of project management in successful organizations has evolved from doing projects right to doing the right projects, and is now focused on the relationship between project management and other knowledge domains, such as strategy, organization structure and knowledge management. This paper develops a theoretical and conceptual position using the literature from strategy and knowledge management areas as a basis to explore this area further. The research presented is preliminary and based on exploratory empirical data from four pilot interviews to provide initial feedback on the efficacy of the conceptual model and research methodology proposed.

A recent survey showed that 90% of global senior executives and project management experts say “good project management is key to the delivery of successful results and gaining a competitive edge” (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2009); however, “little research has been done to fully understand how project management contributes to competitive advantage” and there have been few empirical studies on project management as a strategic asset (DeFillippi & Arthur, 1998; Jugdev, 2004; and Jugdev & Mathur, 2006). Nevertheless, it is accepted that strategic resource assets contribute to a firm’s competitive position and tend to be knowledge-based (Amit & Schoemaker, 1993).

Research aim and objectives

The overarching aim of this research is to explore and understand the mechanism by which project management contributes to sustained organizational performance by studying at a micro level the activity configurations and the influence of dynamic capabilities and knowledge management, and as a result the learning processes and reconfiguration of project, program, and portfolio (PPPM) capabilities. The specific objectives of the research are:

  1. Model the PPPM system by which project management contributes to sustained organizational performance through the influence of dynamic capabilities, knowledge management and learning processes.
  2. Investigate at a micro level the nature and patterns of influence (i.e., results chains that dynamic capabilities, knowledge management, and learning processes have on activity configurations of PPPM systems).
  3. Recommend further research to investigate more fully the above relationships and to evaluate the practical implications for industry.

To fulfill these objectives, a relatively new methodological approach in project management is used that: (1) combines dynamic capabilities, knowledge management, and learning processes; (2) focuses on the tacit side of knowledge management and the concept of knowing in practice (Orlikowski, 2002) rather than the more common focus in project management research of explicit knowledge; (3) develops understanding about how projects’ lessons-learned can contribute to knowledge assets in organizations, an area that is till now problematic and under-researched generally.

The following sections of this paper present a literature review, conceptual framework, and pilot study analysis. A major goal of the paper is to stimulate further debate in the research of these concepts and how they can help organizations develop excellence in their PPPM systems.

Literature Review


In 2004, Soderlund published on “adding value through project management” followed in 2006 by research which recognised “value creation as the prime focus of projects, programs and portfolios” (Winter & Smith, 2006). The concept of project management as a means to add value was also demonstrated by Mir and Pinnington (2014) in a study based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and, elsewhere, Mathur, Jugdev, and Fung (2007) and Killen Jugdev, Drouin, and Petit (2012) have published on the competitive value of project management.

Value can be expressed and defined in many ways—for example, economic value, ethics, market value, personal value, and functional value in mathematics. This research draws on the concept of business value shaped by the works of Drucker (management by objectives) and Porter (value chain analysis) in which a resource-based view of the firm is argued to provide a balance between the internal and external processes in which a business operates (Tywoniak, 2007). These effects are typically moderated by structuration (Giddens, 1984) in which dynamic tensions influence the ability of resource assets to reach their full potential due the restraining effect of structural mechanisms such as organization culture, design, norms, and various levels of governance.

The concept of business value and its appropriation was refined by Barney as a necessary condition for achieving competitive advantage (Barney, 1991, 2002). In this sense, value creation is seen as part of a team process in which a network or configuration of resources work together and influence each other creating opportunities for synergy rather than a purely mechanistic process. The concept of business value as described above is linked to business strategy (e.g., see Kaplan & Norton, 1992 and Wongrassamee, Gardiner, & Simmons, 2003) and includes stakeholders in the firm’s value chain as well as the resources directly employed in the organization. More recently, the role of absorptive capacity has been studied in which a firm is able to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990). The concept of business value has also been linked to project success (Gardiner & Stewart, 2000), which, in turn, has been shown to be influenced by the national culture of the different stakeholders (Ojiako et al., 2012). In the contemporary strategy literature, value is often discussed alongside dynamic capabilities that are considered by many to be prerequisites to achieving sustained competitive advantage in turbulent environments.

