Friday, 30 May 2008

Probationary viva

By the end of June, I have to have produced a proposal that contains:
  • A viable research question
  • A critical literature review which situates the proposed research
  • A research proposal including an outline of proposed method(s) and a critical justification for them
  • A work plan for the project
And then in July, I have a viva. I have to explain and support what I intend to do. The rules say:

The student must undergo a mini-viva – an independent oral examination on the project report. It must be conducted by at least two experienced academic researchers who are not the student’s supervisors.

The assessors must provide a written report indicating whether the student’s performance was adequate. If the student’s performance was not adequate, information should be provided about what must be rectified before probation can be ‘passed’.

I propose research that has a constructionist philosophy behind it and therein is a potential problem because I hear that one of the examiners is a quantitative researcher, so of a different philosophy. I hope I can explain myself well enough.

Thursday, 29 May 2008


Mohe's research on meta-consulting in Germany looks at providing consultation about consulting. Mohe develops a business model to professionalize clients in dealings with consultants. From the literature he distinguishes three generic strategies to manage consultants.
  1. build a consultation expertise, which focuses on consultant selection.
  2. build in-house consulting resources
  3. aim to build specific expertise to govern and control consulting projects. Within the UK public sector, there might be questions about if and how this strategy occurs, although Mohe's professional clients seem akin to the NAO's intelligent client.

Mohe conducted interviews with project owners and used surveys to identify starting points for improvement measures. Respondents were asked what worked well in consulting, what improvements could be made and how the consulting competence was evaluated. He suggests that companies are developing more professional approaches to consulting {Mohe, 2007 #687}.

Mohe, M. (2007) How Meta-consultants could help managers to professionalize in dealing with consultants, Institute of Management Consultancy. Available from:

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Managing consultants and outsourcers

A complication of project work is the number of stakeholders. Not infrequently, consultants and outsourcers work on the same project, particularly in IT. Peled in Israel researched the relationship between government bureaucrats, consultants and vendors looking to see who won or lost power when the government outsourced {Peled, 2001}. My diagram indicates the complicated relationships. It also shows that the consultants are a conduit between client and subcontractors.

Peled's analysis of interviews and participative observation found that the bureaucrats suffered a loss of management skills when using consultants, specifically feedback, negotiation, legal and accounting skills because the consultants negotiated with and supervised vendors. Unchecked power of IT consultants hindered management's ability to account. When projects failed, few bureaucrats knew the IT systems for which they were responsible, nor how failures could have been avoided. Peled recommends that bureaucrats must develop an interest in technological projects. On a project that involves a vendor or outsourcing to a third party as well as use of consultants, Peled suggests potential controls on consultants' work such as acknowledging consultants rather than hiding them.

Peled, D. A. 2001. Outsourcing and Political Power: Bureaucrats, Consultants, Vendors and Public Information Technology. Public Personnel Management, 30(4): 495.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Bovens models and Schein's

Months ago I saw a relationship between Schein's models of clients and Bovens actors. I thought I'd made a note of their relationships, I'd do it in a table, but I can't find anything. Schein has two models: one of client roles and the other is a model that classifies clients according to levels of problems. I think there is a match between Bovens actors and Schein's second model.

Schein's model considers problems at levels of:
  • individual
  • interpersonal
  • group, which can be face to face or intergroup
  • organisational
  • inter-organisational or larger system
Bovens considers actors:
  • individual
  • collective
  • hierarchical
  • corporate
I can't yet quite see how they match, so I've sketched a graph and I'm still thinking. Perhaps I'll ask my colleague whose work gave me the idea for her suggestions.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What's a consultant?

"A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence on an individual, group or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs." (Block, 2000)

Schaffer (2002) states that consultants are accountable for creating solutions "while clients are accountable for using those solutions".

Block, P. (2000) Flawless Consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used, (2 Edn), Jossey-Bass/Fpeiffer. 27
Schaffer, R. H. (2002) High Impact Consulting, Jossey-Bass. 771

Friday, 23 May 2008


I know engagement is a good thing, but I'm not quite clear what it is:
  • commitment
  • participation
  • involvement
  • ?
If clients must engage with consultants, then what does engagement entail? Here's my comparison of understanding of engagement in the literature.

