This post is a continuation of a previous post from three weeks ago, so it's best first to read that post before continuing with this one. As the title alludes, I am going to be 'thinking on the page', so I can't guarantee that there will be an ending or any conclusions from what I write, although I certainly hope that there will be.
My mentor was not particularly impressed by my new version of my research proposal, which featured the seven stage model for developing enhancements. I too had certain doubts about this as I had asked him about where the model should be introduced; at the moment, it had a deus ex machina quality about it as it doesn't flow from the limited literature review. The mentor suggested that I not use the model in the proposal, which returns me to the stage I was in a few weeks ago: what is my research question? What are the aims and objectives?
After further cogitation, I am naming the concept which is to be researched as 'ERP enhancement management' (EEM), a term which I don't think exists in the literature. The definition is based on the seven stage model, but I'm going to ignore that for the moment; instead I will define it in terms of what it is not. EEM has similarities to organisational change management (OCM, a well researched topic) in that it affects the organisation and should achieve strategic or tactical objectives; it is also connected with several groups of stakeholders (which is defined as "members of the groups without whose support the organization would cease to exist"). But EEM is concerned with incremental and fairly minor changes, whereas OCM generally is concerned with major changes, often in critical situations. Also, the success rate of OCM is much lower than that of EEM.
There is also similarity to engineering change management (ECM) but differs in several aspects: ECM is generally concerned with the life cycle of a product, and not incremental changes to software. ECM also is much more technical that EEM - I am purposely leaving out all the technical aspects of EEM, leaving only the managerial aspects.
There is also similarity to software product management (SPM), but as its name hints, SPM is concerned with the life cycle of a complete software product and not with incremental change. That said, there may well be lessons to be learnt from a description of how (for example) Microsoft manages changes in Word or Excel (I doubt that I'll be able to find academic papers on this topic). But then again, these are changes to a product which completely ignore the effects of the software upon the organisation and stakeholders.
So it would seem that EEM is a distinct topic about which there appears to be no prior research. So this is a good example of a research gap.
I found a Doctor of Engineering thesis which examines the engineering change management process (William Rowell: 2013, University of Strathclyde); there is no research question, but the aim and objectives are illuminating. The aim: To characterise the variations in the engineering change management process within the product life cycle and explore the relationship between this process and artefact knowledge. Based on the findings from this study, recommendations for improving existing engineering change management practice shall be offered.
The objectives are (briefly):
- Synthesise and discuss relevant literature in the field of engineering change management
- Present empirical evidence of the activities that are enacted during the engineering change management process
- Present the impact of the research in terms of how the results should influence future engineering change management practice
- Discuss the benefits and limitations of the research findings and approach used to obtain these findings, offering conclusions and avenues for further research
These objectives can easily be reworded for my purposes. But what is the research question? At the moment, there are two:
- By what methods do organisations develop enhancements?
- How closely do those methods match the proposed process model?
Clearly, the second question has to be dropped as there is no proposed process model. The first question is in the right direction but needs to be developed a bit more. Going back to Rowell's thesis, his second research question is What types of artefact knowledge are used and created during the engineering change management process and what can be taken from this to improve the engineering change management process? So ...
- What are the steps taken by organisations in the ERP enhancement management process?
- How can these steps be generalised in order to create a model to improve the process?
That's not a bad beginning. This will require discarding (once again) a fair amount of material which is included in the current version of the proposal. Hopefully, the next version will tighter as well as being refocused; its title will now be Examining the ERP enhancement management process in Israeli SMEs.