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Can we manage research? This question is addressed in this paper from a particular point of view where we assume that project management is a formal way to conduct a research project. We take as reference the PMBOK as source of generic and specific good practices of project management, which are adapted to research management under the focus of Blasco’s systemic project theory, and lately deployed by using a project management maturity model inside the research project. We illustrate our experience with the case of an peculiar research project: an Information Systems Action-Research project.
¿Podemos administrar la investigación? Esta pregunta es abordad en este trabajo desde un particular punto de vista donde asumimos que la gestión de proyectos es una vía formal para conducir un proyecto de investigación. Tomamos de referencia el PMBOK como fuente de buenas prácticas de gestión de proyectos genéricas y específicas, las cuales son adaptadas para la gestión de la investigación bajo el enfoque de la teoría de proyectos sistémica de Blasco, y posteriormente desplegadas usando un modelo de madurez de gestión dentro del proyecto de investigación. Ilustramos nuestra experiencia con el caso de un peculiar de proyecto de investigación: un proyecto de Investigación-Acción.
Can we manage research? This question is addressed in this paper from a particular point of view where we assume that the project management is a formal way to conduct a research project. We take as reference the PMBOK as source of generic and specific good practices of project management, which are adapted to research management under the focus of Blasco’s systemic project theory and lately deployed by using a project management maturity model inside the research project.
We illustrate our experience with the case of an peculiar research project: an Information Systems Action-Research project. Information Systems Action Research (IS-AR) is a well- considered qualitative research method for IS research. However several problems has been detected when it is used. To improve IS-AR we propose the use of a Blasco’s systemic project framework to construct the project management approach for IS-AR and the use of the PMBOK guide as the source of IS-AR project management practices. This work is extended towards a maturity model to can use the IS-AR project management practices in increasing levels of complexity.
A common opinion among many researchers is that qualitative research must not be restricted to doctrines and/or rigid or formalised visions. In particular, this is specially believed for Action-Research. Moreover, many of them dislike structured and formalised approaches that could reduce the flexibility required by the researcher and the research process. Action Research is an approach and a method related with qualitative research, systems thinking and several philosophical perspectives.
By their nature, these aspects could be unified in a systemic method:
In this sense, Action Research could be focused from a systemic approach that provides a dynamic environment where operating and evolving.
Several authors relate project management approach with Action-Research (Mathiassen, 1998, for example). Along this line, we believe that project management could be used as a way to obtain a set of practices for IS-AR, from which the action-researcher may choose and use according to convenience, for conducting the research and anticipating potential problems. Apparently, project management may appear like a source of rigidness for Action Research. However, the PMBOK, Guide to the Project Management body of knowledge of the Project Management Institute, as a source of practices to facilitate the process of selection of project management processes and practices, suggests that project management practices must be customised according to the specific technical domain of a project and used without rigidness in order to give freedom to the project manager within the evolution of the project.
This perspective, as said in Blasco (2000), could be characterised in terms of a systemic project framework. With this, we provide a framework where IS-AR features are used in the study and change of organisational processes.
3. THE PROBLEM WITH IS-AR RESEARCH
Action Research is a qualitative research method the essence of which is the juxtaposition of action and research, or practice and theory, through the execution of four phases (Figure 1): planning, action, observation and reflection.
This cycle in an Action-Research project is executed two times, commonly, in parallel: as a research management cycle (CRM) oriented to manage the research, and as a problem-solving construction cycle (CPSC) oriented to provide a solution for the real problem. Even if Action Research is a well-considered qualitative research method for IS research, it presents several problems when it is used in IS.
The analysis of these problems motivated us to classify them and to identify their principal causes (Estay and Pastor, 2002a). IS-AR problems are part of the Action Research problems detected when the method is used in other disciplines. Thus, we propose that, in general, such IS-AR problems could be classified in four IS-AR problem areas: ‘Epistemological change’ problems area, ‘Ethics and values’ problems area, ‘Reporting’ problems area, and ‘Methodological’ problems area. We showed that within this solution, any non reported IS-AR problem could be located within this classification and addressed with the adequate IS-AR elements for the specific area (Estay and Pastor, 2000a). The areas provide a synthesis of the problems in order to address them. However, the complexity to address all the IS-AR problems leads to identify the causes of those problems, which are:
To these four causes, another cause is added. The literature of IS research promotes the use of a framework to enable and to take advantage of the potential of any solution for IS. (the v cause) This lacking framework is introduced in the thesis as another cause, because a framework is necessary to use, apply and investigate IS-AR.
