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TitleExploring the Personal Dynamics of Project Initiation Decisions
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Exploring the Personal Dynamics of Project Initiation

Decisions

Mark Edward Mullaly

Doctor of Philosophy

December 2012

Institute of Sustainable Development and Architecture
Bond University

Submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

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projects prior to initiation. “We do talk a lot about wanting to do a lot of analysis. In terms

of actual time, we take on too many projects as a group. We find that we tend to do less

analysis than we should. We are pressured to complete existing projects. We are not

always spending enough time at the analysis stage” (26). In short, many participants did

not consider the analysis that was done to be sufficient.

Respondents’ perceptions of failure to conduct sufficient analysis were

supplemented by their statements that the level and detail of analysis varied depending

upon the type of project being conducted. In particular, 13 participants indicated that

“rigour depends upon the person” that is sponsoring the initiative, 16 stated that “rigour

depends upon the project type” and four participants said that “rigour depends upon

[the] urgency” of the project. Such comments suggested that different decision makers

within the organizations have different degrees of exepectation regarding the

information required in choosing to proceed with projects.

The consumption of information in support of decisions also varies considerably.

While four participants indicated that they “seek [their] own understanding” of the

initiative as part of the initiation process, another four participants indicated that they

“rely on others” in determining the viability of a project initiation decision. “...[A]part from

the knowledge that we bring to the table, we don’t do our own kind of investigation. At

least I don’t. I rely on the information in the proposal, and the presenter” (4). As well, 15

participants identified that despite the analysis and information that might be

assembled, there is a tendency within their organizations to “commit to solution,” and six

participants suggested that any analysis tends to be overriden by “executive

imperative.” Nine stakeholders indicated that the decision information served a strategy

of “document as justification,” where the analysis served to support a pre-ordained

conclusion. Finally, two stakeholders indicated that there was a tendency to “avoid

rigour” in the analysis of project initiation decisions. For many participants, the effort to

compile analysis and demonstrate rigour appeared to be more an issue of justification

than it was a product of considered deliberation.

Decision value. The primary category of “decision value” identifies the means by

which the value of potential projects is considered within the project initiation process.

This includes the degree to which the value of a project is formally defined and

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articulated prior to project initiation, and the degree to which tangible and intangible

factors influence the assessment of potential value.

While respondents indicated that in their organizations there was a fairly broad

discussion of overall analysis as part of the project initiation process, there was much

less emphasis on understanding the value of potential projects. Thirteen participants

identified that value is “formally defined” as part of their project initiation process, while

seven indicated that it is “informally considered” and six participants described an

assessment of project value that was “inconsistent.” “It is probably too finite to say it is

just retail projects, but more where projects are customer facing, there tends to be not a

lot of scrutiny. That tends to be in the main retail projects. Compliance projects which

are a cost burden face a great deal of scrutiny” (1). Finally, and perhaps most

significantly, seven participants identified that value was “not considered” as part of the

project initiation process within their organizations. Participants would appear to place

much less emphasis on considerations of value in determining whether to proceed with

projects.

Where value is assessed, perspectives differ on the nature of value that must be

demonstrated. Half of the study’s participants (14) indicated that any value that is

demonstrated in support of a project must be “tangible” in nature. At the same time, 13

participants indicated that “intangible” value can have a significant influence on project

initiation, and two participants indicated that the bias in terms of impact was more firmly

on “not tangible” value. For some participants, value itself was reframed, with four

participants indicating that the primary emphasis was on being “cost sensitive.” This

perspective is demonstrated by the comment, “ …if I view this from [our] standpoint, we

have been sort of there a couple of times, when we have come to an understanding of

the cost, there is usually a quick backing away from it” (19). Measures of value appear

to have been regarded with scepticism by many participants, and even projects with

good promise were dismissed if the costs were considered too high.

Overall rule environment. The primary category of “overall rule environment”

encompasses the system of rules that are employed in governing the project initiation

process within organizations. Several sub-categories associated with the “rules” were

identified in interviews, including:

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in creating commitment with
other actors

establish your credibility and influence?

Brunsson
1990

Decision makers with high
personal legitimacy afford
legitimacy to actions


How do you manage and maintain your reputation
and position when taking on similar roles?

Brunsson
1982

Decision makers must also act
and induce others to act


How do you engage with others and develop
coalitions when performing similar roles?

Clarity of Result
Nutt 1984b Appropriate definition of problem

and scope is critical to decision
making

How do you make sure that the solution being
recommended is appropriate and reasonable?

Tushman,
Virany and
Romanelli
1985

Management of change requires
sensitivity to the organization’s
state of willingness to change

What steps do you take to ensure acceptance of the
solution?

Value
Lindblom
1959

Decision making requires that
ends are agreed upon,
reconcilable and stable

What is required to demonstrate the value of an
initiative like this?

March 1978a Ambiguity is a problem of
relevance, priority and clarity of
goals at individual levels

How do you make sure that there is acceptance and
agreement on the proposed value of a solution like
this?

Cyert et al
1956

Decision makers tend to
overemphasize tangible over
intangible goals

How important is ensuring that the value of a project
like this is tangible? How much influence do
intangible values have?

Management of Change
Mintzberg &
Waters 1985

Decision makers require
flexibility of approach and a
willingness to revisit decisions
and their premises

How do you recognize and accommodate changes to
approach and solution when they emerge in similar
situations?

Tushman,
Virany and
Romanelli
1985

Management of change requires
sensitivity to the organization’s
state of willingness to change

How do you ensure acceptance of changes when
they occur?

Decision Rules
Burns & Dietz
1992


Dietz & Burns
1992

Rule provide a framework that
defines expectations and
required behaviours in specific
contexts.
Rules have emerged that frame
decision making processes in
every context of modern life.

What are the stated and explicit rules about how
projects like this get initiated?

Brunsson
1993

Rules are implemented
according to written or unwritten
rules that required little active
mobilization; this also led to
challenges in changing or
evolving routines.

To what extent are there implicit or ‘understood’ rules
about how projects like this get initiated?

Burns & Dietz
1992

Actors are “programmed” by the
culture, and their ability to
operate is limited by these
constraints

How do the ‘rules of the game’ regarding project
initiation get understood?

Nelson & Rules are resistant to change How stable are the ‘rules of the game’?

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Winter 2002 due to effort, cost and the
potential for re-opening previous
conflicts.

Burns & Dietz
1992

The reproductive success of any
rule system is measured in
terms of its fitness: successful
practices will be those that tend
to spread.

How often do the ‘rules of the game’ change? What
prompts changes? How do you become aware of
changes?

Initiation Role
Smith &
Winter 2010

Role of project shaper as
playing a significant role in
supporting the initiation of
projects.

Discussing the role of managing the initiation
process discussed in the case study that you
reviewed:
Is this a typical role within your organization?
To the extent that the role exists, how are people
assigned to it?
How do other executives interact with someone in
this role?

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