Projectification - how organisations are dealing with order and chaos

Projectification – how organisations are dealing with order and chaos


The rise of Projectification. Virtually every other paper published these days mentions the fact that organisations and their environments are becoming more and more complex and facing greater levels of uncertainty, whilst, at the same time, there is a constant pressure for greater levels of operational efficiency and innovation with reduced resources.

One of the consequences of these pressures has been what recent research has termed as the “projectification” of organisations and society.  This means that work is now being carried out in a series of (often multi-team) ‘projects’ rather than a linear mass production line system or method of organisation, where items or processes are handed on to the next ‘experts’ in the system.

This move into a more project oriented mode of production means that organisations are faced with constantly shifting workforce groups, teams and even leaders. As a consequence, the organisational structures are having to reflect the temporary and constantly shifting nature of these projects and their teams by continually being shaped and reshaped on an ongoing basis. As a result, a number of studies have found that organisations are moving towards a place of almost continual restructuring.


A new study – Projectification

A new study by a team of researchers  has looked at this issue and developed a conceptual framework for dealing with. In particular, the study focuses on three elements that are central to the issue of projectification:

  1. Project governance
  2. Organisational design and
  3. Governmentality

in an effort to discover how organisations can best orient themselves towards this issue of projectification.


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Project governance

Project governance refers to the policies, regulations, functions, processes, procedures and responsibilities that define the establishment, management and control of projects, programmes and portfolios.


Organisational governance


Organisational design

Organisational design is a series of process and methods for identifying and analysing the workflows, procedures, structures and systems to align them to fit with the current organisational goals and plans.



Governmentality refers to the attitudes that governors have towards the people that they govern. In brief, governmentality is usually a description of whether the governance of the organisation is conducted through the requirement of strict adherence to a set of rules and principles or through softer calls for common values and developing a culture that supports the values of the organisation.


A shift in the organisational design research paradigm

Interestingly, the research on organisational design has shifted in recent years from trying to predict the optimum alignment and fit of the elements of an organisation in order to meet its needs towards designing organisations that are inherently more flexible and adaptable to shifting market and environmental requirements.


A raft of recent research has shown that there are considerable links between project governance, governmentality, organisational design and organisational outcomes.


Dealing with uncertainty


The aim of this paper is to try to make sense of the connections between project governance, governmentality and organisational design in today’s world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.


An understanding of the connections between these three elements will help practitioners to understand how to better manage in all three aspects and how to produce better organisational outcomes, given the increased complexity and volatility in which many organisations are working.


The primary question the researchers were answering was how do project governance, organisational design and governmentality interact with each other and what can we learn from these interactions in order to assist practitioners and organisations.


The idea of the impermanent organisation

Clearly, operating in a stable ordered environment is going to be significantly different from operating in dynamic and constantly changing conditions. Where previously linear structures, lines of responsibility and the handoff and development of products and projects within a command and control system worked, a much more complex and networked set of interactions and lines of communication become necessary in more dynamic situations.


This means that in more dynamic environments elements of the organisation need to be more loosely connected to each other, so that they can be organised and reorganised, both as things change, and as the organisation learns what structures and processes work best. This learning is emergent. In this kind of environment this means that organisational structures are constantly shifting.


Many organisational models have moved from idea of stability through ideas of periods of stability, mixed with periods of change to the current thinking that everything is in constant flux, modification and movement.


This has resulted in the idea of the ‘impermanent organisation’


impermanent organisation


Governance, leadership and management


Central to the puzzle about how project governance, governmentality and organisational design work together in dynamic conditions are the human activities that are driven by the thinking incorporated in governmentality.


There are two aspects to governmentality that are critical here:


  1. Firstly, what power is exercised by the governors, leaders and managers and,
  2. Secondly, the practices used by the governors in order to exercise that power.


There are four elements of governmentality that have an impact on how projects and organisations are run:

  1. Visibility or the ways in which the governors perceive and see things.
  2. Techne – which refers to the governors’ ways of acting and how much they rely on technical aspects, information and technicalities.
  3. Episteme – their ways of thinking and questioning.
  4. This refers to the identity that the governors (leaders and managers) have formed and are forming.


What this means – conclusions


By pulling the elements of project governance, organisational design and governmentality together, the researchers have provided a framework that can be used to think about responding to dynamic conditions and the projectification of work.


The intention is that these elements are considered together when thinking about organisational design, project management and creating flexible responses to a changing environment.


Firstly, it is important that people have a clear understanding of the difference between governance, organisational design and governmentality.


Secondly, it is important that the connections between these three elements are considered.


For example, due to the fact that workers are increasingly involved in a number of projects and are required to work across multidisciplinary teams, while still maintaining their professional expertise, this has implications for the design of the organisation and strongly implies a more networked conceptualisation of the organisation, rather than a hierarchical conceptualisation. Additionally, the governance and governmentality (how projects and the organisation is run and the thinking that underpins this) need to incorporate a more flexible idea of leadership and management. This means that organisations should be considering leadership based on expertise and capability, rather than hierarchical positioning.


Additionally, this framework highlights the importance of the attitude and thinking of the leadership and management when operating in a flexible responsive organisation, and not just their behaviours.


Thirdly, and lastly, it is important that all three of these elements (project governance, organisational design and governmentality) are integrated and considered to be linked when practitioners are thinking about how to develop flexible and adaptable organisations.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page