Just Do It!

Why is blogging important?  This is the question I’ve found myself asking on many occasion.   While driving home yesterday the question again came up and it hit me.  Blogging is not primarily for the author but for others…  When one looks at the accelerating possibilities of sharing, it becomes obvious – don’t only consume but produce and share in the spirit the technology offers.  The amount of times I’ve checked into #phdchat and consumed useful resources even on a taxi ride home, see these examples:

So what can I share?  Well, it has been a busy first quarter 2012 with my MRes dissertation submission, an advanced quantitative methods class, an interdisciplinary research class,  and knowledge exchange via submitting a paper to BAM2012, and presenting a paper at 6th Making Projects Critical Workshop (MPC6) hosted this year by the Manchester Business School.

My being very new to the university system, I have to say that I’ve found this knowledge exchange phase in the research cycle really interesting.  As @JeffreyKeefer has mentioned in his own research – the doctoral journey can be seen as as set of liminal experiences, as ‘aha’ moments, as identity construction, and sometimes as a rite of passage if you like.  Attending the MPC6 I had exactly these types of moments.


At the opening of MPC6, after listening to Dr Davide Nicolini (keynote speaker) I felt a sense of unease that my research foundations in narrative might not be as stable as I first thought.  In particular how exploring micro-practices and objects rather than what people say, can highlight some interesting perspectives.  This should not be of a great surprise though as a friend of mine is a Vygotsky and Activity Theory fan – but this was the first time I’d seen it come up elsewhere.  That said, I still believe narrative inquiry is a wonderful resource but perhaps can be strengthened by looking at other objects too.

During the workshop, I got to see the depth and breadth of the attendees and their research; to see what’s hot; and to meet people I had previously read and referenced in my own work.   Notably for me, there was a sense in which I felt experienced scholars/researchers also struggle with the significance of their research, what it might mean in the bigger picture, is it appealing to others, and is it getting support from one’s peers?  This experience is helpful to the novice researchers – me included.

I did experience a scary ‘elephant in the room’ moment when the realization surfaced that when a researcher takes some empirical data, he/she can probably explain what one sees in any multiple of theoretical frames.  So what is science here?  Is the identity frame better or worse than the cultural frame, or the political frame or another frame for describing and explaining our world?  This list can go on and on – and to be honest this insight was a rather troubling moment.  What’s the point – might be asked about here…  A friend, highlighted the process of building social capital and identity construction, in other words building up currency and exchange value in the academic market place.  Something about this is bothering, but will require more thought.

At the closing keynote, I also experienced a ‘reminder’ from Dr Damian O’Doherty whose creative ethnographic study took me back to my own MBA project.  To the fact that I’m drawn to the creative end of academic expression of research through stories…. Absolutely loved his presentation.  Now while I’m mostly content with my own research there was a sense in which I’d somehow compromised my passion for conformance to the ‘acceptable’.  On the plus side, I coined and used the term ‘damaged identity’, and I got a feeling from feedback and nods during the presentation that my research was well received.

In the end I felt totally at home amongst some wonderful people who were researching in the same ‘critical space’ around the project construct.   There were two other presentations in identity (where my research is located) so that was particularly neat.   What I didn’t make use of, and I will at future events – is to listen more carefully for criticism and future ideas.  I noticed other presenters got their notebooks out when their peers were speaking and sharing.  I was told that workshops can be better than conferences as they appear more intimate.  I agree with that.

In sum, there good reasons for you to get your research out there.  From my own experience, thanks to the MPC6 organisers, speakers, and participants – I certainly feel more confident, I have made some new friends, met some top scholars in my field, and I now feel part of something.  Research that just sits out there unread on a shelf somewhere has got to be a real shame.  Don’t be afraid.  Take risks and get your research out there.  I’m already thinking about where to take my PhD research proposal so I can contribute and participate in MPC7 in 18 months!

To tie this back to blogging – my view is that this medium can be another ‘kind of’ community and knowledge share….although the risks are different!!!  A chance to put yourself out there, to not only consume but to contribute, and to participate actively in our academic fields.

PS. The gentleman in the photo opening the conference – Dr Damian Hodgson, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Business School.


Price of being critical

February 24, 2012 2 comments

Well it has been a strange week if I’m honest.  I came to Glasgow to to learn about multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research.  Achieved.  However, I didn’t expect to come away with such a dark feeling on how difficult and even alienating research across disciplines appears to be. The advice quoting an important academic in the area is “Only do research across disciplines if you really have to!”   What is perhaps more important is that this approach of telling PhD students “the way it is” in such a critical fashion, they say – enables researchers to go in with their eyes wide open.

