Interactions of Rules and Routines: Re-thinking rules

Joao Oliveira, Martin Quinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
161 Downloads (Pure)


This paper addresses the extant and arguably excessive focus on routines in management accounting research, and a relative neglect of rules. It seeks to advance our understanding of how rules and routines may interact, in the technology-enabled context of management accounting and control of contemporary organisations.

We draw on, and develop, insights from extant literature and from two case studies to explore how rules and routines may interact.

We propose a framework on the interactions of rules and routines across multiple dimensions. We adopt a wide notion of rules to include formal rules, rules as internal cognitive structures of human actors, and rules technologically embedded in non-human actors. We argue that rules underlie and may precede routines, distinguish between repeated practices and routines and explore the role of technology in today’s management accounting practices.

Research limitations/implications:
This research shows how the process of routinization and, ultimately, institutionalization of practices involves multiple dimensions of rules, as well as both human and non-human actors. With this understanding, researchers and practitioners will be better equipped to, respectively, understand nuances of management accounting change and actually achieve change in practice.

Originality value:
This paper highlights the importance of rules in the routinization and institutionalization of management accounting practices and proposes a framework which explores the interactions of rules and routines across three realms: material, action and psychological. Including a material realm, related with technologically embedded rules, in the proposed framework contributes to institutional theory by acknowledging today’s increasing role of technology in organizational life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-526
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Accounting and Organization Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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