Friday, 30 April 2010

Unit of analysis

The unit of analysis is the project or programme. It's tempting to see the organisation as the unit of analysis but projects vary within organisations though using different technology, suppliers and consultants, and an organisation may have some successful projects and some not. The unit is unlikely to be the team because some teams deal with several different projects, and also some participants who are managers and senior managers see themselves as managers rather than team members - so how would I define a team. Engagement may differ between participants on different projects or programmes in the same organisation, so the project or programme must be the unit of analysis.

I've deliberately chosen (nah! it was pot luck what access I got) a number of cases as instrumental case studies (Stake, 2005), see my blog here, to provide insight to engagement, so the focus is not on the IT product but on the issue of engagement in IT projects and programmes.

STAKE, R. E. (2005) Qualitative case studies. IN DENZIN, N. K. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (Eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. London, Sage Publications.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Case study approach

I have use case studies because:
  • a case study approach "allows the investigator to take advantage of emergent themes and unique case features"{Eisenhardt, 1989 }
  • a case helps understand the different views of people working on the same project, their "claims, concerns and issues" {Guba, 1989 : p184}. The context is the constant and the participants are the variables.
  • a case study allows organisation of data around the themes of IT and the public sector

EISENHARDT, K. M. (1989) Building Theories from Case Study Research. Academy of Management Review, 14, 532-550.
GUBA, E. G. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation, Newbury Park, CA; London, Sage.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Conceptual framework

Last autumn (here and here) I developed a conceptual framework from the literature. Now I've written up five cases against it, I'm pleased to find the data confirms my arguments for the framework.

I've incorporated a number of factors in the framework and grouped them into two dimensions, (dimensions because you can't have one without the other, and I'm mimicking Nahapiet & Ghoshal's term for describing social capital). The two dimensions are:
  • communication
  • knowledge-ability
Communication requires participants, an environment, something shared and negotiation of meaning.
Knowledge-ability (from {Wenger, 1998 }) requires expertise or skills, the ability to contribute expertise and the ability to adapt with it.

I think you need all these components to have engagement that eases the process of IT projects.

WENGER, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Transaction costs

A friendly economist often stops by my desk to chat. He would tackle my research from a different perspective, of course, so he asks me about the transaction costs of employing consultants, which I have thought about - like here.

In the public sector, the make or buy decision matters to saving costs. Some years ago, the Inland Revenue outsourced its software development to EDS (now HP), and its employee civil servants all transferred. Presumably the reason for the change was because its core business is tax, not software development. I'd have to find the old newspapers to find out. Yet now, the UKBA is employing more software developers are the grounds that:
  1. they're needed now
  2. there'll always be more work for them (probably true)
Different public sector organisations at different times make different decisions. So what? And it's nothing to do with my question about engagement.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Contribution to practice

What contribution to practice does my research make?

This research identifies factors that enable or hinder engagement, like environment, participation and knowledge, which are factors that people already know, but in addition my research reveals how these factors together allow mutual sharing and sense making. Mutuality and negotiating that sense is what creates engagement, and that answers my how question, how do people engage? They share in order to make sense of what each other has.

Three factors enable:
  • environment
  • participation
  • knowledge
By enabling interaction, those factors allow:
  • mutuality
  • negotiation of meaning

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Radio training

At minus five minutes notice, I found myself on another media training course - this time for radio interviews. See InsideEdge. Again the training ratio was amazing: two trainers: five trainees:
Someone had dropped out, hence my invitation.

The session started with discussion and some explanation from two journalists, together with their presentation of slides and sound examples to get their point across.

Answer the question. For example, someone was asked the benefits of her research, but responded by talking about the event she was going to where people would discuss the benefits. That response doesn't answer the question.

What did I learn?
  • State the benefit of your research immediately otherwise, why should the audience care?
  • Expect contentious and personal questions
We had two practical sessions:
  • a three minute face-to-face interview
  • a two minute interview at a distance where you're with just a mic and can't see the presenter, like being at the end of a phone
Both interviews were difficult because even the face-to-face presenter having asked a question isn't looking at you, but at his notes and listening to his head phones to whatever the editor or producer is saying, like warning that the weather or pips are due.

The trainers gave each of us a cue comment and told us in advance what it would be. I loved mine because it was along the lines of
"Expensive management consultants are amongst the lowest, hated as much as estate agents and journalists, and even more hated on expensive IT projects. what value can they bring. We have here Liz H from the OU - Liz are consultants of value?"Yes, because for every pound an organisation spends on consultants they return about £6."
I said, and referred them to the facts I remembered from blogging on the value of consulting a couple of weeks ago. Then I could give an example of how managing them well could save money. stumbling over my example revealed my need to practise saying it aloud. The last and personal questions was,would I be a consultant? Ah! What a trick because consultants seem so powerful, knowledgeable and earn so much.

No, I'd rather be an effective public sector manager.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic ash

Not only is a supervisor stuck in Australia for days more, but the lead speaker and the organiser at a writing workshop that I'm attending at the end of the week also can't fly in from the States. Rats!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Stuck in ash

I have supervision on Wednesday - it's been really quiet in the office the last few weeks and I'm looking forward to some people around again, but I'm wondering if people will get back. I suspect at least one of my supervisors is abroad, so stuck because of the Iceland volcano's ash blocking plane engines.

Wonder if they'll extend my scholarship a month if my supervisors can't be around. Ha! Fat chance.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


I asked the OU in-house legal experts for advice on copyright. Apparently the OU cuttings service (I didn't know we had one) had already discovered it - before I knew it was out - and sent me a pdf here. It has a link that takes me to my Computer Weekly opinion here.


Computer Weekly sent me an email asking me to sign
"Can we have the attached right to republish agreement signed and sent back to us. This is not a copyright, only a right to republish."
But the attachment says that "during the term of the agreement" (with no term given) I'll agree to publish 'it' exclusively in CW, so that isn't the same as the covering email. Now, the OU has provided some seminars during our research training on things like copyright and being careful what you sign away to journals, but journals aren't quite the same. So I went to my frequently-published-relative for advice. FPR responded promptly, querying the term:
"They seem to be retaining the right of veto over any publication. That's okay if it's for, say, 90 days - but not forever. That's the question I'd ask. 90 days is common."
So I might respond that I'm happy to sell them exclusive rights in all forms of publication from 90 days after date of first publication, and the right in perpetuity to use the piece for Computer Weekly. How's that sound?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Article in Computer Weekly

More people read Computer Weekly than will ever read my dissertation, when it's written, so I'm well chuffed that Computer Weekly has accepted a short opinion article from me. My ideas will get more exposure there than in academia.

It should appear in next week's on-line site and perhaps in the magazine as well.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


The collaborative model focuses on cooperative relationships with complementary goals. My research is about projects that require collaborative relationships with shared goals. So there's some overlap, but the kind of goal is different.

LACITY, M. & WILLCOCKS, L. P. (2000) Relationships in IT outsourcing: a stakeholder perspective. IN ZMUD, R. (Ed.) Framing the domains of it management : Protecting the future ... ... Through the past. Cincinnati, Ohio, Pinnaflex Educational Resources.