Project Networks – More than Managing Projects


Managing and Working in Project Society

By Jörg Sydow and Rolf A. Lundin

Germany and Sweden


The emerging Project Society comprises a wide variety of projects and other forms of temporary organizations as illustrated and exemplified in the book “Managing and Working in Project Society” (Lundin et al., 2015). Projects are used for research and development efforts, marketing and advertising campaigns, content production for television and the Internet, designing and constructing building as well as machinery and defense. In the book mentioned, the point is made that it is more appropriate and useful to discuss the contexts of projects rather than restricting oneself to define what a project is and to recommend project management techniques and practices in any generic way. For, there is an urgent need to adapt managing a project in situ to make it in line with the social, spatial and temporal contexts since the circum­stances (often changing at the same time) are crucial for the management outcome. Three groups of contexts are depicted in that book: Project-Based Organizations (PBOs), Project-Supported Organizations (PSOs) and Project Networks (PNWs).

One might think of project management in a PBO context as fairly stable in the sense that a formal order with a hierarchy has been established and routines been developed making projects in that context (look) more efficient. One more recent example illustrating the organizational focus on developing and diffusing project knowledge and routines is the project management office (PMO). But seen over a long time, the different projects, even within an organization, either a PBO or a PSO, change. Hence, it comes as no surprise that an important task of a PMO is to organize learning across projects in organizations. To take construction projects as an example, there is now a need for construction companies, typically conceived as PBOs, to attend to the multitude of new construction materials, noise reduction, energy saving measures and the like and at the same time to adopt organizing practices developed in other fields of practice (e.g. IT services). And obviously that multitude of changes has effects on how to manage not only the organization but the project in the contexts of a PBO or PSO.

The immediate contexts of PBOs and PSOs, i.e, organizations, are quite well understood with regard to managerial implications for project management (e.g. handling schedules and resources for each project, setting up a PMO, designing career systems for project managers, etc.). These contexts are traditional and have been well known for a very long time in line with the historical development of the project management field (cf. Wenell et al., 2017). However, this is much less the case for PNWs which are more dynamic, changing and diverse. What is more, managing PNWs can only to a limited extent rely on organizational contexts and techniques and practices known from organizations. Not only for that reason, managing projects in interorganizational networks requires understanding the context beyond the boundaries of a single organization. Hence, managing PNWs asks for managerial attention, capabilities and knowledge regarding interorganizational collaborations, how to initiate, maintain, deepen or end them around and with the help of projects (Lundin et al., 2015; Sydow et al., 2016).

What is more, PNWs may include not only collaborating organizations but also individuals (self-employed or self-activated) making them often more ephemeral than collaboration within organizations. In consequence, managing PNWs usually needs institutional support from the wider field. For instance, PNWs in the film and television industry, which is even more than the construction industry characterized by many self-employed or micro businesses, rely for their functioning on institutionalized events and specialized service providers, many of them PBOs themselves. Examples for the former are film festivals and award ceremonies; examples for the latter film studios and hirer of technical equipment. These brokering institutions – field events as well as service providers – are in the case of the film and television industry quite intentionally used to create, maintain or deepen relationships; relationships which are essential in PNW not only for advertising unused capacities and acquiring new projects but also for nurturing the pool of (potential) collaborators – organizations as well as self-employed entre­preneurs – and to exchange and store professional knowledge, not least about technological changes or regarding the management of PNWs.


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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

Dr. Jörg Sydow

Freie Universität Berlin
Berlin, Germany


Dr. Jörg Sydow
is a Professor of Management at the School of Business & Economics at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, and a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde Business School, Glas­gow. Moreover, he is the director of the Research Unit “Organized Creativity”, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG), a founding co-editor of two leading German journals, Management­forschung and Industrielle Beziehungen – The German Journal of Industrial Relations, and a member of the editorial review boards of Organization Studies, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Manage­ment Studies, and The Scandinavian Journal of Management. For more information visit: http://www.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/en/fachbereich/bwl/management/sydow/index.html


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 [email protected].