Dynamic capabilities

The strategy literature has continued to debate and add to the concept of dynamic capabilities since Teece, Pisano, and Shuen’s landmark publication in 1997. It is not the purpose of this paper to delve deeply into this debate but to suggest extending the application of this theory into the area of project management and PPPM systems more generally, drawing on the recent theoretical position developed by Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008), which explores possible relationships between dynamic capabilities, knowledge management, and learning processes.

Easterby-Smith and Prieto were not the first to link together dynamic capabilities and knowledge management: Neilson (2006) argues a theoretical approach that emphasizes that dynamic capabilities are of little value if the knowledge management activities are not taken into account as well. He proposes that practicing managers struggling with the operationalization of dynamic capabilities should instead focus on the contributing knowledge management activities in order to operationalize and utilize the concept of dynamic capabilities. Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008) independently argue a similar position and develop their theory by adding the mediating effect of learning capabilities.

The operational routines and organizational resources are uniquely related to one another within a specific context. We can use a concept described by Regner (2008) as activity configurations to explain this interrelationship. Activity configurations are interactions of actors or agents in a particular context defined by certain socio-cultural and cognitive contexts and surrounded by certain artifacts (Regner, 2008). In this research, these are represented by project management capabilities and the internal and external context in which they operate. These configurations are further modified by the effects of structuration in which organization structures can moderate the operationalization of activity configurations due to effects of hierarchy, culture, governance rules, etc. Clearly the effects of structuration as described above will also play a part in determining the influence of these activity configurations within projects. These effects have been empirically explored by Eltigani, Gardiner, and Lawlor-Wright (2011) within the research territory of developing new capabilities through the use of excellence models in government organizations in Abu Dhabi. The next section will develop the use of dynamic capabilities and activity configurations in a PPPM context.

Dynamic capabilities and project management

By considering “capability” as potential to do something and not the work done itself (Dougherty, Barnard & Dunne, 2004), project management is considered an organizational capability to do the work of projects, that is, to get projects done. Increasingly, scholars agree that strategy realization, and hence innovation, growth and long-term sustainability, is achieved through an organization’s PPPM system (Killen et al., 2012). Dynamic capabilities, however, reside in the potential to change resources, routines, and competences; they reside in the routines rather than in the resources themselves (Teece et al, 1997). This reflects well the function of portfolio management in a PPPM system in which strategic priorities and available resources are continually monitored to ensure that resources remain allocated where they are most effective. Typically, this requires a dynamic response to internal and external changes that impact the portfolio and its alignment and potential contribution to strategy. At a structural level, many organizations have set up a project management office (PMO) to help mediate this (Singh, KeiI, & Kasi, 2009) and to provide learning and excellence processes, including standardization and institutional consistency. However, there is often a naive tendency, internationally and in the UAE, to assume that creating a PMO is a panacea to solve the issue of getting best value from project management; research and practice (Mustafa, 2013) shows this is not always the case. Finally, Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008) argue that the process of learning may be a central element in the creation and renewal of dynamic capabilities. Therefore, the examination of the processes by which firms learn is thus critical to understanding dynamic capabilities (Mahoney, 1995; Zollo & Winter, 2002).

Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008) consider three levels of related capability: zero-level operational capabilities which get the work done, first-level dynamic capabilities which have the ability to reconfigure resources into new operational capabilities, and second-level learning capabilities by which an organization can build new dynamic capabilities and transform itself into a learning organization. In a PPPM system, we can consider these three levels as follows: (1) zero level PPPM capabilities or routines are represented by the project management practices, that is, activity configurations of the project management resources shaped by the local context, knowledge of the actors and structuration effects; (2) first-order dynamic capabilities dedicated to the modification of PPPM activities and routines, for example the practices within a PMO that shape, modify, tailor, and institutionalize the project management practices; and, (3) second-order learning capabilities that facilitate the creation and modification of new PPPM dynamic capabilities. These are fundamental organizational processes that enable organizations to learn and may be related to C-level leadership, human resource management (HRM) practices, and organization design, including culture, stakeholder engagement and knowledge management systems.

