The role of projet and portfolio management practices in public service innovation

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Economics and Business Management


Innovation has always been important for viability of organizations and creating competitive differentiation (Garud, Tuertscher, & Van de Ven, 2013; Helkkula, Kowalkowski, & Tronvoll, 2018). This dissertation focuses on service innovation in the Netherlands, because of the growing importance of the service sector (CBS, 2017). It particularly pays attention to the organization of the innovation process. In this dissertation, I build on the following definition of an innovation process as given by Garud et al. (2013, p. 776): “the sequence of events that unfold as ideas emerge, are developed, and are implemented within [organizations], across multi-party networks, and within communities”. New service development (NSD) or service innovation has been defined as: a novel (re)combination of resources (Gallouj & Weinstein, 1997; Lusch & Nambisan, 2015). Examples of resources are knowledge, money and technology. These resources are often scarce, especially in the public sector (Fuglsang, 2010). Continuous service innovation in public service is crucial for quality improvement and cost reduction, thus creating value for the diverging needs of the public (Ostrom, Parasuraman, Bowen, Patrício, & Voss, 2015; Rust & Huang, 2014). The tension between scarcity of resources and the importance of continuous service innovation for the public sector, makes public service innovation an interesting area of research. Public services are the research context of my dissertation. I refer to public services as “services that are substantially regulated by public law and at least funded by the state” (Helderman, Bloemer, Van der Heijden, Peters, Souren, & Visser, 2016, p. 6). Examples are social services, healthcare and education. The end-users1 or ‘customers’ of these services (hereafter called service users) often need to combine various (elements of) services to solve their increasingly complex problems, for example when they become unemployed or ill (Van Riel, Calabretta, Driessen, Hillebrand, Humphreys, Krafft et al., 2013). Service innovation is required to provide service users with a coherent (public) service offer. Management techniques and terminology borrowed from the business domain are increasingly incorporated in the public services domain to manage (the innovation of) public services to create more transparency and accountability (Gronn, 2000). Project management and project portfolio management are examples of techniques that are motivated by the pursuit of resource efficiency and control. A project has been defined as: “a set of activities that (1) aims to produce a unique deliverable […] and (2) is time-bounded within clear beginning and ending points” (Luecke, 2004, p. xi). Managing projects, or project management, has been defined as: “the allocation, tracking, and utilization of resources to achieve a particular objective within a specified period of time” (Luecke, 2004, p. xi). Portfolio management has been defined as: “a dynamic decision process whereby a business’ list of active projects is constantly updated and revised. In this process, new projects are evaluated, selected and prioritized; existing projects may be accelerated, killed or deprioritized; and resources are allocated and reallocated to active projects” (Cooper, Edgett, & Kleinschmidt, 1999, p. 335). This dissertation focuses on project portfolios, portfolios that consist of projects. Using project and portfolio management in public services to coordinate or organize innovation creates tension. I have studied two of these tensions – project portfolio control versus integration of the portfolio and exploitation versus exploration – in-depth in a social services setting and a healthcare setting. In Study 1 (Chapter 2) I present an in-depth case study of a large public project organization in social services, which has been using portfolio management for almost a decade to coordinate their portfolio, which consists of innovation and change projects. The portfolio managers had a challenging task. On the one hand they focused on project portfolio control in terms of providing (financial) transparency towards the ministry. On the other hand they strived for the integration of projects in the portfolio based on project interdependencies. I observed that using portfolio management with a strong focus on accountability and resource use control hampered the integration of interdependent projects in the portfolio. The resulting fragmentation of the portfolio was partly compensated for by emerging practices – certain actions and routines – to reintegrate the portfolio. I describe how actors achieved coordination across various organizational levels and projects through a range of informal practices, in particular ‘collective reflecting’ and ‘integrating the portfolio’. In Study 2 (Chapter 3) I introduce another in-depth case study. Medical professionals, whose main task is patient care and who generate ideas based on their direct interaction with patients, often drive innovation in hospitals. Healthcare organizations need to cope with an organizational challenge: dealing with ambidexterity (March, 1991). Ambidexterity describes the need to balance a focus on efficiency and risk reduction through exploiting existing resources and a focus on innovating through exploration of new opportunities. Innovation in healthcare is often initiated at the shop floor. Therefore, ambidexterity needs to be organized differently. In Study 2, I identify ten healthcare innovation practices (divided in three types) that help to accomplish ambidexterity in a bottom-up fashion in a general hospital. By means of ‘intrapreneurial’ practices, healthcare innovation professionals identified and supported internal innovation and external collaboration opportunities. Through ‘controlling’ practices they achieved transparency and control. ‘Integrating’ practices helped them to create cross-functional integration. Based on the healthcare innovation practices, I define three healthcare innovation roles that can help healthcare innovation professionals to create clarity in terms of division of tasks, responsibilities and reporting relations and task structures to understand how bottom-up ambidexterity can be accomplished in healthcare. In Study 3 (Chapter 4), I investigate how and to which degree project managers’ portfolio mind-set (cf. McGrath, Keil, & Tukiainen, 2006), i.e., their awareness of the extent to which their (N)SD project outcome contributes to outcomes of other (N)SD projects (Kester, Griffin, Hultink, & Lauche, 2011; Kester, Hultink, & Griffin, 2014), generates value-in-use for end-users through a coherent service offering. In Study 3, I conclude that a portfolio mind-set at the project level leads to higher value-in-use. I identify reflexivity (evaluation), formal communication, collaboration, and market immersion as antecedents of a portfolio mind-set at the project level. In summary, my dissertation provides rich descriptions on how various project and portfolio management practices could help public service professionals to coordinate (Study 1), enact and enable (Study 2) and achieve or improve (Study 3) service innovation in several public service settings. The managerial take home message of my dissertation is that awareness for (outcome) interdependence in project and portfolio management, combined with practices of reflexivity (evaluation), collaboration, shared communication and market immersion enables organizations to better integrate public service innovations and to add value-in-use.
Date of Award29 Oct 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SponsorsRadboud University
SupervisorWafa Hammedi (Co-Supervisor), Allard Van Riel (Supervisor), Jean-Yves Gnabo (President), Annick CASTIAUX (Jury), Kristina Lauche (Supervisor), Bas Hillebrand (Jury), Sandra VanThiel (Jury), Sandra Streukens (Jury) & Katrien Verleye (Jury)

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