Project managers' breadth of experience, project complexity, and project performance

Fabrizio Salvador, Constantin Alba, Juan Pablo Madiedo, Antti Tenhiälä, Elliot Bendoly

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Research has found that a project manager's experience is a driver of project performance. However, whether specialist or generalist project managers are more effective remains an open question to date. In this paper, we examine how project managers' breadth of experience influences project completion time under different levels of project complexity. Using longitudinal data from 9,765 enterprise resource planning (ERP) system projects executed by a software services organization, we find that managers' breadth of experience has a U-shaped impact on project completion time. We also find that while we can identify an optimal level of breadth of experience that minimizes project completion time on the U-curve, this optimal level becomes lower (the U-curve shifts to the left) as project complexity increases. As project complexity decreases, the U-curve flattens and tends to become monotonically decreasing, signifying that diseconomies from project managers' breadth of experience are less apparent in simpler projects. From a practical standpoint, these findings suggest that project managers' breadth of experience is a critical driver of project performance that should be a key consideration in the selection of managers to lead knowledge work, especially for complex projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-754
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Operations Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • complexity
  • experience
  • generalists
  • performance
  • project managers
  • specialists

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