This paper has so far considered the contribution to business value of project management and its role in achieving sustained performance and competitive advantage, followed by an introduction to the theory of dynamic capabilities and how this can be considered within a PPPM system. The next section develops the knowledge management theme and considers its place in the conceptual framework.

Knowledge management and project management

Project management has traditionally been viewed in terms of codified, tangible assets, and most of the project management literature to date has focused on this side of the project management body of knowledge (Kloppenborg & Opfer, 2002; Ulri & Ulri, 2000), largely ignoring the tacit “know-how” knowledge, so important in value creation and appropriation (Barney, 1991, 2002) apart from a few notable exceptions (e.g., Fernie, Green, Weller, S.J., & Newcombe, 2003; Green, 2005; Mathur et al., 2007).

It is reported that up to 90% of the value from knowledge is contained in the unexpressed experiences, social processes, or tacit knowledge of the project contributors and stakeholders (Smith, 2001). Projects have traditionally included ”lessons learned” processes to capture and share knowledge from one project to another. However, this process is still plagued with difficulty; there are fundamental issues within projects that inhibit such learning, such as the temporary nature of project organizations and the fundamental complexity of projects (Brusoni, Prencipe, & Salter, 1998; Lindkvist, Söderlund, & Tell, 1998; Prencipe & Tell, 2001; Williams, 2008).

Significant strides have been made in sharing explicit knowledge through project management professional bodies, training organizations, and the establishment of project management methodologies that are shared institutionally and which are regularly improved or updated, for example through revisions and updates of the various published project management bodies of knowledge or a formal methodology such as PRINCE2 or HERMES. This learning process can be ad hoc or planned, structured and measured using one of the project management maturity models widely available.

Pilot interviews conducted in this research reveal that in many cases, practitioners continue to struggle to mine, use and benefit from the rich vein of value held in the lessons learned from projects (Butler, 2012; Fuller, 2011; GAO, 2002; Williams, 2007; Williams, 2008, Williams, 2004).

Building on the above work and taking into consideration relevant strategy literature as advised by Killen et al. (2012), for example, Hamel and Prahalad (1990), and recent research on the role of the PMO, for example, Michael (2009) and Rose (2011), this research seeks to identify how organizations in the UAE use different combinations of capabilities (e.g., leadership, knowledge management, innovation) in project management situations represented by unique activity configurations (the operational capabilities) that combine explicit and tacit knowledge, to add business value. The focus on practice as a new avenue of research in PPPM is also reported by Martinsuo (2013), who recognizes that project portfolio management can be viewed as “negotiation and bargaining and as structural reconfiguration, besides rational decision processes.” Therefore, by using an appropriate research methodology that focuses on micro-level practices (Eltigani et al., 2011), it is argued that it is possible to characterize critical points of inflection in PPPM systems where non-random or step increases in value are more likely to occur within the three levels of capability framework proposed by Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008).

Conceptual Framework

As mentioned above, this research is based on a conceptual framework that is a modification of the framework by Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008)—see Figure 1.

Conceptual framework, modified from Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008)

Figure 1: Conceptual framework, modified from Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008).

The proposed model suggests a practice perspective. The central intent is to separate the structural properties (rules and resources) that govern the activities of the PPPM system from the actual actions of actors (learning and reconfiguration); in other words to draw lines between what organizations have and what people do. This is important for developing the research methodology and for guiding the data collection. The lens of investigation is based on the structuration theory of Giddens (1984). The actions are outlined as activity configurations (Regner, 2008), which means a collection of actions that form an observable set of activities that can be observed and analyzed by the researcher. The social structural properties include the organizational structure, polices, and procedures, and, in particular, those related to the PPPM. The reverse arrows between the structure and the activity configurations indicate that actions draw from the structural properties and that the structure itself is an outcome of actions, as outlined in the concept of duality by Giddens (1984). As opposed to Easterby-Smith and Prieto (2008), the learning aspect and tacit knowledge are placed in this model within the activity configurations. This is in line with perspective of “knowing in practice” developed by Orlikowski (2002). The major parts of the conceptual model are:

Structure: includes the rules, resources and dynamic capabilities. Another important aspect of the structure is the knowledge management as a system and explicit knowledge, while knowledge of how things are done in practice (traditionally referred to as tacit knowledge) is part of the activity configurations, as explained below.

