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Why project performance varies: A capability-based explanation


Paul Bannerman and Philip Yetton




Project performance is a continuing issue in research and practice. As an operational and strategic enabler in organisations, Information Systems is challenged by undermining business value creation through inconsistent and often poor project outcomes. This theory development paper revisits the issue by proposing a different lens. In contrast to the dominant approaches of identifying critical success/failure/risk factors and developing better processes, it highlights the importance of having the right capabilities to deliver projects and how capabilities can be diminished or undermined by common conditions that can arise in projects, leading to underperformance. Drawing on theory from the management literature, a capabilities-based model of project performance is proposed. The model includes drivers for both project performance and underperformance such that the outcome of any one project is the contested result of these opposing effects on the capabilities available to the project, thus accounting for variations in outcomes. The theory is illustrated using a classic case from the literature (American Airlines’ SABRE and CONFIRM projects). The paper concludes that the proposed model improves our understanding of project performance as well as our ability to explain empirical data on performance outcomes and anomalous cases in practice of successive projects failing or succeeding.

BibTeX Entry

    publisher        = {Association for Information Systems},
    isbn             = {978-1-86435-644-1},
    author           = {Bannerman, Paul and Yetton, Philip},
    month            = jul,
    year             = {2011},
    keywords         = {project, performance, capabilities, competencies, liability of newness, incumbency},
    title            = {Why Project Performance Varies: A Capability-Based Explanation},
    booktitle        = {Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS 2011)},
    pages            = {15},
    address          = {Brisbane, Australia}


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