IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

One Size Does Not Fit All Projects: Exploring Classical Contingency Domains


  • Aaron J. Shenhar

    () (Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management, Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on the Hudson, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030)


Not many authors have attempted to classify projects according to any specific scheme, and those who have tried rarely offered extensive empirical evidence. From a theoretical perspective, a traditional distinction between radical and incremental innovation has often been used in the literature of innovation, and has created the basis for many classical contingency studies. Similar concepts, however, did not become standard in the literature of projects, and it seems that theory development in project management is still in its early years. As a result, most project management literature still assumes that all projects are fundamentally similar and that "one size fits all." The purpose of this exploratory research is to show how different types of projects are managed in different ways, and to explore the domain of traditional contingency theory in the more modern world of projects. This two-step research is using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods and two data sets to suggest a conceptual, two-dimensional construct model for the classification of technical projects and for the investigation of project contingencies. Within this framework, projects are classified into four levels of technological uncertainty, and into three levels of system complexity, according to a hierarchy of systems and subsystems. The study provides two types of implications. For project leadership it shows why and how management should adapt a more project-specific style. For theory development, it offers a collection of insights that seem relevant to the world of projects as temporary organizations, but are, at times, different from classical structural contingency theory paradigms in enduring organizations. While still exploratory in nature, this study attempts to suggest new inroads to the future study of modern project domains.

Suggested Citation

  • Aaron J. Shenhar, 2001. "One Size Does Not Fit All Projects: Exploring Classical Contingency Domains," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 47(3), pages 394-414, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:47:y:2001:i:3:p:394-414

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert D. Dewar & Jane E. Dutton, 1986. "The Adoption of Radical and Incremental Innovations: An Empirical Analysis," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(11), pages 1422-1433, November.
    2. Richard L. Daft & Robert H. Lengel, 1986. "Organizational Information Requirements, Media Richness and Structural Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 32(5), pages 554-571, May.
    3. Dvir, D. & Lipovetsky, S. & Shenhar, A. & Tishler, A., 1998. "In search of project classification: a non-universal approach to project success factors," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(9), pages 915-935, December.
    4. Kenneth E. Boulding, 1956. "General Systems Theory--The Skeleton of Science," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 2(3), pages 197-208, April.
    5. L. J. Bourgeois, III & Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, 1988. "Strategic Decision Processes in High Velocity Environments: Four Cases in the Microcomputer Industry," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 34(7), pages 816-835, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Anjar Priyono, 2016. "The use of ICT platforms to promote knowledge exchange in project-based organisations," International Journal of Entrepreneurial Knowledge, VSP Ostrava, a. s., vol. 4(2), pages 5-21, December.
    2. Chang, Dae Ryun & Cho, Hang, 2008. "Organizational memory influences new product success," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 13-23, January.
    3. Engwall, Mats, 2003. "No project is an island: linking projects to history and context," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 789-808, May.
    4. Galeazzo, Ambra & Furlan, Andrea & Vinelli, Andrea, 2014. "Understanding environmental-operations integration: The case of pollution prevention projects," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 153(C), pages 149-160.
    5. Badir, Yuosre F. & Büchel, Bettina & Tucci, Christopher L., 2009. "The performance impact of intra-firm organizational design on an alliance's NPD projects," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(8), pages 1350-1364, October.
    6. Hugo Priemus & Marian Bosch-Rekveldt & Mendel Giezen, 2013. "Dealing with the complexity, uncertainties and risk of megaprojects: redundancy, resilience and adaptivity," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Mega-Projects, chapter 5, pages 83-110 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Aga, Deribe Assefa, 2016. "Factors affecting the success of development projects : A behavioral perspective," Other publications TiSEM 867ae95e-d53d-4a68-ad46-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    8. repec:eee:touman:v:64:y:2018:i:c:p:335-345 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Scott F. Rockart & Nilanjana Dutt, 2015. "The rate and potential of capability development trajectories," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(1), pages 53-75, January.
    10. Gil, Nuno & Tether, Bruce S., 2011. "Project risk management and design flexibility: Analysing a case and conditions of complementarity," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 415-428, April.
    11. Rodríguez-Segura, Enrique & Ortiz-Marcos, Isabel & Romero, José Javier & Tafur-Segura, Javier, 2016. "Critical success factors in large projects in the aerospace and defense sectors," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 5419-5425.
    12. Sylvain Lenfle, 2008. "Exploration and Project Management," Post-Print hal-00404168, HAL.
    13. Sinyagin, Yury & Sheburakov, I.B., 2017. "Mechanisms and Tools for the Formation of Effective Project Teams in the Executive Authorities of the Subjects of the Russian Federation," Working Papers 061704, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    14. Pascal Le Masson & Sylvain Lenfle & Benoit Weil, 2013. "Testing whether major innovation capabilities are systemic design capabilities: analyzing rule-renewal design capabilities in a case-control study of historical new business developments," Post-Print hal-00881700, HAL.
    15. Ellinas, Christos & Allan, Neil & Johansson, Anders, 2016. "Project systemic risk: Application examples of a network model," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 182(C), pages 50-62.
    16. Nemet, Gregory F. & Johnson, Evan, 2012. "Do important inventions benefit from knowledge originating in other technological domains?," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 190-200.
    17. Blome, Wendy Whiting & Steib, Sue D., 2014. "The organizational structure of child welfare: Staff are working hard, but it is hardly working," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 181-188.
    18. Christopher Durney & Richard Donnelly, 2015. "Managing the Effects of Rapid Technological Change on Complex Information Technology Projects," Journal of the Knowledge Economy, Springer;Portland International Center for Management of Engineering and Technology (PICMET), vol. 6(4), pages 641-664, December.
    19. Nelson, Richard Graham & Azaron, Amir & Aref, Samin, 2016. "The use of a GERT based method to model concurrent product development processes," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 250(2), pages 566-578.
    20. repec:rdg:wpaper:em-dp2008-57 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. repec:pal:jorsoc:v:61:y:2010:i:6:d:10.1057_jors.2010.12 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Evelyn J. Barry & Chris F. Kemerer & Sandra A. Slaughter, 2006. "Environmental Volatility, Development Decisions, and Software Volatility: A Longitudinal Analysis," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 52(3), pages 448-464, March.
    23. Indranil R. Bardhan & Vish V. Krishnan & Shu Lin, 2007. "Project Performance and the Enabling Role of Information Technology: An Exploratory Study on the Role of Alignment," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 9(4), pages 579-595, May.
    24. Hans, E.W. & Herroelen, W. & Leus, R. & Wullink, G., 2007. "A hierarchical approach to multi-project planning under uncertainty," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 35(5), pages 563-577, October.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:47:y:2001:i:3:p:394-414. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mirko Janc). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.