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Action-Research is a research method broadly used in Information Systems. However, it requires improving its rigor and quality. To address this situation, several proposals have appeared, that give relevance to use Information Systems Action-Research through a vision of project management. This work is based on this vision by presenting a CMM-based maturity model to apply the project management practices in an incremental way with the aim of guaranteeing an improvement of the rigor and quality in Information Systems Action-Research projects.
Action Research is a research method the essence of which is the juxtaposition of action and research, or practice and theory, through the cyclic execution of four characteristic phases: planning, action, observation, reflection, where the last includes sub-phases for Evaluating and Specifying Learning (Susman and Evered, 1978). Action-Research is a potent research method for Information Systems research ([ITP, 2001], [Myers, 1997]). Nevertheless, Action-Research requires to improve the rigor and quality in its research process ([Avison et al, 1999], [Avison et al, 2001], [McKay and Marshall, 2000]) in order to increase its relevance within Information Systems research ([Applegate, 1999]).
To address this situation, [Mathiassen, 1998] proposed to use a perspective of projects and of project management approach to help to conduct Action-Research projects, while [McKay and Marshall, 2000] have proposed quality and rigor criteria for Information Systems Action-Research (IS-AR).
From the project perspective, [Estay and Pastor, 2000a] have proposed to use project management to improve the rigor of an IS-AR project by relating and mapping project management stages with Action-Research phases; [McKay and Marshall, 2001] and [Estay and Pastor, 2000b], [Estay and Pastor, 2000c] have proposed a project structure for IS-AR composed by two characteristic cycles: one problem solving-oriented construction cycle (CPSC) and one research-oriented management cycle (CRM); and [Avison et al., 2001] have analysed three aspects of control of an IS-AR project: initiation, determination of the authority, and degree of formalisation.
With regard to the project management approach, [Estay and Pastor, 2001b] have proposed a methodology to obtain IS-AR project management good practices. Such practices are mainly taken and adapted from the PMBOK, the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge ([PMI, 2000]), a document where the international organism Project Management Institute has compiled generally-accepted project management practices. Nevertheless, the application of these practices for IS-AR involves getting competence levels for project management and proficiency levels for Action- Research.
In particular, the proposal of Estay and Pastor could be characterised as the construction of an IS-AR project by focusing on the project management dimension. Along this line, we use the Blasco’s project systemic theory (as explained in [Estay and Blasco, 2000]), which is based in a systemic and semiotic vision on the construction of the knowledge ([Estay, 2001]), itself based in Maturana’s point of view about this issue ([Maturana, 1991]). In metaphorical terms, as in [Bryant, 2000], rather than viewing project management wrt. IS-AR as “a ruler to measure the beauty of a flower”, we regard it as a source of practical knowledge and capabilities for improving the “cultivation” inherent to IS-AR research, as “good fertiliser for growing its flowers more beautiful and healthy.” We aim at supporting and improving the art of IS-AR gardening rather than the craft of IS-AR engineering.
Thus, this paper follows Estay and Pastor’s results by extending their work, from the IS-AR project towards a maturity model for IS-AR project management practices. In this sense, we relate the proficiency levels for Action-Research with the competence levels of project management maturity models through project management practices by following the software Capability Maturity Model (CMM). From this relationship we obtain five IS-AR maturity levels: novice, basic, organised, managed and adaptive. For these levels, we deploy our proposed IS-AR project management good practices. In this process we use Bloom’s taxonomy ([Bloom, 1975]) as framework and Ramírez et al.’s educational congruence model ([Ramírez et al., 1988]) to define IS-AR maturity levels and leverage IS-AR practices with respect to the IS-AR maturity levels. The maturity model presented in this paper has been validated retrospectively in [Estay and Pastor, 2001a], while in [Guerrero, 2001] it has been applied in levels 2 and 3 by focusing on the practical dimension, which theoretical exposition appear in [Estay and Pastor, 2002].
