Exploring Routine Ecologies – A Characterization and Integration of Different Perspectives on Routines (doctoral thesis)

Organizational routines are a relevant concept in management studies, because they can be used to explain a variety of empirical phenomena. A central endeavor in research on organizational routines lies in characterizing and explaining bundles of multiple, interconnected routines, i.e., ‘routine ecologies’. Scholars who have approached the routines concept, however, hold different assumptions about routines. As a consequence, different perspectives on routines have emerged. These underlying assumptions also influence the development of research on routine ecologies within these perspectives.

The purpose of my thesis is to advance research on routine ecologies. It builds on the conviction that progress in exploring routine ecologies requires sensitivity toward the assumptions that different scholarly communities hold about the routines concept. The thesis achieves its purpose by first depicting the historical development of research on routines in order to show how different perspectives on routines emerged. These perspectives are termed the cognitive, practice and capability perspectives, and are characterized and compared according to five important criteria: the main interest of the routines concept, the conceptualization of actors, assumptions about stability and change of routines, conceptualization of routine ecologies, and predominant empirical approaches.

The thesis applies the routine ecology concept to three different scientific questions. Each application is situated in one of the three perspectives.

The application of routine ecologies in the cognitive perspective deals with the question how an organizational transactive memory system can be conceptualized. Even though prior research has emphasized the relevance of such an organizational transactive memory system, a coherent unit of analysis to conceptualize such a system is still missing. The thesis proposes that routine ecologies serve as a coherent unit of analysis to conceptualize an organizational transactive memory system. It shows that routine ecologies depict both complex organizational structures as well as cognitive-transactive processes. Moreover, the thesis proposes that a transactive memory system that develops in a routine ecology is an organizational transactive memory system.

The application of routine ecologies in the capability perspective explains how entrepreneurial initiatives represent a microfoundation of dynamic capabilities. Although prior research has acknowledged that dynamic capabilities are both routinized and entrepreneurial in nature, it is currently unclear how these two seemly opposing aspects relate to each other. Taking a multi-level approach, the thesis differentiates between the organizational, the group and the individual level. Operative capabilities are analytically disaggregated into routine ecologies on the group and individual level. This conceptual move enables an explanation of how entrepreneurial initiatives emerge and operate in light of operative routines, and hence how they can underpin dynamic capabilities.

The application of routine ecologies in the practice perspective analyzes how open-ended processes and routine ecologies interact. The analysis is based on an extensive ethnographic study of software development teams in a medium-sized company, who enact the ‘Scrum’ framework. The analysis shows that the unfolding of open-ended software development processes and routines are in a dynamic interplay that influences how routines connect to each other. Hence, how multiple routines connect cannot be explained by serendipity, nor predominantly explained by organizational design, but can rather be explained by the unfolding of open-ended processes.

Subsequently, the thesis defines the content-related focus as well as the major challenge of each perspective in exploring the concept of routine ecologies. The three applications of routine ecologies are used to reflect, illustrate and clarify these propositions. The thesis advances a conceptual framework that helps to better integrate research on routines and routine ecologies. The conceptual framework does not propose the dissolution of the three perspectives, since this might neither be valuable nor applicable in practice, but proposes three specific processes – i.e., broadening, simplifying and enriching – that show how the perspectives can be mutually beneficial in over-coming their specific challenges.

The thesis contributes to research on routines in multiple ways. First, it brings to the awareness of scholars, the various underlying assumptions in research on routines. Second, it provides a strategy to deal with the different assumptions in routines research, and simultaneously foster knowledge fertilization across perspectives. Third, this thesis provides a basis to further explore the concept of routine ecologies by outlining how the perspectives can inspire each other. Implications for managerial practice are delineated. The thesis concludes by predicting the future development of research on organizational routines, and routine ecologies more specifically.