Despite sophisticated project management methods, companies struggle with costly project delays. While cooperative behaviour has been identified to be a critical factor for on-time project completion, it has not been explicitly embedded into project management (PM) systems. Inspired by an innovative real-life new product development management practice, we model a PM system that incorporates and shapes project managers’ cooperative behaviour. Help is at the core of this system in which project managers may mutually ask for and provide help, while top management formally facilitates the exchange of help.
We find that the company should take a nuanced approach to the provision of help. In projects with a low cost of effort of executing one’s own project, help is allowed to occur informally, that is, without top management’s coordination. For higher costs of effort, the company benefits from shaping the compensation structure to reward help. Against all intuition, the company may prefer to avoid helping behaviour in projects for which early completion benefits taper off strongly. Finally, it is striking that a natural order among projects emerges, even with symmetrical projects: cooperative behaviour may lead the company to choose an asymmetric equilibrium in which identical projects receive a different level of effort.