The document is organised in the following sections. Section 2 presents CMM and the competence levels in project management. Section 3 introduces the proficiency levels in Action-Research. Section 4 develops our maturity model. Finally, Section 5 presents our final comments about the work realised and the future work.
2. PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMPETENCE LEVELS
From the area of projects, project management practices must be used according to competence levels. In this sense several maturity models for project management have been presented by taking as reference the software development Capability Maturity Model.
2.1. Software development Capability Maturity Model
The Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model ([CMM-SEI, 2000]) describes the principles and practices underlying software process maturity and it is intended to help software organisations improve the maturity of their software processes in terms of an evolutionary path from ad-hoc, chaotic processes to mature, disciplined software processes ([Paulk et al., 1985]). The CMM is organised into five maturity levels which are often used as synonymous with software engineering quality levels in many organisations. It is based on the assumption that organisation software engineering process maturity can be assessed against a standard. The CMM is that standard. The goals of the CMM are improved software quality, reduced software development cost, and decreased time to delivery of engineered software products. Its five levels are ([CMM-SEI, 2000]): initial, repeatable, defined, managed and optimising. In particular, each maturity level indicates an acquisition process capability and has several Key Process Areas (KPAs). Each KPA has goals and common features and organisational practices intended to institutionalise common practice.
2.2. Project management maturity models
A Project Management Maturity Model is a multidimensional model that spells out the meanings of, and the steps necessary to achieve specific project management competence. From the project management area the most cited project management maturity models are: Trillium model, Project Management Assessment 2000, Project Management Maturity Model and Innovation Maturity Model.
2.3. Implementation of the maturity models
The previous models measure or provide guidelines to reach a certain competence level in project management. However, getting this competence requires more precision about the necessary maturity levels and the way towards their accomplishment.
With regard to the quantity of levels, we can reference ([Peterson, 2000]). He provides a PMBOK- based maturity model of 8 maturity levels to get a gradual competence in three dimensions: people, process and tools. Such levels are: Non-awareness, Initial, Basic, Repeatable, Advanced, Well- defined, Managed, and Optimising.
With regard to the accomplishment of the competence, ([White, 2000]) points out that a way to introduce project management practices that satisfy the maturity levels by following the CMM is by following iterative cycles. In this sense, ([White, 2000]) proposes a mechanism to try to sensitise the managers in the convenience of the learning necessary to improve. In this sense, White proposes the gradual development of the competence in project management through improvement cycles: a first cycle named “As-Is” documentation, a second cycle oriented to get a level 2 of maturity with processes and infrastructures updated, and then a third cycle to get a level 3 of maturity.
3. ACTION-RESEARCH PROFICIENCY LEVELS
According to ([Greenwood and Morten, 1998]), Lewin has run several PhD programs for graduate students to practice Action-Research. The idea in this training is to combine theoretical knowing with practical skills in knowing how. The way to achieve this has been to have students work with experienced researchers. Thus, the professor-student dyads are combined in a group structure that creates a community of action researchers co-learning and developing skills together. Such relationships are more complex that a master-apprentice dyad.
The achievement of these networks requires fives stages of development of abilities, which are considered an important component in the achievement of a good action researcher. Such stages are ([Grenwood and Morten, 1998, p. 103)]:
4. IS-AR MATURITY MODEL
We view our maturity model as a framework to implement IS-AR project management practices as part of IS-AR projects. In this sense, we first unify competence with proficiency and, second, we leverage project management practices inside the maturity levels. The process is depicted in Figure 1.
4.1. IS-AR project management maturity levels
From what we have stated above, now we have:
Thus, 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, 2000], [PMA, 2000], [White, 2000]). 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 rigor 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.
Benjamin S. Bloom proposes a taxonomy of educational objectives. Its purpose is to propose the foundations for a classification of the goals to get in an educational system. The taxonomy or classification proposed by Bloom embraces three areas or domains: cognitive area, affective area, and psycomotrice area, each one decomposed in formative goals ([Bloom, 1975]). Although the taxonomy is an important reference in Education research and practice, its application has proven difficult as shown by the fact that only the cognitive area is the most broadly treated one.
