Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Managing the social trajectory: a practice perspective on project management

O'Leary, Tim; Williams, Terry


Tim O'Leary


This paper responds to recent calls to extend the theoretical perspectives taken on the important organizational activity of managing projects, based on a deeper understanding of the reality of their day-to-day social practice. Drawing on theoretical constructs from sociologist Strauss, we conceptualize projects as a ``social trajectory,'' whose progress is determined by ongoing interaction between parties with different ``world views'' seeking to promote their interpretations and interests within a network of organizational power relations. This theoretical framework is used to interpret an 18-month participant--observer ethnographic study of an IT-enabled business change project, seeing the management of the project in terms of intense social interaction seeking alignment between multiple perspectives and interests. From the rich data from the case study, we demonstrate the relationship between the effectiveness of this ``alignment-seeking'' and the perceived progress of the project trajectory, and develop a model of projects as social trajectories where the trajectory progress is linked to the key characteristics of the ``alignment-seeking'' process. This model extends current project management theory and points to a different way of thinking about project management, emphasizing management interventions not typically part of mainstream project management methods.


O'Leary, T., & Williams, T. (2013). Managing the social trajectory: a practice perspective on project management. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 60(3), 566-580. doi:10.1109/tem.2012.2228206

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 8, 2012
Online Publication Date Dec 21, 2012
Publication Date 2013-08
Print ISSN 0018-9391
Electronic ISSN 1558-0040
Publisher Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 60
Issue 3
Pages 566-580
Keywords Strategy and Management; Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Public URL