From Tool to Actor: How a project came to orchestrate its own life and that of others
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The empirical study of this dissertation is informed by process theories. The collection of empirical material and the analysis of it have spun around the following concepts: connecting, heterogeneity, and contingency. The study is designed as a longitudinal, in-depth study following a single case. The object of the study is a technology development project that makes an emergency communication system for the railroad. This dissertation closely follows a project journey. More specifically, it describes how the project task was regarded and presented differently in due course. In sum, this dissertation describes empirical indications of how the project developed qualitatively, from being merely a task-oriented organization to being an influential actor. The project became influential in the sense that it was able to engage in strategic discourses and affect the outcome of a number of processes, including the actions and decisions of others. Over time, the project management team, that is here followed, managed to exceed the intentions of its initiators, and I suggest that it became more influential than normative, mainstream project literature proposes project teams to be. The contribution of this dissertation is threefold. It lies in the subject examined, the methods applied, and the framework developed for this investigation. There is a need for research on projects in general and there is, more specifically, a need for qualitative, in-depth studies within the project management field of research. Through exploring and describing the activities of a project over time, this study points to discrepancies between project management theory and practice when it comes to central issues, such as how project task and competence are perceived, and how we think about the role of contingencies in determining project processes and the positioning of projects. The themes covered in this research are central in the project field, yet they tend to be treated quite normatively. The approach that is here applied and the framework that is developed appear functional in exploring and understanding the evolving and embedded nature of project practices in that the study leads to fruitful propositions for further research.
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