This got me thinking – why does this bother me?  Then I realized.  My own pilot research on identity in project management is too in this critical perhaps negative spirit.  Soon I’m going to present my findings at a practitioner conference with the idea of giving project managers the information in order to emancipate themselves…. To share with them some of the structure that shape their identities.  I believe this is in the spirit of Michael Foucault also.  Tell it the way it is and let the individual deal with it.

My problem here is that this just doesn’t feel too great.  Do I want people to walk away from one of my presentation feeling uneasy, taken advantage of, or disappointed in a system that they have dedicated their careers?  Is this the price to pay for doing critical research?  Most if not all presentations at practitioner conferences in particular have such a functional and above all positive message.  So what do I do?  Do I force some positive messages into my presentation, or do I take the Foucault option?

Love to hear from other critical researchers… how do you think I can come to terms with this?

Time to get on the plane back to the UAE!

Categories: Research Methods Tags: ,

Moving on quickly then to PhD proposal

I’ve no idea whether this blog will make any sense today, but I just feel the need to write a couple of things down…

My MRes dissertation (aka pilot study), on the effects of project life on project manager identity is now complete, and in its final packaging before sending to the external examiner.  I’ve started some knowledge exchange in terms of one conference and another workshop in April.  For some reason though, I’ve found that there is a strong desire to move on to my PhD proposal, especially after making the following few realizations (in no particular order).

1. My MRes was great, and an interesting and rewarding research experience.  However, I felt near the end somewhat dissatisfied with the ‘shakey’ and bland case study methods in identity research, particularly around any tie back to ontological and epistemological foundations.  Something lacked a little here without trying to undermine it too much.  I think it is good research, just Master level research.  This I want/need to correct during my transition to new PhD.

2. Identity research from the organisational theorists’ perspectives has also left me a little unsatisfied.  In fact, I’ll agree with Mats Alvesson that there is a considerable myopathy within identity’s philosophical paradigms.  I would prefer to be more holistic in my PhD identity research so I’ve been looking for alternatives.  That’s when I stumbled across Paul Ricoeur.

3. Paul Ricoeur offers a considerable depth for me as a researcher.  From the hermeneutic cycle which I do like as a method to increasing understanding – like reflexive practice, and not claiming any certainty etc.  It also fits with my beliefs around the social construction of human reality.  Next his work on time and narrative, and most important to my research – his conception of narrative identity.

I’m now reading about his structured approach to narrative interpretation through Mimesis.  Mimesis 1, the pre-configuration of narratives events, Mimesis 2, configuration using employment, and Mimesis 3 – a hermeneutic I suppose in the reconfiguration with the addition of the researcher’s/readers own meaning.  I can sense this fits quite well with Wittgenstein’s language games.  I see to that there will be alternatives…  Now, I don’t proclaim to have a great depth of understanding yet, but there is a sense in which this all feels like a safe and exciting place to start my journey.  If anyone has any PhDs, Masters or even articles on Ricoeurian Hermeneutic analysis I’d be most grateful for a heads up on where to find these.

4. Finally, on one hand, I’ve narrowed my interest to specifically the effects of “project success and failure” and on the other hand, widened my interest to the notion of professional manager identity i.e. not necessarily certified project manager.  Ricoeur’s narrative identity looks like a new way of conceptualizing what happens to peoples plots after project success/failure, and I think it will fit well with managers who will need to tell me their stories either by interview, or through text (say a book, blog, autobiography etc)  Narrative identity looks to allow things that seemed lacking in other theories such as allowing the combining of history and fiction; the past, present and future (temporal aspects);  the implicit and explicit; the concordance and discordance; etc.  I currently though to be fair – I do not really understand yet what is on offer and what is not.

I have some reservations on Ricoeur, particularly as he had such a strong evaluative, ethical, moral, and christian side to his works which rubs me up the wrong way a bit.  I’ve always preferred existentialist philosophers better such as Nietzsche or Jen Paul Satre and the aesthetic life.  But at least, another favorite of mine – Heidegger is foundational to Ricoeur.  Nevertheless, reservations aside, I think I’m on my way – and the sense-breaking has begun again as I try to understand his writings and read others writings of him.  When I just thought I understood what identity is… it is once again taken away from me.  How exciting!!!!

Maintaining Flexibile Images of Projects

January 25, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been reading a book that reflects much of my own preoccupations about the overly prescriptive, universal, rational, linear and technical discipline of project management.  This book is called  Images of Project by Mark Winter and Tony Szczepanek written in 2009.

