Archive for March, 2011

Mapping or Writing?

To map or to write?  Hmmmm… This is an interesting question when doing your literature review.  Well – Hart in his 2002 book ‘Doing a Literature Review’ recommends it!   While his other book on doing a literature search seems less useful with rapid technology changes, I think this one is a gem.  So good I have ordered my own copy rather than get it out from the library.

As you know – I have recently I entered the world of Identity and Project Management literature in order to see what is being said out there, and to try and evolve a research problem for my MRes.   I’ll admit that reading this book was timely.

Firstly, I started on project management – I searched and found (with some difficulty I might add) some interesting papers; followed by mapping out what the authors were saying and when they said it.  I then drew various arrows from box to box to connect the ideas, and as I started to shuffle them about some insights started to emerge that I wasn’t getting just from reading alone.  Ideas certainly emerged from the mapping process itself.

Secondly, I went to the identity studies side – well this was much more difficult as many more people have written much more about the topic from many philosophical perspectives.  Nevertheless, I continued to map out the seminal articles as I found them, and started to tease out the debates in academic thought.  Frankly, before no time the map became unmanageable.  I think due to the volume of the boxes I was actually starting to lose the thread.  Eventually I found a critical path and I noticed using colours was helping.  Note though that these maps were still separate!

I tried to lower the expectations on completing a lit. review chapter by mid april, but when I mentioned this to my supervisor I was told – I was told to stop mapping and start writing!

So I purchased Scrivener (thanks Jeffrey for the tip), and started to write topic by topic, subject by subject, yet informed from my mapping and my note taking during reading.

What is pretty cool using the Scrivener software is how the tree structure and the fragments can be moved around in Scrivener so your structure and content kind of evolves together.  The really really (yes I did put really in twice) weird thing was how the word count little by little just kept building up…. When you are writing in small fragments 250 words or so, it takes no time to accumulate :o)

Personally, I have found mapping to be pretty useful – to a point, and writing in Scrivener also productive.  So good bye to Microsoft word as a writing tool – its now relegated to formatting.

The only small complaint I have with scrivener is how to insert and manage references.  I use Mendeley, and I saw no option to embed references as you go…. that’s a bummer.  However, as I have had trouble writing in the past – I see it as a lesser of the two evils.

PS. Lit. Review Chapter with these tools emerged out of thin air and I submitted it early!  Why don’t you give them a go?

Hart, C., 2002. Doing a Literature Review, SAGE Publications.


Emerging Ideas

This past few weeks I have been working on my preliminary literature review chapter, attempting to summarize much reading since December, to explore and explain the identity field, and seek out contemporary issues in Project Management (see last blog entry) with the idea of fleshing out the research topic and justifying the problem/question.


To call it a Literature review is a stretch.  I’m not trying to undermine my effort, it is only that at this time it is still rather superficial and broad, and I have not had the time to really explore and get critical in the specific literature – importantly because I have not chosen what that area I should be diving into deeply.


There has been a plethora of terms that have to be placed in their respective locale such as identity construction, work, regulation, identification, dis-identification, organizational identity, corporate identity, culture, and sense making.  Interestingly so far, exploring identity concepts and definitions has highlighted three important considerations:

  • The wide theoretical perspectives in identity research seems particularly extensive and pertinent.  It not only determines what people have researched before, how they have researched, and what sort of questions are relevant, but even the definitions can change depending on your angle..  To say the least – there are some real divisions between the essentialists, constructivists, critical-ists, post modernists etc.
  • Identity being entitiative or processual is another important distinction, i.e. seeing identity as a ‘thing’ or seeing it as a constructed, ongoing, negotiated process.  This is on one hand directly related to theoretical perspective but on the other hand it can be different or have multiple theoretical perspectives also e.g. you could take a critical view of organisational identity (essentialist) on project teams (using social constructivist methods).
  • Identity entitative, or processual can exist at multiple levels be it at a macro, meso or micro level entity i.e. organization, group (project team), or individual.  Here it seems important to ask what level of unit analysis am I interested in pursuing?


Well, after much reading, mapping, and writing – I have hit a bump or is it an opportunity?  Up till now my research questions have been:


  1. “How and why might using the identity lens be salient for project management theory and practice?”, and


  1. “How are identity construction processes employed within and around projects?”


At this point in my literature review I get the sense that the question how might the popular identity lens be used in project management might be better thought of as an overall aim rather than a research question requiring empirical research.  It might even be possible to answer this question first as a product of the literature review and a conceptualization of identity theory.


The Project Management and Identity conceptualization process is still on-going, nevertheless, it is now pointing to new questions on what to research.   Within the boundary of project management, I cross referenced Identity Concepts with Theoretical Perspectives and placed throughout (well trying to) some new questions that could be manageable and interesting.  With respect to the second question (which was included in the cross reference), ‘How are identity construction processes employed within and around projects?’, while it stands up as a research question, and sits within the social constructivist, interpretivist, and perhaps pragmatist perspectives.


However, I find myself asking, is it an interesting and worthwhile question?  Is it the ONE that I want to continue further in this project?  For example, just one quick idea – if I took a critical perspective then I might explore how individual project team members or project managers might be exploited by their organizations project management practices, or the project management discipline’s discourse.