4. BLASCO’S PROJECT THEORY
According to the Blasco’s systemic project theory (Estay and Blasco, 2000), project management can be rationalised as a sub-system inside a more general project system (Figure 2).
This approach provides four components that define project management as a system (Estay and Pastor, 2000b, Figure 3):
Thus, if we accept that a project perspective is a way to solve IS-AR problems, we need to specify the context, structure, composition and trajectory for an IS-AR project management.
5. PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND THE PMBOK
In particular, according to the Project Management Institute, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project. Good project management can be considered as a means to address a project and to anticipate and solve its problems by balancing the competing demands related to scope, time, cost, quality, stakeholders and requirements. With this balance, project management is useful to avoid, to alleviate or to overcome the problems in a project.
The PMBOK is the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMI, 2000), a document where the international organism Project Management Institute has concentrated generally accepted project management practices. The PMBOK proposes that project management practices can be exposed within project management processes. Each process is associated with one Knowledge Area Project Management and executed as part of a Project Management Groups: initiation, planning, execution, control and closing. In this way, such practices are taken and adapted for obtain IS-AR project management practices through of a process described in Estay and Pastor (2002a). Nevertheless, the application of these practices for IS-AR involves getting competence levels of project management and proficiency levels for Action-Research.
6. MATURITY MODELS
We relate the proficiency levels for Action Research as given by (Grenwood and Morten, 1998), with the suggested competence levels for project management exposed in several project management maturity models (Trillium, PMA). Thus, we initially obtain a proposal for five maturity levels: novice, basic, organised, managed and adaptive. Maturity models may not only help with the achievement of capabilities and the awareness of the importance of improvement but at same time, they help promote project management practices that provide quality and rigour to IS-AR projects. This interiorisation may be considered as a learning process which can be studied and applied with the helps of Bloom’s taxonomy.
In this sense, by joining Blasco’s theory and PMBOK-based project management, and by using several educational works raised from Blooms’ ideas, we produce a maturity model for IS-AR project management. In this model we integrate proficiency levels for IS-AR with competence levels for project management. The results is an architecture composed by five maturity levels for IS-AR project management, inside which several practices are deployed in roadmaps and grouped in KPAs (Estay and Pastor, 2002b).
‡ Maturity levels:
‡ Roadmaps. A roadmap is a way to satisfy quality and rigour criteria for IS-AR proposed by McKay and Marshall (2000). Each one of the criteria is related to several project management processes taken and adapted from the PMBOK (Table 1). With this, each roadmap relates with one or more maturity levels. This results from the analysis of the verbal contents of each criteria with respect to the formative levels. Thus, each criteria contains project management processes where can be integrated practices, and is related with one or more maturity levels to leverage practices.
‡ Areas of key interest. The areas of interest are the priority areas where to execute actions or practices of quality and rigour while managing the IS-AR project. In this sense, and having present that the roadmaps are linked to project management processes within the PMBOK, the areas of interest are the 9 Areas of Knowledge of Project Management presented by the PMBOK itself: Integration, Scope, Cost, Time, Quality, Human Resources, Communication, Risk and Procurement (PMI, 2000). They define the KPAs where you should act to get the criteria.
‡ Practices. The practices are the basic actions to satisfy the criteria and deployed along the maturity levels (Table 2). For example, in Table 3 we shown any original practices for the criteria “Is there evidence of verification by P?” With these leveraged practices, to obtain higher maturity levels, the action-researcher can follow a stream of research cycles and a stream of practical cycles as shown the Figure 4.
8. FINAL COMMENTS
In synthesis, we obtain a systemic vision about IS-AR project management. Following the Blasco’s theory, we define (Figure 5, see Estay and Pastor, 2002a for details):
The other components, context and composition were defined in previous work. A project structure for IS-AR project management was defined as a conceptualisation of the IS-AR project and as an encounter between two realities: professional and theoretical (Estay and Pastor, 2000b); and the composition for the IS-AR project management processes was obtained through of an arranged vision of the IS-AR realm (Estay and Pastor, 2000a).
Furthermore, as a product of our research, a specific guide to manage IS-AR project management processes through the maturity levels can be found in Estay (2001). Finally, with this work, we have shown the feasibility to manage action-research from a systematic, but flexible, project management approach.
Pastor, Joan; y, Estay, Christian. (2002). Project as framework to improve action-research Management. En Proceedings of the VI International Congress of Project Engineering. Barcelona, España:Universidad Politécnica de Catalunya. 23-25 Octubre. ISBN 84-600-9800-1. p. 49. t01-38 en CD-ROM.