Why has it taken 2 years to find me I do not know.  My recent research into project manager identity did highlight causes for concern in the tendency of myopic thinking by project managers from standards from national and international professional project management associations.   I’m a project manager practitioner and a projects researcher myself.  Both PMI PMP and OGC Prince 2 certified, I have a MBA, and nearing the end of my MRes on route to PhD!  My preoccupation has always been that one size does not fit all in the project world – and have struggled with narrow thinking of project management offices who are TRYING to improve project capability and performance.  PMI I think try to encourage flexible thinking, but many organizations take a extreme standardization route – making project method a law – that in the end may contribute to project failure.

In this book, these core conceptions of the project are truly tested.  I found Winter and Szczepanek were able to articulate what had been only my intuition before – and not put into words.  Their premise  is that knowledge and theory guides experience and practice which in turn loops around to inform/yeild more knowledge and theory.  This is not new of course, but they highlight that if you start with a certain image about a project that this image automatically (perhaps unconsciously) guides subsequent action i.e. if you see a project as something with charter/scope/schedule/critical path/budget/deliverables etc. (often a typical view of the project) then this is the framework you will use to manage the project.  But, some projects the scope is not certain – you may not even know what the problem is yet.  Critical path analysis may be unhelpful as a more social/political and iterative mode of operation is best.  Sometimes there may be a intervention, or management of an organizational change required.  In each of these cases using a different image, and therefore a different framework (or overlapping frameworks) will be better placed to achieve the outcomes desired.

Of course, this will be a bit of a stretch for project managers – as they have been largely trained and certified in the core conception, process and skills in a project.  Yet, I am confident that it is a stretch that is possible for project managers.  Even professional associations are adapting e.g. you can see this in PMI’s agile method, or adding stakeholder management/engagement to their standards…. but unfortunately it does not help a great deal your emphasis is misplaced from the first place.

The book might be criticized for being a little repetitive at times but I can see this only helping to get the point across.  For me they were already singing to the converted, and have just given me examples of both situations and appropriate frameworks that can be used in my own projects.  You will get this benefit too.  I thoroughly recommend that any serious programme or project manager buy this book.  It is a bit pricey, but in my humble opinion will be a very good investment, and give you some new ways of understanding, and constructing projects.  I would go so far to say this book should become ‘core’ text on all project management education programmes.

After all, projects are socially constructed realities with very real effects on ours, and societies wellbeing.

MRes Dissertation ready for submission…

It has been two months since my last post.  Blogging becomes a real struggle I find, when one is doing academic writing at the same time.  Good news is that the second major dissertation draft was accepted by my supervisor last week – with only a few minor tweaks.

2011 was a great year for me as a researcher.  From getting started on the first philosophy and research methods classes, later presenting the proposed research at the colloquium, then selecting a case study, collecting data, analyzing data, theorizing and finally writing it all up.  What a year!

Now it’s January 2012, the MRes dissertation is ready to submit and for the first time I feel ‘good’ that at last – I have something to say…. better said my research findings and theorizing has something to say i.e. wants to get ‘out there’ in the world!  Not only has this research progressed, my research skills have improved, along with the sense in which as a human being I have grown too!   As I look more deeply into the realities of the world, and how we can know what we know to any degree of certainty – has had a destabilizing effect, yet it is also quite satisfying to progress and understand better these debates.  Moreover, as this ability to ‘see’ and ‘understand’ the world improves – one’s research effectiveness improves along with it.

During 2012 I hopefully will have 2 or 3 opportunities to share my foundational research.  First at a conference in Abu Dhabi for practitioners at the Project to the Point conference.  Second, hopefully in Manchester I will be accepted to speak as the Making Projects Critical workshop, and perhaps even BAM in collaboration with my supervisors later in the year.

My PhD topic is also evolving quite rapidly and will build on my MRes research that looked into the effects of project life on project manager identities.  A five year roadmap is now on the wall, mapped out, and ready to go.

This is a short blog – but it is about finding the balance between sharing my progress and getting on with the outstanding papers, presentations, and MRes classes complete so I can migrate to PhD student ‘full’ later in 2012.


Categories: Reflection

Some progress at last.

You know sometimes the weeks just pass you by and you wonder just what have I achieved?  These past two months have felt like that but I studiously have kept chipping away at what seems a terribly large task – doing my MRes dissertation on route to starting the PhD full next year.

After collecting data during June and July, analyzing data August and September, October has been a month where I stopped opening NVivo so much, and began to write again.  In that time, I pulled out all my papers to read and my first iteration of the Lit. Review from April to have another go at getting a Lit. Review chapter out.  Pleasingly, a couple things occurred. 1. My actually having spent time doing research I had unconsciously become more informed about the subject, and my re-reading key articles a whole set of ideas seemed to connect in my brain!  2. This increased understanding seemed to both help me critique my earlier work in April, and speed ahead in writing a more focused second iteration.

