The aim of this research is to present and discuss the challenges of achieving sustainable competitive advantage through effective project management assets, processes and practices,within a Local Authority Third-Sector collaborating scheme.

Post 2008 global financial crisis the UK public sector has undergone unprecedentedreform and severe fiscal retrenchment (Evans, Hills & Orme, 2012). Increased competition and a financial landscape radically changed the way public sector services are delivered (Westwood, 2011). A significant challenge of austerity was the retrenchment of local authority grant dependant third-sector funding. In the UK, local authorities would enter into a collaborative contract with third-sector organisations to deliver services across a wide range of social needs. However, these arrangements were becoming increasingly financially unviable. Thus, local authorities need to find ways to make their third-sector collaborating arrangements sustainable, within a context of increasing competition, whilst honouring their range of public duties and services.

Project management practice is recognised as a management discipline to manage change and execute strategy (Shenhar, 2001). A growing body of knowledge link the deliberate investment in project management assets and associated processes and practices as a strategic source of competitive advantage (Mathur, Jugdev & Fung, 2013, 2014). The opportunity presented in this research was how Local Authority collaborating third sector arrangements can achieve sustainability through effective project management practices;in particular the acknowledgement, development, deployment and exploitation of project management assets, processes and practices as a source of competitive advantage. However,the unique context of this investigation poses two challenges: i) the notion that competition is not relevant; and, ii) the non-professional project management nature of both the local authority and their collaborating third sector organisations.

Thus, in partnership with a UK local authority and 26 third-sector partner organisations(LASIS), the RBV VRIO framework (Barney, 1991; Barney & Wright, 1998) was the lens empirically operationalised within a mixed methodology approach. Designed to identify which,project management assets and associated processes and practices LASIS strategic managers should deliberately acknowledge, develop, deploy and exploit when conceiving competitive advantage strategies, to deliver project impact and sustainable competitive advantage. Hence,the research seeks to identify the specific project management assets, processes and practice endowments leveraging degrees of competitive advantage, how advantage is provided and identify endowment mix that are more likely to indicate performance.

Academic literatures on resource-based view, project management and the public-sector post 2008 financial crisis was reviewed, in order to establish knowledge gaps and a foundation to advance theoretical positions and practitioner solutions. A significant set of quantitative and qualitative empirical analysis identified several models of theoretical, conceptual and practitioner significance. Data was collected via survey questionnaire (n=70), semi-structured interviews (n=13) and informal conversations (n=9) during a 30-month period in which the researcher had full access to the LASIS.

The core contributions of this research include: i) a mix of tangible and intangible project management assets leverage sustainable competitive advantage (SCA); ii) a mix of Acquire Assets and Facilitating Process Assets are necessary for SCA; iii) how advantage is provided; and, iv) the conceptual formula >vrio + >pk = >cap linking - the degree of deliberate project management investment and the level of project management performance knowledge, as moderators of competitive advantage and performance. Finally, this research makes a contribution to: v) practice knowledge through the empirical development of competitive advantage models exploiting project management assets;vi) advancing theoretical strategic management knowledge of a new application for the VRIO framework; and,vii) to the general project management knowledge, that maybe of practitioner value to strategic managers across the wider public and third sectors.

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