PPPM activity configurations are the human actions in the PPPM system. They include the activities of actors in performing PPPM related activities— more specifically, they include the existing and newly reconfigured activities that are the outcomes of the interacting elements in the upper part of the diagram in Figure 1, which are primarily responsible for the reconfiguration and development of new capabilities required to meet changing environments. The activity configurations also include the process of learning or knowing in practice. The assumption here is that tacit knowledge is an active element of “knowing” and is inseparable from action (Orlikowski, 2002).

Methodology and Data Collection

This research seeks to better understand the mechanisms that shape PPPM capabilities development in functional, semi-projectized and projectized organizations. Several research instruments are available in the knowledge management literature, while dynamic capabilities have yet received limited empirical verification (Easterby-Smith and Prieto, 2008). However, research by Eltigani et al. (2011) has demonstrated the use of dynamic capabilities to show how organizations in the UAE have used the Excellence model to generate new capabilities and improve performance. The moderating effect of structuration is also considered by Eltigani et al. (2011) and Eltigani (2013) and will also be considered in a later stage of this research.

The main unit of analysis is the process of formation of activity configurations in PPPM systems that have been influenced by the wider organizational context. This involves collective activities, including diverse actors from within, and external to, the organization drawn from the prevailing social structure. Stage one of the research, reported here, is based on preliminary interviews with senior PPPM managers across a spectrum of industries. Stage two of the data collection will be with a wider group of people in the organizations targeted, including quality managers, experts, functional managers, C-level executives, and others that interface with identified dynamic capabilities and the prevailing knowledge management system drawn primarily from members of the Project Management Executive Forum, established in the United Arab Emirates in 2013.


The pilot data has been collected in the UAE from organizations in the oil and gas, telecommunications, engineering and real estate sectors. The pilot study involved four in-depth interviews in different organizations as explained above using a semi-structured questionnaire to explore at a low or micro-level the main areas in the conceptual framework. The interviewees were encouraged to explore how project management practices evolve and improve, followed by requests for real examples and probing into how these examples came about (e.g., by chance or through some other process operating in the background). In this way, the three levels of capability could be explored without requiring the interviewer to be aware of each level; as far as they were concerned, they were just explaining the practices relating to project management and the various influences, moderators and mediators on them.

Pilot study organizations’ sectors include:

A.Aviation industry, responsible for design and construction of megaprojects in the aviation industry, operating in UAE and internationally.

B.Telecommunications, responsible for networks and services across national territories, involved in product and service development, strategic projects, and operational rollout projects.

C.SME real estate turnkey consultancy, involved in niche market in Middle East, typically involving high risk ventures that other companies choose not to compete for.

D.National oil and gas company operating in UAE and other Arab nations.

The four interviews resulted in about 3.5 hours of recorded interview data which were transcribed and analyzed using Nvivo 9 application for qualitative data analysis. For the purpose of this paper, the results are presented as a series of recounted practices that show relationships between the variables discussed earlier in the conceptual framework. These practices are summarized from the verbatim transcripts for brevity, as shown in Appendix A.


Project management research has refocused itself in recent years to incorporate multidimensional measures of project success, business results and benefit management, networking and alliances, strategy implementation, and the effects of national culture. There is a growing realization that project management excellence lies beyond the espoused bodies of knowledge produced and managed by the PMI, APM, and IPMA, among others, and the predominantly “know-what” knowledge domains they represent, and that it must now consider the tacit or ”know-how” knowledge as part of its value-added processes. This research has drawn from research literature in PPPM, dynamic capabilities and knowledge management to suggest a framework in which activity configurations or “value steps” can create opportunities to add new business value. From this research, organizations can understand how the various ways in which they configure their project management resource assets can add value from simple projects to megaprojects, for example, by integrating complementary practices such as cost reduction, project management training, leadership development, knowledge management, and building innovation capacity.

