Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Research questions

I wrote a few weeks ago that there seems to be mutual incomprehension between my doctoral mentor and myself. I added material to my research proposal which was obliquely suggested by my mentor; he wrote back writing (amongst other things) that something "is reinforced by your having ten research questions when one is usually sufficient and best". Thinking about this, I realise that what I have noted as "the research questions" (i.e. what the research is supposed to answer) are actually the questions which I intend to ask the participants.

Here are those questions:
  1. What are examples of gaps between existing and desired functionality ("misfits")?
  2. How do organisations enhance their ERP systems in order to overcome those misfits?
  3. Is there any mechanism for examining the justifications for enhancements?
  4. Is an enhancement's success dependent on who proposed it?
  5. How are the enhancements authorised?
  6. Are enhancements added in a systematic (as opposed to ad hoc) fashion?
  7. How much time is required for developing those enhancements?
  8. How successful are the enhancements and how is this success measured?
  9. What are the economic benefits of those enhancements?
  10. How are users trained to use the enhancements?
I have read a recent doctoral thesis (Badewi, 2016) entitled "Investigating Benefits Realisation Process for ERP Systems" (sic) which tries to develop a benefit realization road map whereby organisations can realize the maximum potential of their ERP systems  (it's curious that the thesis uses British spelling for 'organisation' but American spelling for 'realize', but then the grammar of this thesis is all over the place). The research question is "How organisations can realise the maximum benefits from the ERP system?" Apart from the fact that the second and third words should be reversed, I am starting from the position that enhancements are the way that organisations realise the benefits, and so I have answered that question before I even begin.

I am less interested in developing a mechanism for evaluating enhancements (although my mentor seems very keen on this) and more concerned with the enhancements themselves. The interrogative word seems to be very important - the above question begins with "How", not "is" nor "can", which can be answered either yes or no. 

So one possible research question would be How can an organisation develop a framework for creating successful enhancements to their ERP system? This assumes that there are means of assessing enhancements; this is already listed as one of the research's objectives. This suggests that I would have to develop a framework, which is not particularly in line with my interests, but would be more academically sound.

Presumably the framework would be something like:
  1. Identify a misfit.
  2. Determine which stakeholders would gain from resolving this misfit: there will always be one group of stakeholders who benefit whilst entering data, but there should also be at least one group of stakeholders who benefit from retrieving improved data.
  3. Propose a solution which benefits the maximum number of stakeholders. The solution should consider dimensions such as improved data visibility, savings in user time and direct monetary savings.
  4. Enlist the support of all stakeholders connected to the enhancement.
  5. Implement the enhancement.
  6. Train the stakeholders in the use of the enhancement (in both the input and output stages).
  7. Evaluate the benefits obtained after the event with respect to those stated in stage 3. 
It would be great if the above methodology could be reduced to a catchy acronym; IDPEITE doesn't really roll off the tongue. 

Should I change the direction of the research proposal to use the above, the research methodology which I have proposed so far - grounded theory - goes out of the window. One of the important tenets of grounded theory is that there be no a priori theory; to my surprise, I have now delineated a methodology in advance! A qualitative approach is still possible, asking how organisations carry out each stage in the methodology. What worries me at the moment is that proposing such a methodology in advance means that the research would be looking for support; I'm not phrasing this well (most of this blog is me 'thinking on the page'), but it's almost a hypothesis based theory. Or ... the above theory could be developed on the basis of the user interviews.

I will leave this entry as it is, but it is clear (at least to me) that my next step is reviewing doctoral theses which propose a theory and seeing which methodology they use.

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