Creating synergy in project management research on taught master's degrees

Abstract

This paper proposes a collaborative research methodology for universities with taught master's degrees in project management. Project management is a constantly evolving field and there are always topics of interest that need to be researched. Most post-graduate studies in project management, however, take place on taught master's degrees, where students do course work and may be required to do limited research in the field of project management. Students enrolled in these taught master's degree programs are usually employed and thus have access to project information and personnel. This paper presents a six-phased methodology that can be used to conduct grounded research in project management utilising the networks, expertise, and experience of students enrolled on taught master's degree programs. The paper does not discuss specific topics of study.

Keywords: project management research; taught master's degrees; project management research collaboration

Introduction

According to Bredillet (2009) project management is an evolving field from both academic and business perspectives. A lot of research in the various knowledge areas of project management is necessary, as most project management knowledge is based on practical experience and not on grounded research.

An exploratory search of the Internet shows that there are over 100 universities in the United Kingdom and the United States alone that present an MBA or MS program in project management (McDougal, 2011). The Project Management Institute (PMI) Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) confirms the credibility and qualifications of degree programs in project management (PMI, 2011) and as of 30 November 2011, the status was as follows:

  • United States: 18 universities with 28 master's programs
  • Latin America: 1 university with one master's program
  • Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA): 9 universities with 10 master's programs
  • Asia Pacific: 8 universities with 10 master's programs

From the above, it is clear that there are many project management master's degree programs. Most of these programs are taught master's, which means that students have to complete several modules in order to obtain their degrees. Very few of the master's programs in project management are full research master's degrees. In some of the programs, students are expected to complete a capstone project or mini-dissertation in which they are expected to do research.

This means that there are many students enrolling for master's degrees in project management but that the research output quantity for these degrees is low and the quality is also not of a high standard. Most students enrolled in master's degree programs in project management are employed full time, which means that the students are working on projects and have access to fellow employees to gather data for research.

The question is: Can the state of project management research be improved by utilising the resources available in the many taught master's degrees?

This paper suggests that collaboration projects be set up between various universities that present taught master's degrees in project management so that grounded research can be done in various project management subjects of interest. This paper does not address the subjects that should be researched but rather suggests a mechanism that can be used to perform quality project management research.

The subjects of interest will need to be researched separately once the cooperation agreements have been set up between the various universities.

Project Phases and Durations

Phase 1: Feasibility study (1 year)

In this phase, a study will be done to determine how many universities have MBA, Mcom, MPM, MEM, or MTM programmes with a specialisation in project management. Contact will then be made with the project management specialists at these universities in order to determine whether they would like to participate in this project.

During this phase, a study will also be done on the state of project management research. What is the current research output of taught master's in project management programs? What topics are currently addressed in the mini-dissertations from these programs? What is the current state of project management research? And, what are the burning topics requiring research in project management?

At the end of the phase, some topics that require further research will then be selected. The number of topics will depend on the number of universities participating and the number of students who are available.

Phase 2: Literature survey and exploratory study (1 year)

During this phase, the literature on the topic of interest will be studied and summarized by the students. Each student will also conduct an exploratory study in the form of a focus group, structured interviews, Delphi study, or case study in order to gather primary data addressing the problem.

The exploratory phase will consist of the following tasks for the students: Taking part in a focus group, structure interview, or Delphi study with other students with questions generated by the lecturers involved; extensive literature survey on the topic of interest; and, exploratory study in the student's organisation using either: focus groups, structured interviews, or Delphi studies to gather preliminary information. The data gathered during this phase will be analysed by the lecturers involved and a comprehensive survey questionnaire will be generated that will be used to gather the detailed data in the next phase.

Phase 3: Survey questionnaire pilot phase (1 year)

The pilot phase will consist of the following tasks for the students: Complete the pilot questionnaire with other students in the course; update the literature review with the latest available literature and also to ensure that no critical literature has been omitted; and piloting of the questionnaire generated during the previous phase. Students will administer the questionnaires to as many participants in their work environment as possible; students will analyse the data for the questionnaires that they administered.

The data gathered by the students will be collated into a database. The data will be statistically analysed to ensure that the questionnaire meets quality standards. Enough data must be captured in order to statistically verify the survey instrument.

Phase 4: Data gathering and analysis (3 to 4 years)

The data gathering and analysis phase will consist of the following tasks for the students: Completing the survey questionnaire with other students in the course; updating the literature review with the latest available literature and also to ensure that no critical literature has been omitted; the survey questionnaire developed during phase 2 will be administered by the students to as many respondents in their work environment as possible during this phase; and students will analyse the data for the questionnaires that they administered.

Data gathered by students will be collated and statistically analysed in order to determine trends. The data will be analysed and conclusions drawn that contribute to the theory and practice of project management. A paper will be written by the lecturers to be presented at one of the project management research conferences as well as for publication in a peer-reviewed project management journal. A case study protocol will be developed by the lecturers involved, which will be used by the students in Phase 4.

Phase 5: Evaluation phase (2 to 3 years)

The data gathering and analysis phase will consist of the following tasks for the students: Update the literature review with the latest available literature and also to ensure that no critical literature has been omitted; conduct case studies in their work environments using the case study protocol developed during the previous phase; and students will do an analysis of the case study done in their environment.

The lecturers involved will collate the data gathered by the students and do cross-case analyses to determine whether the statistical trends discovered in Phase 3 relate to practice.

Phase 6: Consolidation phase (1 to 2 years)

During the consolidation phase, a book will be written on the topic under study with the purpose of adding to project management theory.

References

Bredillet, C.N. (2009). Mapping the dynamics of the project management field: Project management in action (Part 3). Project Management Journal (40)3, 2–5.

McDougal, A. (2011). Masters in project management. Search 100+ degree programs online. Retrieved from http://mastersinprojectmanagement.com/

Project Management Institute (2011). Directory of GAC Accredited Degree Programs. Project Management Institute. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/Professional-Development/Global-Accreditation-Center-Degree-Directory.aspx

©2012 Project Management Institute

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