I have been struggling with the reductionism required in writing a Findings chapter, and I still have much work to do in this area.  The fact is that I seem like many to have way too much material, and I have had that feeling of trying to report everything that I have found with appropriate evidences.  As the weeks go by, I have found that writing without word constraints followed by moving to write something else creates some sort of space where I can be a bit more ruthless.  Still more work to do here though.

The methods chapter thankfully I leveraged much from the earlier essays, and my journal of actual research choices and facts along the way.  Again, like the Lit. Review I can see more clearly what to keep and what to drop.  Even today, I went through my papers I had set aside with notes in the margins – and further refined the theory aligned to my research actions.

Last week, however, I’ll admit to a real bout of shock, perhaps trepidation as I realized that since Alvesson and Willmott’s original 2002 seminal article on Identity Regulation, that scholars have certainly written a lot more about the subject, and after careful reading I though – “shit, much of what I see in my findings has been already said”.  Thankfully, the MRes is not that kind of dissertation like the PhD will be, but given some responses to my tweet on the subject there was some really good comments, one in particular from @NSRiazat who says new knowledge comes from ‘how you weave the story’, and this comment combined with my good friend Paul that I was approaching the discussion chapter with a negative frame of mind – woke me up to the fact that yes – I can do this!

Not that it is the requirement of the MRes but I will make the claim that I’m ‘creating’ something worthwhile, in two ways: 1. I’m extending Alvesson and Willmott’s model to include some aspects found in my research not in their paper, and in some case supported by others work, and 2. that this new model is the first time I have seen these broadly discussed areas in one place.

Additionally, after revising my aims that underpin the research – I can also see both practical implications for project managers and managerial implications for organizations who may make use of identity regulation in a positive way.

So all in all, I’m chuffed – and ready to start the Discussion Chapter now.  I can see light at the end of this first tunnel in order to think more deeply about how my PhD will take my initial work further – AND – that I will in time need to step my game up to another level, the recent realization that professional academics really make it hard for PhD students to create new knowledge as they are so seasoned and bloody good at it!  But, it can be done, of course.

This will be my fastest blog ever – 15 mins from start to finish… it was all just sitting in my head to posted.

I’d love to hear from others who have had similar experiences during their research…

Can conferences motivate the researcher…

Ok, so its been more than a month since my last blog for various reasons.  One reason is when I’m really focused on a piece of work, blogging seems like a unnecessary distraction.  Another reason is the opposite when I’m totally un-focused.  I feel bad due to my slow progress therefore there is no way I’ll write a blog entry out – simply out of guilt.  This weekend I found myself in the latter – but I promised myself to at least write a few words!  I don’t usually suffer from procrastination, but a combination of interesting stuff going on at work, family projects, X Factor, and not to forget the Rugby World Cup (Go All Blacks) – I’ve been slipping to the dark-side.

Let me try to see if I can remember what I’ve been doing these past four weeks:

  1. I did some documentary analysis.  I’ve found that DA looks likes it kind of adds evidence in the space between interview data, and never really appear primary evidence.
  2. I was having some real fun theorizing and drawing boxes with arrows between them, and then trying to explain them to whoever would listen.  I think I’ve taken this part as far as I need to for now.
  3. I had a major realization during a 3 hour shisha with a good friend @pkpolava, that I had made a serious error getting my findings work and theorizing work mixed up in NVivo.  I had to take some quick back steps to make sure I could maintain integrity in my analysis….Panic is over now.
  4. I spent one day cut/pasting from my previous proposal and methods work into a dissertation Scrivener project file – started some writing at last for the final paper….
  5. Lastly, I’ve moved from coding to extracting the evidence from my NVivo project into the same Scrivener project.
I’m wondering how this sounds for around 4-5 weeks of part-time effort.  A little light for me.  Looking back, it doesn’t appear so bad, but I’ll admit the momentum seems to be slowing…. I just feel it.  So, where am I going to find the impetus to get moving again????  One possibility (come from an email yesterday) is a call for papers for the Making Project Critical Workshop that will be held in Manchester April 2012. Here is some information  on last year’s workshop:  http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/bl/bbs/research/bcloe/newsinshort/makingprojectscritical.aspx
Personally I think my research totally fits here and I’m getting excited about the possibility of writing a paper for it.  Only problem is that I’ve no idea how to do so?  So any advise on how to do this, or ideas on how to maintain momentum in research projects – then please let me know :o)
441 words – at least I kept my promise to myself.