Postcards from the edge: local communities, global programs and boundary objects

Jonathan Sapsed, Ammon Salter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper considers the limitations of project management tools as boundary objects within dispersed or global programs of teamwork. The concept of boundary object is receiving growing attention in the management literature. These artefacts are argued to provide a basis for negotiation and knowledge exchange between differentiated communities of practice. The paper assesses these claims theoretically and empirically in the context of global projects. Theoretically it draws on the literatures on boundary objects, dispersed work and project management tools and organization. The paper then analyses a case study of a global program in a major computing corporation. The program spanned numerous geographical sites across the US, Europe and Japan as well as several functional communities of practice including production, services, sales, IT and company registry. The method involved interviews with 33 program managers at six sites and analysis of program management devices such as integrated timelines, online status reporting tools and modular roadmaps. The paper argues that in dispersed programs where there is no opportunity for face-to-face interaction, and/or ambiguous lines of authority, project management tools will be ineffectual as boundary objects and prone to avoidance. Boundary objects are inherently limited precisely because of their marginal nature, the effects of which are exacerbated in diverse and dispersed programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1515-1534
Number of pages20
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


  • boundary objects
  • project management tools
  • global teams
  • communities of practice


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