The preliminary results from the pilot study show reasonable alignment with the proposed conceptual framework. The tables in Appendix A show a series of results chains in which a learning response has been triggered by internal or external events that could impact the PPPM system, moderated by structure to give rise to a new dynamic capability which in turn spawns one or more activity reconfigurations that offer new PPPM capabilities. As these capabilities are embedded in the social, political, and cultural environment in which the organization unit is based, this makes them difficult to imitate, and so more likely to give competitive advantage. This augurs well for future studies to explore this area more fully. The resulting framework of activity configurations can be used by UAE organizations to plan and optimize their project management resource assets, which in turn will contribute to overall business efficiency.

This research also aligns with current UAE government priority areas aimed at creating “a dynamic open economy” and “economic development” (General Secretariat of the Executive Council, 2008). The research is aimed at helping UAE organizations, and to give food for thought to other organizations, to develop their project management assets objectively as part of an integrated system focused on increasing value and competitive advantage.

Key research challenges identified during this pilot study include:

  1. Access to data and its collection. This is a challenge for any research project that looks deep into an organization and its practices, successes, and failures. The phenomena of the study, dynamic capabilities, knowledge management, learning processes, and the PPPM system are all connected to organizational sustained performance, and, as such, this carries with it challenges for access. This challenge was addressed by the nature of the existing collaborative relationship with all case study organizations through existing networks and the recently formed Project Management Executive Forum. It is also significant that the main contact in each organization was a senior executive.
  2. Complexity of the research. The theoretical constructs on which the research is based are relatively complex in terms of the context and the phenomena under consideration. There are resulting challenges encompassed in this complexity for the conduct of the research project. These were largely addressed by using an appropriate methodology that combined exploratory, phenomenological, and constructivism aspects through a micro-practice lens approach.
  3. Cultural barriers. Cultural barriers can create tremendous difficulties in complex projects. Although limited to a pilot study at this stage, this research was complex in that it dealt with data that not everyone was comfortable sharing. This is also a well-reported challenge of lessons learned information systems. For example, the lessons learned information system at NASA has been criticized as ineffective due to predominantly cultural barriers to lessons learning (GAO, 2002). The key challenges reported there were:
  • Lack of time to capture or submit lessons and a perception of intolerance for mistakes.
  • Reluctance to share negative lessons for fear that they might not be viewed as good project managers. One manager stated, “Until we can adopt a culture that admits frankly to what really worked and didn’t work, I find many of these tools to be suspect.” Managers suggested that NASA could improve lessons learning by implementing mentoring and “storytelling” activities.

These were addressed as far as possible by the methodology used and ethical standards applied which included confidentiality and anonymity of respondents.


This paper presented a literature review and preliminary investigation using theories from the strategy and knowledge management literature applied to a PPPM context to explore the relationship between the variables that influence business value and competitive advantage. Based on the results achieved so far, it is tentatively suggested that organizations seek to understand further how dynamic capabilities, learning processes, and knowledge management interact in ways to configure and reconfigure their project management resource assets to add additional business value, from simple projects to megaprojects. In this way, future research can be aimed at understanding the increasing importance of tacit knowledge sharing in project management, for example, through leadership, innovation, HRM, and knowledge management practices. The research was conducted in the United Arab Emirates, though it is expected that some generalizations of the findings will be possible.


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Appendix A: Examples of results chains based on the conceptual framework and empirical pilot study data

Case (A)

Structure PPPM activity configurations Outcomes
Knowledge Management System (KMS) Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) Including PPPM DCs Resources Including PPPM system Learning (Knowing in practice) Reconfiguring New Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) New Resources Including PPPM system

-An organizational unit responsible for Knowledge Management

-Established practice of collecting and using “lessons learned” form previous projects

-High level of autonomy on how to deliver projects

-Capability to manage stressful and tight milestones

-Capability to continuously learn from “lessons learnt” form previous projects

-Government company

-Many stakeholders included including government bodies and customers

-Highly competitive environment

-Company developed project management methodology that is adaptable through experience and learning

-Strategic response to a major negative financial event linked to an internal process and massive rework on high-quality architectural finishes (learning the hard way)

-Acquiring new technical knowledge

-Change of processes

-New capabilities emerged based on projects’ lessons learned and leading to actions: process modifications, redesigns and additions.

