Managing business change projects: a social practice perspective

O'Leary, Tim (2010) Managing business change projects: a social practice perspective University of Southampton, School of Management, Doctoral Thesis , 479pp.


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This research responds to calls from several fields (including project management and organisational change) questioning the engineering paradigm of objective rationality, systems control and universally-applicable structured methods underpinning conventional ‘best practice’ approaches to managing business change projects. The call is for better understanding of the reality of business change projects as experienced by the people working on them, and for improved theory based on that. This research seeks to explore whether more effective approaches to delivering benefits from business change in organisations could be developed by taking a social practice perspective - focusing on the dynamic and complex processes of social interaction, power relations, and social construction of day-to-day reality.

To address these questions, an 18-month ethnographic, participant/observer study has been carried out within a large UK public sector organisation, observing events and behaviours on a day-to-day basis from a practitioner’s perspective, using narrative to capture the complexity of the social reality of project life with all its uncertainty, politics, and emotion. This fieldwork, combining both objectively-observed and subjectively-interpreted findings,identifies some generic intersubjective ‘key aspects’ of business change projects. These ‘key aspects’ have then been interpreted using theoretical concepts from five leading theoretical frameworks (Giddens’ structuration theory, Bourdieu’s theory of practice, Actor-network theory (ANT), Weick’s sensemaking, and Strauss’s symbolic interactionist theory of action).

A multi-level theoretical model rooted in the epistemological characteristics of social reality is developed from the relationships emerging from the empirical findings and by employing some of the most relevant theoretical constructs. The model is found to be consistent with practice-based research findings from research into project success in general, and with some approaches to managing uncertainty in projects. The implications of the model for practice are explored, directing attention away from control procedures and detailed planning to a range of more productive management interventions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Organisations: University of Southampton
ePrint ID: 152065
Date :
Date Event
April 2010Published
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2011 15:37
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2017 04:19
Further Information:Google Scholar

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