Publication Details

Sense, A. J. & Antoni, M. (2001). Learning within and across projects: A comparison of frames. In Quality Management and Organizational Development Conference (QMOD2001)


In a world of global markets and fast changing competitive environments organizations need to embrace flexibility and adaptability in response to these environmental challenges. One organizational response to these conditions is that the classical functional structures of organizations are now more and more complemented by temporal organizations or projects. Projects are used to accomplish a diverse and often complex set of organizational goals or changes that would otherwise be less obtainable by the organization, or, that would overstrain the ability of the permanent organization to achieve successful outcomes. The diverse raft of projects that organizations do pursue can comprise projects such as new product development, technical construction, through to organizational change projects. Within all this project variety, learning processes that support knowledge generation and dispersion offers a means of improving the flexibility and adaptability of individuals and the organization to these environmental challenges. A central characteristic of projects is their predetermined temporal nature, which presents a number of phenomena constructed differently from that found in traditional organizational systems e.g. specificity of focus on project objectives, micro-political dynamics, internal and external relationships dynamics, learning requirements, information coordination, and, there is the development of individuals and the organization's ability to contribute to the future competitive ability of the whole organization. With the ongoing development of individual and organizational learning being an increasingly central source of sustainability and competitiveness, it is important to develop a better understanding of the learning phenomena associated with projects. Numerous publications and practitioners confirm that a winning combination of project work and learning from experiences is hard to find. As Karen Ayas states, "learning does not happen naturally, it is a complex process that needs to be managed. It requires deliberate attention, commitment and continuous investment of resources " (Ayas 1998). Despite this opportunity, members of project teams do not actively recognize and engage a deliberate 'learning focus' within or across the management of their project activities. As such, they tend to not establish systems or frameworks to actively facilitate and optimize their learning within or between projects. The goal of this paper is to introduce and compare two frames for project learning. The frames explored illuminate learning within projects (Intra-Project Learning) and learning between projects (Inter-Project Learning). The comparison of the frames leads to a conclusion that in spite of the different focus, both frames ought to be considered and managed in a conjoined manner. Nevertheless, the distinction between the two frames enables an organization to identify ways to progressively generate, share and imbed new knowledge, for the benefit of both the projects and the permanent organization. The empirical case study research supporting this paper has been conducted in industrial organizations in both Australia and Sweden.