-More technical knowledge

-Capability to manage contracts with high-quality architectural finishes

-New processes and policies about managing contracts with high-quality architectural finishes

-Learning from practice that following project progress from the office is not effective and can lead to delays

-Learning that being in the project site is important to follow progress with the contractor and resolve issues more proactively and efficiently

-More presence on the site especially in the final stages

-Fast and proactive response to project issues and changes

-Established practice of regular visits to the projects site

-Learning from practice that there is a need to cope with fast technological changes, especially in long-term projects where technological elements of the project deliverables may become obsolete by the time of handover, as compared with the initial contracted specifications

-Changed the contract clauses to make sure that technological elements of the project deliverables have to be the latest state-of-the-art at time of project handover.

-Capability to adapt to technological advances

-Standard contract clauses to make sure project deliverables are as per the latest technological advances

-Autonomy over resources

-Strategic response to market volatility

-Adapt HRM practices

-Because recognition is linked to performance, it encourages positive practices and sharing—best people are rewarded and stay, those who do not perform tend to leave.

-HRM practices directed at staff retention and motivation, for example, team recognition, bonuses, financial motivation, internal recognition, freedom to act and be innovative

-HRM practices directed at staff retention and motivation, for example, team recognition, bonuses, financial motivation, internal recognition, freedom to act and be innovative

-Senior managers set up operational readiness processes and now educate contractors about it.

-Capability to reduce risks and anticipate and rectify problems

-New processes, reduces operational risks after project completion where everyone blames each other if a fault occurs

Case (B)

Structure PPPM activity configurations Outcomes
Knowledge Management System (KMS) Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) Including PPPM DCs Resources Including PPPM system Learning (Knowing in practice) Reconfiguring New Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) New Resources Including PPPM system

-No formal KM system

-Discrete project management capabilities residing with the individuals in the functional units

-Project managers in the functional units

-High number of projects

-Strategic response to an increase in the number of internal cross-functional strategic projects.

-Decided to establish a PMO

-New capabilities formed by influencing project managers, showing how project management adds value, helping them solve their own problems.

-Unified methodology

-Better governance on PPPM processes

-The capability to ensure training and development for project managers

-Top management decision support through a central view to projects status

-Better projects selection and alignment with strategy

-A PMO in the organizational structure reporting to top management

-Project managers still report to their functional managers but KPIs are developed to measure performance based on the abidance with the project management methodology

-A unified project management methodology

-Capability of the PMO to influence project managers, showing how project management adds value, helping them solve their own problems.

-Unified methodology

-Better governance on PPPM processes

-The capability to ensure training and development for project managers

-Top management decision support through a central view to projects status

-Better projects selection and alignment with strategy

-A PMO in the organizational structure reporting to top management

-Project managers still report to their functional managers but KPIs are developed to measure their performance based on the abidance by the PM methodology

-A unified project management methodology

-Realizing the need to keep up to date with PPPM knowledge and be responsive to changes

-Decided to continuously deliver training to project managers

-Encourage project managers to join project management professional bodies (e.g., PMI)

-Decided to sign memoranda of understanding with experienced partners to share knowledge

-Decided to sign MoUs with academic institutions to share knowledge and conduct research

-Capability to sense changes

-Capability to agilely respond to changes and adapt methodologies

-Established practice to participate in professional bodies (e.g., PMI)

-Signed memoranda of understanding with strategic partner to share knowledge (Huawei)

-Signed MoUs with academic institutions to share knowledge and conduct research (e.g. The British University in Dubai - BUiD)

-Established practices of training and continuous development

-Knowledge sharing partnerships with strategic partners and academic institutions

-Capability to gain knowledge

-Capability to sense changes

-Capability to agilely respond to changes and adapt methodologies

-Established PMO that provides strategic support to top management and project managers

-Response to changes in market environment

-Corporate project management office (CPMO) understand the culture and maturity level of the organization

-CPMO modifies and adjusts the project management methodology that originated as an off-the-shelf methodology