CategoryCitation Understanding Comments
Government .NAO, 2006 Departments lacked engagement with supplier & community
Engagement should be both of people in the organisation and among the consultants. Engagement implies gaining enthusiasm and energy to see the project through to conclusion.
Government .NAO, 2006 Engagement leads to commitment, and NAO
1. developed framework for building commitment &
2. made recommendations to improve engagement
Government .NAO, 2006 Conflates senior level engagement and ‘intelligent client’. thus implying the multi-headedness of the client
Government .NAO, 2006 Engagement and collaborative relationships are referred to as if synonyms ..
Practitioner .Czerniawska, 2006 .Argues that extent of engagement between clients and consultants determines the success of consulting projects but doesn’t define engagement. ..
Practitioner Block, 2000 .Devotes a whole chapter to the term & recommends Axelrod ..
Practitioner Axelrod, 2007 .Identifies that participation in the sense of compliance is not enough to be involved .He distinguishes the term as requiring involvement.
Practitioner .Axelrod, 2006 . .Axelrod identifies an engagement gap between those who have initiated a project for change and everyone else. An engagement gap can widen between the groups. An ecumenical i.e. inclusive and collective approach, to change theory will narrow that gap. .Follow up in project research
Academic.Barki, 1989 .defined and examined user participation ..
Academic.Barki, 1994 Hartwick, 1994 examined user participation and user involvement ..
AcademicBarki, 1989 .Barki and Hartwick defined user involvement as a psychological state when the user considers a system to be both important and personally relevant ..
Academic.Hartwick, 1994 Hartwick and Barki talk about involvement
“overall responsibility is the most important antecedent of user involvement and attitude toward the system”
AcademicPeled, 2001 Peled recommends that management develop interest in technological projects. ..
AcademicBiehl, 2007 .found that top management involvement and real commitment was a success factor in IS project development on big and complex projects .Biehl refers to commitment as if synonymous with involvement but doesn’t define involvement
Academic.Fincham, 2002 & 1999 .Fincham refers to engagement in and he uses it in a political context with reference to power games. Not useful at the moment
Academic Handley, 2007
.They note a differentiation between participation & engagement:
“What seems to be required is a way of differentiating between participation and what Wenger calls ‘mere engagement in practice’ (Wenger, 1998: 75). A key assumption here seems to be that participation involves ‘hearts and minds’”.
This could be a useful section to work from.

Axelrod, R. H. (2001) 'Why Change Management Needs Changing', Reflections, 2 (3), pp. 46-57. 732
Axelrod, R. H. (2007) 'How to Get Others Involved', Harvard Management Update, 12 (8), pp. 2-2. 743
Axelrod, R. H., Axelrod, E., Jacobs, R. W. and Beedon, J. (2006) 'Beat the Odds and Succeed in Organizational Change', Consulting to Management - C2M, 17 (2), pp. 6-9. 744
Barki, H. and Hartwick, J. (1989) 'Rethinking the Concept of User Involvement', MIS Quarterly, 13 (1), pp. 53-63. 757
Barki, H. and Hartwick, J. (1994) 'Measuring User Participation, User Involvement, and User Attitude', MIS Quarterly, 18 (1), pp. 59-82. 746
Biehl, M. (2007) 'SUCCESS FACTORS for Implementing Global Information Systems', Communications of the ACM, 50 (1), pp. 53-58. 700
Block, P. (2000) Flawless Consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used, (2 Edn), Jossey-Bass/Fpeiffer. 27
Czerniawska, F. (2006). Ensuring sustainable value from consultants. 49
Fincham, R. (2002) 'The Agent's Agent', International Studies of Management & Organization, 32 (4), pp. 67-86. 500
Handley, K., Clark, T., Fincham, R. and Sturdy, A. (2007) 'Researching Situated Learning', Management Learning, 38 (2), pp. 173-191. 458
Hartwick, J. and Barki, H. (1994) 'Explaining the Role of User Participation in Information System Use', Management Science, 40 (4), pp. 440-465. 749
NAO (2006a) Central Government's use of consultants Vol. HC 128 Session 2006-2007 National Audit Office. 577
NAO (2006b) Central Government's use of consultants: Building client and consultant commitment National Audit Office. 109
NAO (2006c) Delivering successful IT-enabled business change Vol. HC 33-1 National Audit Office. 682
NAO (2006d) Good governance: Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships HMSO. 818<

