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Simulating Project Work Processes and Organizations: Toward a Micro-Contingency Theory of Organizational Design


  • Raymond E. Levitt

    (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020)

  • Jan Thomsen

    (Det Norske Veritas, Veritasveien 1, N-1322 Hovik, Norway)

  • Tore R. Christiansen

    (Det Norske Veritas, Veritasveien 1, N-1322 Hovik, Norway)

  • John C. Kunz

    (Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020)

  • Yan Jin

    (Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Southern California, Denney Research Building, #10, Los Angeles, California 90089-1111)

  • Clifford Nass

    (Department of Communications, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2050)


The Virtual Design Team (VDT) extends and operationalizes Galbraith's (1973) information-processing view of organizations. VDT simulates the micro-level information processing, communication, and coordination behavior of participants in a project organization and predicts several measures of participant and project-level performance. VDT-1 (Cohen 1991) and VDT-2 (Christiansen 1993) modeled project organizations containing actors with perfectly congruent goals engaged in complex but routine engineering design work within static organization structures. VDT-3 extends the VDT-2 work process representation to include measures of activity flexibility, complexity, uncertainty, and interdependence strength. It explicitly models the effects of goal incongruency between agents on their information processing and communication behavior while executing more flexible tasks. These extensions allow VDT to model more flexible organizations executing less routine work processes. VDT thus bridges rigorously between cognitive and social psychological micro-organization theory and sociological and economic macro-organization theory for project teams. VDT-3 has been used to model and simulate the design of two major subsystems of a complex satellite launch vehicle. This case study provides initial evidence that the micro-contingency theory embodied in VDT-3 can be used to predict organizational breakdowns, and to evaluate alternative organizational changes to mitigate identified risks. VDT thus supports true "organizational engineering" for project teams.

Suggested Citation

  • Raymond E. Levitt & Jan Thomsen & Tore R. Christiansen & John C. Kunz & Yan Jin & Clifford Nass, 1999. "Simulating Project Work Processes and Organizations: Toward a Micro-Contingency Theory of Organizational Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 45(11), pages 1479-1495, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:45:y:1999:i:11:p:1479-1495

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas W. Malone & Kevin Crowston & Jintae Lee & Brian Pentland & Chrysanthos Dellarocas & George Wyner & John Quimby & Charles S. Osborn & Abraham Bernstein & George Herman & Mark Klein & Elissa O'Do, 1999. "Tools for Inventing Organizations: Toward a Handbook of Organizational Processes," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 45(3), pages 425-443, March.
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    1. repec:spr:jorgde:v:7:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1186_s41469-018-0029-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Rauniar, Rupak & Rawski, Greg, 2012. "Organizational structuring and project team structuring in integrated product development project," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(2), pages 939-952.
    3. Nasrallah, Walid F. & Qawasmeh, Suleiman J., 2009. "Comparing multi-dimensional contingency fit to financial performance of organizations," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 194(3), pages 911-921, May.
    4. Thomas Hutzschenreuter & Julian Horstkotte, 2013. "Performance effects of top management team demographic faultlines in the process of product diversification," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(6), pages 704-726, June.
    5. Andrew Chang & Chih-Chiang Tien, 2006. "Quantifying uncertainty and equivocality in engineering projects," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(2), pages 171-184.
    6. Hutzschenreuter, Thomas & Horstkotte, Julian, 2013. "Managerial services and complexity in a firm’s expansion process: An empirical study of the impact on the growth of the firm," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 137-151.
    7. Nadia Bhuiyan & Donald Gerwin & Vince Thomson, 2004. "Simulation of the New Product Development Process for Performance Improvement," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(12), pages 1690-1703, December.
    8. To, Chester K.M. & Fung, Hon-Kwok & Harwood, Raymond J. & Ho, K.C., 2009. "Coordinating dispersed product development processes: A contingency perspective of project design and modelling," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(2), pages 570-584, August.
    9. repec:wsi:ijimxx:v:21:y:2017:i:07:n:s1363919617500591 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Haberstroh, Martin & Wolf, Joachim, 2005. "Individuelle Autonomie in Projektteams," Manuskripte aus den Instituten für Betriebswirtschaftslehre der Universität Kiel 585, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Institut für Betriebswirtschaftslehre.
    11. Worren, Nicolay, 2016. "Operationalizing the concept of conflicting functional demands," Working Paper Series 04-2016, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, School of Economics and Business.
    12. repec:bla:stratm:v:37:y:2016:i:13:p:2589-2610 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Muethel, Miriam & Hoegl, Martin, 2010. "Cultural and societal influences on shared leadership in globally dispersed teams," Journal of International Management, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 234-246, September.


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