-Capability to manage PPPM with more focus on the external environment and internal culture

-Adapted project management methodology coping with the changes in the environment

Case (C)

Structure PPPM activity configurations Outcomes
Knowledge Management System (KMS) Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) Including PPPM DCs Resources Including PPPM system Learning (Knowing in practice) Reconfiguring New Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) New Resources Including PPPM system

-No formal KMS

-Tacit entrepreneurial knowledge with top management

-Tacit entrepreneurial knowledge about the business and the environment

-a joint venture with a legal firm

-a joint venture with a financial services firm

-Strategic response to market needs in the company-specific niche market that is high risk

-Tap into tacit knowledge that comes from our outsource partners – most business operations are outsourced – we provide financial incentives and a stake of the business to them.

-Knowledge from practice with investors

-They buy into the business model and share tacit knowledge openly to ensure the business works – we learn from this and develop new capabilities relevant to our projects

-Capability to tap on tacit knowledge of the partners through partnerships and financial incentives

-Strategic partnerships

-Learning from the economic downturn and difficulties in getting payment on time

-Become less flexible in dealing with clients payments

-Focus on small-scale projects with more secure payments

-Cope with the economic changes and volatile markets

-Established practice to select project with more secure payments

-Dealing with external entities from different countries—learned not to believe what they say even from top officials, ambassadors. and ministers

-if not on paper, it’s worth nothing

-decided to change the internal policies in the company to have written commitment before starting any project

-Capability to sense and evaluate customers and partners

-Capability to choose formulate and legalize agreements

-New polices in the company to have written agreements and not accept any verbal commitment from anyone

Case (D)

Structure PPPM activity configurations Outcomes
Knowledge Management System (KMS) Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) Including PPPM DCs Resources Including PPPM system Learning (Knowing in practice) Reconfiguring New Dynamic Capabilities (DCs) New Resources Including PPPM system

-No formal KMS

-Discrete project management practices


-Functional operational company

-Organizational structure with thick boundaries culture

-Senior management unhappy t with the way the organization manages projects led them to rethink the approach to project management

-Increase of number of projects directed attention of senior management to develop a more robust PPPM system

-Recruited an experience project manager to establish a CPMO

-Established CPMO

-Corporate level project management methodology


-A formal inactive CPMO

-CPMO developed a comprehensive PM methodology which was rejected by top management due to current immature PPPM practices

-Simplify the project management methodology to suit the PPPM maturity of the organization

-CPMO understands the current maturity level of the organization

-Simplified project management methodology that matches the maturity level of the organization

-Simplified project management methodology that matches the maturity level of the organization

-Increasing number of projects

-Corporate PMO response to increasing numbers of cross-functional projects

-CPMO started to outsource project management

-Brought in new capabilities that got up to speed within four to six weeks; added bonus was they came with new knowledge about project management processes and were willing to share

-Outsourced project managers

-Strategic response by CPMO to increasing volume of cross-functional projects.

-Realizing the need for learning and improving project management in the organization

-CPMO director enhances knowledge management in the business unit by bringing in external experts for events and knowledge sharing

-Knowledge from experts is shared and seen to reflect other knowledge in the company, reinforcing its validity so that more project managers take notice.

-Culture of knowledge sharing

Dr. Paul Gardiner is head of project management at the British University in Dubai. He has degrees from Imperial College, London and the University of Durham in the U.K. He has worked in manufacturing and the oil and gas industry. Dr. Gardiner has established, designed, and implemented postgraduate programs in project management at several international universities. He is a member of the IPMA, APM, and PMI and has written over 70 journal articles and conference papers. He has also authored a textbook on project management for Palgrave Macmillan.

Dr. Adil Eltigani is an academic and management consultant. He has a PhD degree from the University of Manchester in the UK. He is currently a research fellow at the British University in Dubai and a visiting academic at the University of Manchester. Dr. Eltigani publishes in international journals and conferences. His research interest covers dynamic capabilities, practice theories, excellence models, and project management. Dr. Eltigani is the founder of iExcel consulting.

©2014 Project Management Institute Research and Education Conference



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