It is to my great surprise and dismay that I’ve come around a full loop since the December Research Philosophy Course.  I thought I had moved on from that subject.  But within Identity research there seems to be a critical need to consider the theoretical perspective as you can’t even reach a set of definitions until you do, not to forget the implications for the research aims, questions and design.


From last week’s blog, one of the issues in Project Management is 1) the lack of critical work on the dominant rational discourse, and 2) the lack of exploration on social and behavioural perspectives that accompanies practice.  Can I kill two birds with one stone, namely using an identity concept as that stone, do I need to keep reading and writing, or should I consider some preliminary empirical research to help answer this question?


Love to hear from you.  Let me know your thoughts on this stage in the journey!

Preliminary Literature Review

Well it has been over one month since I submitted a blog entry!  Main reason was sending my mac to the iStyle service centre after it unexpectedly died.  While still not in my possession, I did however manage to get hold of the iweb site file enabling me to make a post today.  So, what’s been happening this past month?


First, I have settled down a lot and feel much more comfortable with the new pace and flow.  I worked studiously on the research methods assignment – for me an analysis of Case Study and Ethnography in Identity Research.  Input from my new advisor was both timely and significant, and in the end I feel that a most useful conclusion was reached.  I’ll share with you this here!


“… a case study research design is appealing.   The literature offers many benefits to the novice researcher including help in placing a boundary around the research; methodological rigour; guidance in theory building; and what constitutes acceptable quality and presentation.  Moreover, case study grants the researcher some freedom to embrace the relative strengths of ethnographic genres such as partial, self, or auto ethnography.  Lastly, the disbenefits to the novice researcher that come from multi- or mixed- method approaches has not gone unnoticed.  The epistemological, validity, and generalisation concerns, combined with the advanced researcher skill required to successfully perform case study work is an intimidating prospect, yet with support, planning, and skill building an achievable one.”


After sending this essay in for grading I prepared an overall roadmap on the MRes component – the image for today’s blog entry.


Since December 2010, I have been reading voraciously albeit not that efficiently on the subject of Identity in preparation for writing a preliminary literature review.  I’ll admit it initially looked like a niche sub-field, but I’ll suggest now it looks as big as other in organisational studies.


As I tried to explore how I might turn this reading into writing – I again called on my supervisor for advice.  In project management in particular, how does one perform a review of practically speaking non existent literature?  The suggestion duly followed was to read contemporary literature and identify the relevant issues presently facing project management, and only then see how identity research might be applicable to solving these sorts of issues.


This advice fitted nicely and since then I have used a couple of methods i.e. the venn diagram, and cognitive mapping to help me come to a detail set of questions the literature review will help me answer including:

  • Why research Project Management?
  • What are the contemporary issues in Project Management?
  • Who are the principal scholars in Project Management?
  • Why research Identity in Organisations?
  • Why use the Identity and Discourse Lens in Project Management?
  • What are the principle identity concepts, and who are the principal scholars?
  • What are the discursive theories and who are the principal scholars?
  • What are the most relevant identity and discursive theories to this research project?
  • What are the key areas of debate in Identity Studies and Project Management?
  • Where is the existing knowledge thin and subject to challenge?
  • Where are there gaps in the literature?
  • What are the main conclusions from previous Identity research?
  • What have been the main research questions in the past?


The next step I found myself searching and downloading many articles to add to my growing collection that came up from the searches.  My identity collection was now being supplemented by Project Management articles and one immediate finding was that project management a sub-field of management studies is not well represented in the top category journals.


Since I’ve worked in the field of Project Management for more than 20 years, up until now I’ve maintained an intuitive set of assumptions to even come up with the idea that identity research could be helpful in addressing project management issues – but no idea why or if anyone else would agree.


I’m smiling today as I can say that my initial view has been validated.  Principle issues facing Project Management are:

  1. its under-researched and under-theorized, and not represented in top academic journals
  2. the high failure rates (accepted success being a fiercely contested concept) are being contributed to through a modernist, technicist, scientific, and rational discourse
  3. social and behavioural perspectives are under-researched
  4. projects due to their contingency are inherently difficult to research
  5. the inherent ‘fluid’ organisation creates tension with the ‘solid’ project
  6. the fast and growing uptake of project management as a profession in organisations means its time for critical studies and a time for maturing this sub-field of management.


While not all the above can be addressed equally nor fully by my proposed research, I am at least going to attempt to:

  • add to the research literature (1);
  • challenge the modern discourse by looking at social and behavioural aspects through the identity lens (2,3);
  • perform ‘thick description’ research through case study – called for in both Identity and Project Management research (4);
  • explore the discourse in and around projects (5); and
  • attempt at least to maintain a critical and interpretive perspective throughout (6).


Frankly, while little writing has eventuated so far, my reaching this initial point where the practitioner form of knowing matches academic thinking is most rewarding.


Given, this positive start – I’ll now move during the next 4 available weekends (of 6 possible) to consolidate my reading and current state of Identity literature.   On a side note, I’m very much looking forward to meeting my supervisor in April, and getting the very necessary feedback on my progress and plans.  Like any project – looking at the whole can be extremely daunting, but when you break it down into what will be albeit non-linear chunks of work – it does reduce the cognitive load!


To finish up I would like to get some comments on the value of blogging!  Can anyone tell me why I should continue maintaining this blog as I have survived over one month without it!  Should it go or should it stay?


I’ll welcome all comments on the matter.