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Probation looms

By the end of June I must submit a project report that includes:
  • a viable research question
  • a critical literature review which situates the proposed research
  • a research proposal including an outline of proposed method(s) and a critical justification for them
  • a work plan for the project.
And then I get a viva.
  • I'm beginning to get the research question, something about engaging with consultants in order to get an effective contribution to a project.
  • I've read a fair deal around the topic: consultants, clients, public sector including government literature, projects, IT projects, New Public Management, institutionalism, accountability, value engineering and risk. And I've written up on what I've read so my supervisors have some idea of what I've read and absorbed.
  • Now I have to put together the research proposal, which I guess is to take case studies from public sector organisations and interview clients. It would be great if I could shadow a senior responsible officer. The critical justification for the method is in the theoretical framework.
  • The work plan is not going to get much time from me. I wonder what they mean by it.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Agency theory

Agency theory provides a framework for analysing social relationships involving at least two parties where one party expects another to scrutinize their performance (Eisenhardt, 1989). The relationship requires one party (the agent) to give an account of his work to another party (the principal). See Figure 1: Principal Agent Theory

Figure 1: Principal Agent Theory

The principal could be a stakeholder demanding accounts from the public sector manager (the agent). In a public sector context, the principal could be the public sector manager demanding accounts from a consultant (the agent), or, to go further, the stakeholder demanding accounts from the manager (See Figure 2: public agency) following a chain of principal-agent relations (Bovens, 2007).

Figure 2: public agency

Agency theory addresses problems of different goals and of different attitudes to risk (Eisenhardt, 1989). The theory assumes information asymmetry between agent and principal. The unit of analysis is the contract between agent and principal so emphasises the relationship (Fincham, 2002). Agency theory can show relationships in a complex system that involves stakeholder ‘hands’ and ‘eyes’ in a public context.

Bovens, M. (2007) 'Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework', European Law Journal, 13 (4), pp. 447-468. 408
Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989) 'Agency Theory: An Assessment and Review', The Academy of Management Review, 14 (1), pp. 57-74. 520
Fincham, R. (2002) 'The Agent's Agent', International Studies of Management & Organization, 32 (4), pp. 67-86. 500


Last week's supervision indicated that I need to have a theory to model my stuff on. I'd mentioned someone else's use of agency theory, but am also looking at actor-network theory because Czarniawska talks about it being a constructionist theory.

Czarniawska, B. (2001) Shadowing: and other techniques for doing field work in modern societies.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Theoretical framework

Choosing a methodology for a research project involves choosing appropriate methods, depending on what access is possible and how the researcher is thinking. The research process is informed by the researcher’s theoretical perspective, which is a philosophical stance. The theoretical perspective is itself informed by the epistemology and ontology. So the research process has four elements that inform one another: epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology and methods (Crotty, 1998).

What the constructionist approach is
Constructionism is the idea that there is no objective truth but that we all construct our own reality, meaning is constructed and different people construct meaning in different ways. People need to have mechanisms for understanding what each of them is doing and need rich forms of conversations that are adequate to dealing with the complexity of social relationships so it’s sense making.

(Guba & Lincoln refer to the constructivist paradigm (Guba and Lincoln, 1989))

Why use the constructionist approach here
Clients and consultants can construct each others roles and clients are actors or agents who shape each others standing of what they do. Schein categorises those roles and so does Bovens.

Disadvantages of the constructionist approach
Czarniawska warns of the difficulties of employing the constructionist stance because the logic of representation is conventionally used between researchers but the medium of everyday organisational life is the logic of practice so there can be difficulties of communication between researchers and managers (Czarniawska, 2001).

Crotty, M. (1998) 'Introduction: the research process'. The foundations of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process, Sage, London.
Czarniawska, B. (2001) 'Is it Possible to Be a Constructionist Consultant?' Management Learning, 32 (2), pp. 253.
Guba, E. G. and Lincoln, Y. S. (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation, Sage.