To facilitate the attainment of these domain goals, they are linked to educational objectives. In this way, for example, ([Gardiner, 2000]) offers a series of educational objectives for each one of the goals. These educational objectives are simply cognitive verbs, actions or operations, named educational verbs.
However, a more complete application of Bloom’s taxonomy is proposed in ([Ramírez et al., 1988]). This model integrates Bloom’s taxonomy, educational verbs and educational tools/techniques. In this sense, they propose that the educational verbs can be grouped into four types of educational objectives or formative levels (Table 1, [Ramírez et al, 1988]):
For our specific IS-AR purposes, the above formative levels imply a formative process from simple to more complicated actions. Seen in this way, the maturity levels can be related with the formative levels just as shown in Figure 2. The relationship pursues that the formative levels are applied with different intensity in each of the maturity levels: initially by giving higher intensity in getting reproductive objectives so that the action researcher learns on IS-AR; and, at the end, by giving higher intensity to creative objectives to promote the creative use by the action-researcher of the practices learned.
Thus, the IS-AR project management maturity levels can be characterised as follows:
4.2. Architecture of the model
The architecture of our IS-AR project management maturity model is the relational structure that allows going from a maturity level to its relevant good management practices. In this process we have followed the spirit of the Trillium model for the following reasons.
Thus, by following the Trillium model, the architecture consists of the following elements: Roadmaps, Areas of Key interest and Practices.
Roadmaps. We have derived our roadmaps from the quality and rigor 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.
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 rigor while managing the IS-AR project. In this sense, and having present that the roadmaps are linked to project management processes of 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]), since they define the KPAs where you should act to get the criteria.
Practices. The practices are the basic actions to satisfy the criteria. These practices have been derived directly from the relationships between criteria and project management processes in each roadmap. Moreover, to make the practices coherent with the PMBOK, the practices for IS-AR project management have been named with similar names to those from the PMBOK. For example: to inspect, to revise or to register. The selection of the practices has taken into consideration the project management competence and the Action-Research proficiency levels. This selection lead to identify generic and specific practices, the first ones related with project management and the second ones related with specific IS-AR features.
When the roadmap is multilevel, or the practices or their tasks are more complex, they are executed in advanced levels. In this way, the practices have been leveraged along the maturity models. A selected roadmaps and their practices are shown in the Table 2, while the results of this process is shown in Table 3, which illustrates all the practices by level within each roadmap. The first and second columns in Table 2 are taken from [McKay and Marshall, 2001], while the third one indicates the practices by level in the roadmap. The last columns show the detail of practices by level in a roadmap. Table 3 depicts the total number of practices by category of quality and rigour criteria.
4.3. Implementation of the model
To get higher maturity levels we can take note of White’ work ([White, 2000]). This means that a researcher can improve the use of IS-AR through the same cycles of Action-Research where, apart from solving a problem, he improves his own work. Thus, by taking into consideration the work of [McKay and Marshall, 2001], the Figure 3 shows maturity along a stream of research cycles and along a stream of practical cycles.
In this way, for example, by following the stages of a project (Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control and Closing), practices can be improved and interiorised gradually while the action-researcher advances in the phases of the cycle of Action-Research (Planning, Pl; Action, Ac; Observation, Ob; and, Reflection, Re). Thus, according to the quality and rigor criteria that are pursued, certain practices are executed in each phase/stage (Figures 4).
5. COMMENTS AND FUTURE WORK
Our IS-AR project management maturity model has arisen from an extensive literature review and from our own IS-AR experiences on packaged software acquisition. The obtained model provides a mechanism of gradual learning that each researcher can adjust to his capabilities and potential, the studied problem and the research group. Future work is to apply the model in a systematic way and to produce a detailed guide for IS-AR project management, such as demanded by [Avison et al., 1999].