The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Coordination Strategies in Organizational Development Programs

Perttu Dietrich

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium TU1 at Helsinki University of Technology (Otaniementie 17, Espoo, Finland) on the 8th of December, 2007, at 12 o'clock noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-951-22-9076-5)   [1511 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-951-22-9075-8)


The complexity of services and products has driven organizations to utilize programs to manage different kinds of development tasks that are far too complicated to be organized through single projects. In the multi-project organizing frame, coordination between the participating actors is one of the key factors that distinguish successful programs from unsuccessful ones. This dissertation focuses on the coordination mechanisms between interdependent project teams in programs. The research question of the thesis is what kinds of coordination strategies enable effective coordination in complex and uncertain organizational development programs. The research question is approached by identifying the repertoires of coordination mechanisms utilized in programs, and by investigating how the components of complexity and uncertainty affect the utilization of these repertoires.

This study employs the inductive multiple case study method. The empirical part of the study includes analysis of 7 organizational development programs executed in 6 large and medium-sized Finnish organizations. The empirical material consists of 64 interviews, 48 interview-related questionnaire responses, documents, and templates.

The analysis of the empirical data results in the identification of three distinct strategies; centralized strategy, balanced strategy, and subordinate strategy that describe the logic through which inter-team interaction takes place in the case programs. In the centralized strategy the inter-team interaction is primarily based on the utilization of formal and informal inter-team group meetings. The balanced strategy is based on the utilization of a network of formal and informal ties, in which group meetings are complemented with localized coordination mechanisms, such as direct contacts, electronic mail, liaison persons, plans, and schedules. In the subordinate strategy inter-team interaction is rather rare, highly formalized and primarily based on hierarchical referral through the parent organization's chain of command.

The results of the study suggest that the utilization of distinct coordination strategies is related to three dominant antecedent factors: the number of projects, interdependency and task analyzability. The results suggest that a low number of projects, high interdependency, and low task analyzability are related to the utilization of the centralized coordination strategy. A low number of projects, high interdependency, and high task analyzability are related to the utilization of the balanced coordination strategy. A high number of projects and low interdependency are related to the utilization of the subordinate coordination strategy. In addition, the study reveals that the three identified coordination strategies if fit with the dominant antecedent factors are equally effective and provide equal potential for learning and innovations. Moreover, the results suggest that if the utilized coordination strategy fits with the dominant antecedent factors, the effectiveness of the coordination is determined by the following constraining antecedent factors: task analyzability, task novelty, geographic dispersion, and the number of participating organizations. The results show that in the case of the centralized coordination strategy, a high number of participating organizations and geographic dispersion are related to better potential for learning and innovations. In the case of the balanced coordination strategy, high task novelty and high geographic dispersion are related to a lower effectiveness of the program. Finally, in the case of the subordinate strategy, high task analyzability is related to a better the effectiveness of the program and lower potential for learning and innovations.

This dissertation offers a contribution to the literature in the area of organizational coordination. In addition, the study contributes to the understanding of complex programs and multiple contingency theory. The findings have practical implications for organizational designers and managers responsible for the planning and management of complicated organizational change and development activities.

Keywords: coordination, coordination strategy, program, project, complexity, uncertainty, performance

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© 2007 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26