Practices of isolation: The shaping of project autonomy in innovation projects

Thijs Willems*, Alfons van Marrewijk, Lizet Kuitert, Leentje Volker, Marleen Hermans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


A project's autonomy, the degree to which a project can evolve without constant interference from the parent organization, is a key feature of innovation projects. The literature treats autonomy as a passive phenomenon and underestimates how projects as temporary organizations interact with more permanent forms of organizations. A dynamic and contextually sensitive understanding of project autonomy is valuable; autonomy can change over the course of the project's lifecycle and evolve into extreme isolation. We show how autonomy is shaped through practices of isolation and how this influences project outcomes. Two innovation projects were studied through qualitative-interpretive methods and we analyzed symbolic, discursive and spatial practices of isolation. These practices facilitate the exploration of innovations but limit the transmission of these innovations to the parent organization. We contribute to the literature on temporary organizations and project-to-parent integration by illustrating and theorizing the role of practices of isolation in this process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-228
Number of pages14
JournalInternational journal of project management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Project-to-parent integration
  • Project autonomy
  • Innovation
  • Isolation practices
  • Temporary organizations
  • 22/2 OA procedure


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