Exploration and Exploitation in the Project Business

Timothy Brady

James March’s seminal article about exploration and exploitation (March, 1991) has influenced much of the research and analysis of technological innovation, organisation design, organisational adaptation, organisational, learning, competitive advantage and survival (Gupta et al., 2006). But, March’s observations about exploration and exploitation are largely based on analysis of the situation in 20th century when industrial activity was dominated by mass production where functional, divisional forms of organisation were the norm. as noted by Whitley (2006), the importance of project-based modes of organizing and controlling work in new industries, together with their increasing use in more established sectors, have been seen by some as heralding the development of a new “logic of organizing” in market economies (Powell, 1996:1; see also, DeFillippi and Arthur, 1998; Eckstedt et al., 1999). This paper discusses March’s concepts of exploration and exploitation in the light of this supposed shift towards project-based modes of organising.