Who reads the project file? Exploring the power effects of knowledge tools in construction project management

Various critical authors have questioned the salience, efficacy and power effects of formal project management bodies of knowledge (PMBoKs). As a result project management knowledge tools are increasingly being conceptualized along more flexible, adaptable, reflexive, democratic and informal terms. A central driver for this shift is that PM knowledge will be more relevant and useful for practitioners if it can be reflexively tailored to fit local project scenarios, emergent problems and different communities of practice, rather than projects being structured to fit generic ‘best practice’ ideals. Hence new knowledge tools increasingly would appear critical to alleviate various detrimental power effects associated with bureaucratic knowledge practices within project‐based industries, not least construction. This assumption is examined through a study of a formal and codified project management knowledge tool—a project file—within a small team of project practitioners in a large civil engineering consultancy. Various concepts of power related to actor‐network theory (ANT) are mobilized to understand how non‐human artefacts can enact power and knowledge in nuanced ways within organizations. This theoretically informed study will aid both researchers and practitioners interested in the consequences of developing prescriptive or reflexive project management knowledge within construction contexts and beyond.