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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)

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    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.

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    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 47 (2001)
    Issue (Month): 3 (March)
    Pages: 394-414

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    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:47:y:2001:i:3:p:394-414
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