Complex Socio-technical and Engineering Projects

This department addresses the myriad challenges pertaining to formulation, management, and governance of complex social-technical and engineering projects. These include projects to develop new commercial products and services and capital-intensive projects to develop large socio-technical systems (the so-called ‘mega-projects’). Project-based forms of organizing development work are a fundamental challenge for planners, engineers, and managers. These enterprises can take many years in planning until the idea gains traction amongst a group of resource-rich, independent actors. Planning is ensued by a capital-intensive implementation through a vast project supply chain governed by formal contracts. As the promoter (alone or in coalition) seeks to acquire critical resources from other actors, the scope and corresponding performance targets will evolve, especially as the world becomes more interconnected and crowded. Furthermore, global challenges such as the exponentially growing population of developing economies, rising inequalities between rich and poor, and climate change, are calling for new complex project-based forms of organizing work that go beyond autocratic hierarchical structures to meritocracy-based authorities and pluralistic arenas with shared decision-making power. This suggests the field of project-based organizing is facing major contemporaneous challenges. In these settings, top managers increasingly must work together with teams of technical staff, diverse constituencies, leaders from other organizations, and multiple environmental actors. Given these contemporaneous challenges, the ‘projects’ field is inherently interdisciplinary. In this department of IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, we seek theoretical and phenomenological contributions that advance our knowledge of areas such as the following:

  • Structure-performance relationships: How do we define performance of complex projects? How can complex development projects be structured and governed?
  • Technology and management: What is the impact of new decomposable technologies on the way we manage and govern complex development projects?
  • Why and how context matters: What do we know about complex development projects in developing countries and in autocratic settings?
  • Supply chain management: How do we govern project-based buyer-supplier relationships?
  • Project portfolio and program management: How do we manage portfolios of projects?
  • Project selection: How do we select projects amongst competing priorities?
  • Project capabilities: Which capabilities are necessary to succeed?

In sum, we are committed to publish studies that rigorously leverage theoretical knowledge from a range of academic disciplines to advance our empirical and conceptual understanding of project-based organizations set up to engineer and develop complex systems. We encourage potential authors to seriously consider the practical and policy implications of their contributions.