Between Acquiescence and Manipulation: IS Project Managers Responses to Institutionalized Practices



A number of information systems (IS) project management practices can now be considered institutionalized. While traditional institutional approaches assume that actors – in search of legitimacy - passively adopt such practices, others posit that there is a broad range of responses to institutional pressures. These responses vary from acquiescence to manipulation, including compromise and defiance. Our study adopted this perspective to examine IS project managers’ responses to institutionalized practices. The study addressed the following questions: Are IS project managers institutional actors who unquestioningly adopt institutionalized practices or do they consciously comply? Or else, do they adopt avoidance or defiance strategies? We conducted a multi-method study to address these questions. First we conducted a field study during which we interviewed 46 IS project managers after which we conducted two case studies. We offer the following contributions. From an empirical point of view, the study reveals how IS project managers may apprehend project management practices that they are presented as being norms. The study also has a theoretical contribution, in that it combines and enriches extant frameworks pertaining to actors’ responses to institutional pressures; these strategies are contrasted with the notion of mindfulness. From a practical point of view, our results can help organizations better understand how IS project managers may apprehend institutionalized practices. The originality of our approach consists in the operationalization of Oliver’s (1991) famous framework in an IS context.


project management; institutional approaches; institutionalization; strategic responses

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