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Championship or Collective Behavior

Another Look at Entrepreneurial Activities

SERIES ARTICLE

Managing and Working in Project Society

By Timothy Wilson and Rolf A. Lundin

Stockholm, Sweden

 


The emergence of a Project Society points to the need to take a closer look at what is happening in practice in the business world as it presently functions. One important statement is: “The traditional way of approaching economic activity becomes obsolete in the emergent Project Society”, (Lundin et al., 2015, 1). This general statement signals the possible need to take a close look at what has been taken for granted previously. In that regard, our understanding of successful development tends to be evolutionary.  That is, we build on concepts that have been accepted over time.  One of these has been the role of a champion in a project – the definition of which is supplied to us from Schon (1963, 84).  “Essentially, the champion must be a person willing to put himself/herself on the line for an idea of doubtful success. He or she is willing to fail. But he/she is capable of using any and every means of informal sales and pressure in order to succeed”. 1

We let the focus on the champion be in our main concern. The champion is in fact described as the one person around whom everything orbits. It is in line with the idea of the project manager as being the one in charge and with all the responsibilities, the person who receives all the praise if things go well and all the blame when things don’t. Others on the team are then described as followers to do what they are told to do.

But the world keeps changing – possibly differently in different parts of the world and so are the habits on organizing in projects. Life is not getting simpler. It is nowadays very difficult to identify project management with a single manager. Further, in practical projects, people take on informal roles in a context where formal roles also exist.

As an illustration, the Swedish Project Academy (see Lundin & Söderholm, 2012), where practitioners and researchers cooperate, every year awards the title “Project Manager of the year” in the Swedish context. From the very beginning (the academy was founded in 1994) it has in fact been very difficult to locate the one person to receive the award. In 2016 there were two award winners (see Ragnarsson & Lundin, 2017) who both worked on the same project, but had slightly different areas of responsibilities. Awarding more than one person has in fact happened quite often (even though the project has been the same). Consequently, in the academy we have had several discussions about locating and awarding “the project of the year” and not let the focus be on awarding ”the project manager of the year”. Thereby, we would recognize the collectivity of the project efforts. It would be suggested that this line of thinking would hold for Sweden and the Nordic countries, and is somewhat in line with similar findings around the world.

Now permit us to go to entrepreneurship. In the Lundin et al text (2015, 220-223) it is suggested that research on projects and entrepreneurship have followed parallel, but separate paths. Perhaps it is time to bring them back together. A recent study has been conducted in which both early-stage entrepreneurial activity (individual) and entrepreneurial employee activity (organizational, e.g., intrapreneurship) have been identified and compiled for 44 separate countries (World Economic Forum, 2015).  Sweden was included in the 44 countries studied.

Attention was given to both early-stage entrepreneurial activity (generally activity of individuals) and entrepreneurial employee activity (activity of employees within a group – commonly referred to as “intrapreneurship”).  Among developed, industrial countries Sweden was on the low end of activities of individual entrepreneurs at approximately 5 percent of the population (World Economic Forum, 2015, 7-11), whereas the U.S., for instance, was at around 11 percent. Sweden was on the high end, however, of entrepreneurial employee activity, approximately 10 percent, so in combination study suggested that the country had a combined effort of around 15 percent of entrepreneurial activity in the population.

This is our observation on Sweden’s 10 percent. In a recent case study of a Swedish platform project of an intrapreneurship type, it was determined that no one champion of the project was to be found.  Instead, “just highly motivated individuals in a group” were associated with the development of the project (Burström and Wilson, 2014, 511). That was surprising because the authoritative study on platform projects (Chai et al, 2012) identified a champion commonly in their 242 project sample. Possibly, the high motivation might in part be explained by the special character of the project and the fact that success was ascribed to the team rather to any isolated individual. In effect, this was big business; the future of the company was at stake so this project under study had a high profile for everyone and was of a personal interest for everyone in the entire group. Just as our situation with the Swedish Project Academy, the notion of a champion might not have a clear attractiveness in respondents’ thinking. Participant tended to be more collectively oriented. Heroes, culprits and champions are terms used to describe events and personalities. Not so much in Sweden. In general, Swedes tend to be cautious in their statements and in outspoken attitudes. Responsibility is shared; ergo, it was the group that did it. We did follow up on champions and championship among individuals doing research on projects in the group at Umeå. It was six for six. None of them could say that they had encountered the term in any of their studies.