Value and risk

Risk and value are interrelated tasks {OGC, 2007 #813 p 5}. “Risk is defined by the treasury as uncertainty of outcome. ” “Value means ensuring that the right choices are made about obtaining the optimum balance of benefit in relation to cost and risk.” So value might be something quantifiable and calculable. And the OGC does calculate risk - I've even found spreadsheets for calculations, such at this and a guide to it.

But on the other hand, risk and value are balanced according to perceptions. I like this quote from Bernoulli that relates to function to cost

The value of an item must not be based on its price but rather on the utility which it yields”

Bernoulli D. (1738)

The Institute of Value Management is helpful and comes with diagrams.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Drawing software

What diagramming software is good for drawing the FSP? I've used Inspiration for other diagrams and for structuring my notes. I really like it, but it won't draw boundaries. I'd draw it now if I had the right software. A fellow student's recommended yEd Graph Editor. But I've yet to find out how to draw systems within systems, i.e. how to draw boundaries.

Formal Systems Paradigm

I'm convinced that what my supervisor #1 has drawn matches the formal systems paradigm (FSP) [1].

A system has four aspects to it:
  1. a purpose
  2. an interest from someone who perceives it as a system
  3. components that interact and do something
  4. if any one component is removed or added then the system behaves in a different way
The FSP has components:
  • a purpose
  • sub-systems that are systems themselves and do things
  • a decision making process
  • a performance management process
  • an environment
  • a boundary
What sup#1 has drawn includes
  • a decision-making system that consists of client civil servants and politicians (possibly as a separate system),
  • a consultant system again with possible subsystems
  • a system for effective consultancy with notes against it about how consultants add value, how it's measured, and contribution to project - so it must be a performance management system
Then she's drawn a boundary round these three components and put stuff in the environment, like:
  • other projects or across projects or programmes
  • nature of projects in public sector
  • life cycle
  • nature of consultant engagement
  • more effective project outcomes influenced by market shift and clear outcomes.
So where do I go with this? She doesn't like systems, so I can't go there without explaining a lot. However, I think I could write up each of the components in turn, citing the literature to arrive at a similar diagram. Then each component of the diagram brings aspects of my research question. Erm.

What is my research question?

How do clients engage with consultants in order to ensure effectiveness of the consultancy contribution to the overall project?

Fortune, J., Peters, G. and NetLibrary Inc. (1995) Learning from failure: the systems approach, Wiley, Chichester ; New York. 773

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Supervision meeting - new supervisor #1

That was fun but a bit exhausting today! It was the longest supervision yet at over two hours.

Supervisor #1 is quite different from previous. And the relationship with supervisor #2 is interesting because he was or used to be the one who seemed to talk as much or more. New supervisor #1 not only talked lots, but also drew diagrams. I like that. I thought that one diagram was a system diagram, but she said that she didn't like systems. Well, I expect I'll use some systems theory to analyse whatever comes up eventually so I'll just have to explain it right so that she does like systems.

We talked a lot about a set of research questions, like one big question from which I could draw a number of other questions, but also phrase it to avoid having a big chunk of literature to read like accountability or value. I have heaps of notes, my usual recording and diagrams.

Now I have to work out where to go from here.

Monday, 12 May 2008

A systems view of project management risk

Diana White's PhD thesis, "A systems view of project management risk" is very useful. Her research started with an interest in systems thinking at a time when some major projects had failed at great cost. She thought that management of risks associated with projects might be prevented by the use of systems thinking. And I like her diagram on page 8 which seems to be a cause-effect of the research overview. I tried my own:

But it doesn't reproduce well here, and this has got to be a working document because I want to add and change some of the bubbles and links already. So I'll do it again later.

Diana has a chapter that examines the literature on project management as well as three interesting case studies, one in ICT. So I'll note some of her references. However, she concentrates on projects and project management tools whereas I want to look more at people and management aspects of projects. My primary interest is in consultants and the management of them, but because consultants inevitably come with projects, then I must consider how they are managed in projects.

My review might begin:
"This review of the literature attempts to identify notions of successful use of consultancy contributions where public sector top management behaviour has reaped value."

except I'm not going to use the term 'value'. I like the metaphor of the harvest though in the word 'reap'. That is to harvest, or sow, glean, take the fruits of.

