Published here April 2013.

Introduction | The Basic Proposition
Managing the Product Versus Managing the Project | Summary | PART 2


In the Project Management Journal ("PMJ") of December 2011, the Project Management Institute ("PMI") published a most interesting paper entitled Managing the Institutional Context for Projects[1] by Peter Morris and Joana Geraldi.[2] The paper is clear, well researched, well argued and well presented. In all, if you do not have a copy of that PMJ, it is well worth obtaining a copy of the paper from PMI and studying it closely.

In this Part 1 we will examine the concept of "organizational levels" that are described in the Morris and Geraldi paper.

Paper abstract

By way of background to our observations that ensue, the abstract for the paper reads as follows:

"Project management is widely seen as delivering undertakings on time, on budget, and on scope. This conceptualization fails, however, to address the "front end"[3] [of a project] and its management. Addressing the front end moves the discipline to a second, more strategic level. This article proposes a third level of conceptualization: the institutional level, where management is focused on creating the conditions to support and foster projects, both in its parent organization and its external environment. Management is done for and on the project rather than in or to it. We show that management at this level offers an enlarged research agenda and improvement in performance."[4]

Paper introduction

Indeed, the authors observe in their Introduction:

"While projects have existed and have been managed, since the dawn of time, project management, in its modern form, as characterized by the language, tool, and techniques, and concepts that we now associate with it, first appeared in the early 1950s (Johnson, 1997). Since then, much has taken place to improve our knowledge about, and performance in, the management of projects.

The thrust of most work in developing the field has, quite naturally, been about the managers working on projects need to do in order to deliver them successfully. Later we began to ask questions about what we really might mean by 'success' and, almost simultaneously, began to recognize the important role [corporate] management has in developing the project's definition - in managing the [so-called] 'front end'.

This article acknowledges an emerging third category in the development of project management thought: what we have termed, following Parsons (1951, 1960), the 'institutional level'. We propose management can be thought of in terms of three levels:

  • Level 1: Technical - that is, operational and delivery oriented;
  • Level 2: Strategic - managing projects as organizational holistic entities, expanding the domain to include their front-end development and definition and with a concern for value and effectiveness; and
  • Level 3: Institutional - managing the institutional context, creating the context and support for projects to flourish and for their management to prosper."

The paper goes on to describe each "Level", the analysis of each and the authors' overall findings. In the sense of an organizational hierarchy, Level 1 would be at the bottom, climbing to level 3 at the top.


1. Morris, Peter W. G., & Joana Geraldi, Managing the Institutional Context for Projects, Project Management Journal, published by the Project Management Institute, Philadelphia, USA, December 2011, pp20-32
2. Professor Dr. Peter Morris and Dr. Joana Geraldi are both from the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, University College London, London, UK
3. "Front end" refers to that part of the project life span that is at the very beginning, or even just before it, depending on when the organization responsible for the project, deems it to "start".
4. Morris, et al., p20
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