That does not say of course that there are not Swedish champions. Of those who have been appointed Project Manager of the Year, there is essentially only one who could be denoted a “champion”, Björn Helander. He received the award in 2010 for starting and leading the “Save the Sea Eagle” project. In the middle of the former century, the sea eagles were close to extinct in the Baltic area. The reasons were many: the fish in the Baltic was full of poisons due to pollution, people found that sea eagles were a threat to farm animals (the rumor was even that sea eagles had killed babies) so if found eagle nests were often destroyed.

Helander had a personal interest in eagles – for one thing he had written a PhD thesis on sea eagles – so he took on the task to try to save the sea eagles from extinction. In his actions he appeared to be a “soul of fire”…

More…

Author’s footnote 1: The Schon reference refers to the champion as a male, but in an effort to make our discussion about champion gender neutral, we transformed the citation to make it more in line with present facts. In the group of “project managers of the year” several are females.

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Editor’s note: This series of articles is based on the theme and concepts in the book Managing and Working in Project Society by Rolf A. Lundin, Niklas Arvidsson, Tim Brady, Eskil Ekstedt, Christophe Midler and Jörg Sydow, published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. The book won the PMI David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award in 2016.


 

About the Authors


Timothy L. Wilson, PhD

Visiting Professor
Umeå School of Business and Economics
Umeå, Sweden

 

 

Timothy L. Wilson has a PhD in Engineering (Carnegie Mellon University, 1965), a PhD in Marketing (Case-Western University, 1983) and an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences from Umeå University (2013). His experience in projects and project management comes from 15 years in fundamental materials research and high technology product development as a graduate engineer. His academic interest in projects dates from the initial IRNOP conference in Lycksele, Sweden. Tim’s research interests are in applied business topics, primarily Swedish and most recently Municipal Public Housing in Sweden.

Wilson is co-author of 21 journal articles on projects with members of Umeå’s Project Group; the most recent will appear in Business Horizons with Mattias Jacobsson “Revisiting the construction of the Empire State Building: Have we forgotten something?” He is co-editor of the monograph The Video Game Industry: Formation, Present State, and Future. Projects in that industry are really interesting and the people even more so. He may be contacted at Timothy.Wilson@umu.se

 


Rolf Lundin, PhD

Jönköping International Business School
Jönköping, Sweden

 

 

 

Rolf A Lundin is a professor (em.) of Business Administration at the Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) and a Courtesy Professor-in-Residence at the Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE). He received his PhD in 1973 at the University of Chicago (now the Booth Business School) in Management Science. He has been a full professor since 1978, first at the business school of the University of Umeå (in northern Sweden), where he was also the founding dean of that school. In 2001 he was recruited to dean JIBS. He stepped down as dean in 2007. Since then he has been affiliated with the Media Management and Transformation Center. He has several publications in the management of projects and temporary organization area and is currently serving on the board for the PMI Global Accreditation Center which is working with accreditation of project management educational programs around the world. His current research focus is on the use of projects in media industries.

He is the lead author of the monograph Managing and Working in Project Society: Institutional Challenges of Temporary Organizations, published in 2015 by Cambridge University Press winning the 2016 PMI Book of the Year award.  Rolf is active in the Swedish Project Academy. He can be contacted at Rolf.A.Lundin@ju.se

To view other works by Prof Lundin, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/rolf-a-lundin/