I want access to people at the top of the project; these could be contact or primary clients. I might want to interview the chair of a project board, and the relevant politician.

How much does a public but non-central government organisation use the advice and frameworks that NAO and OGC provide?

Friday, 9 May 2008

Open University Society of Entrepreneurs

OUSEN, or the OU society of entrepreneurs has just started, courtesy of two fellow students, Thuta and Andy.

Apparently, OUSEN is also a Japanese word that means accepting the challenge (stress on second syllable), so it is extra appropriate for a society of entrepreneurs.

We had several speakers, of which Brigid Heywood was the most amusing. She thought the society was a great idea as the OU is one of the entrepreneurial universities of the world. She admired the brand design and the fact that the organisers had got it designed and approved and ready in less than six weeks - that was inspirational!

Other speakers were Chris Dunkley, the director of the Milton Keynes Enterprise Hub, Prof Rob Paton and Prof Colin Grey.

Have a look at the video. You can see the inaugural meeting at, but you should be logged in to the OU or there's limited access. I've also discovered that you have to have QuickTime to view it, and my new eee PC doesn't have QuickTime and I'm not quite sure how to install it under Linux.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Our student from Burma

Our Burmese student has had some bad news about a close relative, but he knows that other relatives are all right because one could phone him to let him know. However, they haven't heard anything about his wife's family.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

PhD progress report

We're supposed to write up progress reports every six months, so October-March means my first should have been in a bit ago. Supervisors signed it off yesterday - hurray! What they wrote is the nearest to positive that I've had, but then feedback from them is usually verbal, not written.

They point out:
  1. I've moved from accountability to a focus on effective management of consultants - yes, but that's why I don't keep my original first supervisor.
  2. I'm still reviewing the literature - do I ever get to stop?
  3. I've negotiated relevant access to a supplier - yes
  4. I'm addressing writing skills "in a more clearly expository style" - he means that I don't usually give enough detail of what I've read and why it's relevant
  5. I'm meeting performance targets. :) Big smile (but do I know what they are?)

I have now to do more on the literature review, focus research questions and outline the methodology for the probationary review in July.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Fellow students

I read somewhere that only 7% of the UK post-graduate population is British. In our department, we have Irish, Canadian, German, Dutch, three English women, Chinese, a New Zealander, a South African and a Burmese.

Our Burmese student and his wife have family in Rangoon, and haven't been able to get in touch with them this weekend. We're crossing our fingers that they're all right.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Risk again

I had a meeting with Geoff Peters last week, who pointed out a couple of relevant PhD theses by OU people. One of them is on risk: Diana White, "A systems view of project management risk", 2003. How am I ever going to put together as coherent a thesis at this? It’s about 400 pages so physically not easy to read.

At last supervision, a suggestion was to look up risk analysis tools as well as to follow up systems failure methods, so I'll have a good look at Diana's thesis. However, I have to make sense of the difference between risk analysis tools and project management risk.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Frameworks of controls

Civil servants, and presumably other public servants, have policies and procedures though which they are meant to exercise their accountability. These include:
  • Gateway reviews
  • OGC framework contracts
I think I can work out these frameworks from the secondary sources that government bodies provide, such as:
  • NAO, 2006 Delivering successful IT-enabled business change and its companion on case studies,
  • NAO, 2004 Improving IT procurement: The impact of the Office of Government Commerce’s initiatives on departments and suppliers in the delivery of major IT-enabled projects
  • POST, 2003 Government IT projects - analysis of the problem Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology

The OGC web site has heaps of information. It includes responsibilities for project board executives. That site indicates what the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) is responsible for and includes tasks like appointing, signing off, agreeing, authorising, communication, resolving, so lots of good verbs. Skills include ability to understand, broker relationships, provide delegated authority and being aware. The skills that interest me are:
  • providing delegated authority what authority? from what? to whom?
  • being aware of the broader perspective - that must include aware of technological progress
The SRO gets to chair the project board, and appoints the project manager, so needs to know how to manage people and what projects are about. It all sounds great, under control, and controllable. So I shouldn't have a research topic....