Chaperoning: practices of collaboration in the Panama Canal Expansion Program

Karen Smits*, Alfons van Marrewijk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to examine how project partners respond to contractually agreed collaboration in an infrastructural megaproject. Problematic performances of megaprojects have shifted away attention from the instrumental towards the interpretative, focusing on daily work life, practices, power, ambiguity and sense making in project organizations. Such an interpretative perspective helps to better understand practices of collaboration in complex mega projects, which the authors studied in the Panama Canal Expansion Program (PCEP). Design/methodology/approachGiven the focus on daily work life, the authors chose an in-depth single case study. Practices of collaboration have been studied during a one-year ethnographic fieldwork period in Panama, in which the daily work life of project participants was intensely observed. FindingsFirst, it was found that practices of collaboration in complex projects change in periods of conflict. In these periods actors are forced to reflect upon their practices and to negotiate about new practices. Second, the authors identified collaborative practices in which a consultancy firm teaches their client and supervises its appropriate behavior. The authors have labeled these as chaperoning. Practical implicationsThis study illustrates that when innovation in contracts requires an innovative relationship between project partners, specific attention to this innovation and the related practices of collaboration enhances the collaborative relationship among partners, which can prevent cost overruns and delays. Originality/valueEthnographic fieldwork has not been used frequently to study project management practices. The paper builds upon a one-year ethnographic fieldwork period to study practices in the daily work life of the project participants from “within”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-456
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Managing Projects in Business
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Canals
  • Civil engineering
  • Collaboration
  • Megaprojects
  • Panama
  • Partnering
  • Practices
  • Project culture
  • Project management


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