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WORK DESIGN, PROJECT CHARACTERSTICS &
PROJECT MANAGEMENT STYLE: A
CONFIGURATION THEORY APPROACH FOR R & D
PROJECTS
Anant Mishra
Adviser : Kingshuk K. Sinha
Operations & Management Science
Carlson School of Management
University of Minnesota
Committee : Rachna Shah, Geoffrey Maruyama , Debashish Mallick
Stage in dissertation
research
 Will defend proposal in 5 months
 Currently involved in collecting qualitative data
(case studies)
Dissertation title
(tentative)
Managing R & D/Software Projects Across
Alternative Work Design Arrangements
Academic Contribution
 Develop a conceptual understanding of the
current work design landscape
 Identify critical project factors and their
differential impact on project performance
outcomes across different work design
arrangements
Practical Contribution
Provide guidance to “project management across different
work design arrangements”
Research Question
What are some of the project factors that affect project
performance across different work design arrangements ?
Primary research
methodology
Cross sectional survey, cross case analysis
Unit of observation
R & D/Software Projects
Motivation
 Dramatic changes in the practice of work
 Work design transcends organizational, professional and
country boundaries (Sinha and Van de Ven, 2005, p. 389).
 Work design arrangements like off shoring and outsourcing
becoming more like a Management Fashion
 However, success from distributed work design has not
been universal (Hinds and Mortensen, 2005).

30 % firms did not see any cost reduction (www.gartner.com)

50 % technology outsourcing agreements have failed (Hall, 2003).
Motivation (Cont.)

Existing studies capture the whole phenomenon of
distributed work under a single overarching term :
“virtual teams”.
Virtual team setting
 “One size fits all” approach to managing distributed work.
 No distinction among different work design arrangements




Collocation
Outsourcing
Offshoring
Offshore Outsourcing
Motivation (contd)
“So how can I effectively manage these different work design
arrangements ? ”
Our Focus
Taking a closer look at the individual dyads representing work
design arrangements
Understand how factors such as task characteristics and
the task management style affect performance outcomes
across the different work design arrangements.
Research context
R & D/ Software Projects
 9 out of top 10 R & D spenders have opened their newest R & D
location outsider their country (Booz Allen & Hamilton study,
2005).
 Threefold Increase in foreign R & D spending by U.S based
MNCs, from $5.2 billion in 1986 to $14.1 billion in 1997 (U.S
Dept. of Commerce report)
 Distributed software development teams spread across
multiple countries have almost become a ubiquitous
phenomenon (Carmel, 1999)
 On the increased dispersion of R&D work, Birkinshaw et al. 2002
note “… it is a matter of some importance to decide how
R & D work should be configured and coordinated”.
Why Projects ?
 Typically, R & D/Software development work takes place in the form
of projects.
 Hence management of such work is founded on the principles. of
project management.
 It is imperative to understand project management across different
work design settings.
Therefore our unit of observation is a “project”
Research Question
What is the effect of project characteristics and project
management style on project performance outcomes,
across different work design arrangements ?
Concept Definitions
Work Design Arrangements
Collocation : Within Country, Within Firm
Outsourcing : Within Country , Across Firm
Off shoring : Across Country, Within Firm
Offshore – Outsourcing : Across Country, Across Firm
Product Architecture Misalignment
Product architecture (Ulrich 1995, Fixson 2005) encompasses knowledge
about


No of components of a product
How they work together , are built and dis-assembled
 Product architecture knowledge is typically embedded in the communication
patterns of team members in development project (Sosa et al. 2004).
 When two components share a design interface, team members developing
these components are expected extensively share component design and
functionality information
 As such, if information exchange is hampered between team members
sharing a design interfaces, product architecture mis-alignment occurs.
Explicit link between product architecture and organizational
structure has been largely neglected (Krishnan and Ulrich
2001, Sosa et al. 2003)
Project Performance
Measures the extent to which a project achieves its
performance objectives.
The central objectives of an R & D project typically involve achieving
(Tatikonda and Rosenthal 2000; Smith and Reinertsen, 1998)
 a certain degree of technical performance (the technical functionality
and the quality of the product),
 developing a product within the allocated R & D budget and,
 lower development times
These objectives are set in place by the start of project,
and their achievement is evaluated at the end of project.
Project characteristics
Two commonly used project characteristics in product
development and the project management literature
(Tatikonda and Rosenthal, 2000; Shenhar and Dvir, 2003)
 Technological Uncertainty
Represents the level of familiarity with the product and the
process technology.
 Project Complexity
Refers to the degree of interdependence or interaction
between the constituent tasks of a project
Hypothesis 1 – Technological uncertainty

Information processing needs increase with technological uncertainty
increases.

Increased distance complicates this information exchange

Both cultural and language differences increase in a progressive fashion

Misinterpretations increase

In a recent Accenture study , two-thirds of 200 US business executives said
that miscommunication arising from cultural differences has caused problems
when outsourcing offshore. Different communication styles were identified as the
key factor that causes problems between onshore and offshore workers, by over
three-quarters (76 per cent) of the managers questioned.
Hypothesis 1
In projects with low product architecture mis-alignment, technological
uncertainty varies from high to low as work design arrangement
varies from collocation towards outsourcing, offshoring and
offshore outsourcing, in that order.
Hypothesis 2 – Project Complexity

Project
complexity
increases
(Tatikonda and Rosenthal, 2000)

Need for management control and coordination to manage the
complex dependencies increases

Increasing need for information processing and frequent
communication among team members in a synchronous, real time
manner performing highly dependent tasks.

Agile and Extreme Programming movements suggest pair
programming, in which programmers share desks so that they can
see each and understand the subtleties of design and debugging.
overall
task
complexity
Hypothesis 2
In projects with low product architecture mis-alignment, project
complexity varies from high to low as work design arrangement
varies from collocation towards outsourcing, offshoring and
offshore outsourcing, in that order.
Project Management Style
Two polarizing project management styles

Planned or formal management style
Extensive planning and calculated implementation as well as
a methodological approach to expanding project knowledge
(e.g. Clark and Fujimoto, 1991)

Emergent or flexible management style
The emergent management style on the other hand thrives in
facilitating a team member’s creativity, flexibility and
improvisation.
Hypothesis 3 – Project Management Style

Any team member can be considered a repository of Implicit and
Explicit knowledge

Use of norms and standard procedures helps convert implicit
knowledge into explicit knowledge.

Interactions across boundaries are inherently complex,

A shared view of their task and strong, trusting relationships among
each other (Maznevski, 1994) is required.

This can be developed by way of establishing a common language
and procedure for communication through standards, protocols etc.
Hypothesis 3
In projects with low product architecture mis-alignment, project
management style from a emergent style to a planned style as work
design arrangement varies from collocation towards outsourcing,
offshoring and offshore outsourcing, in that order.
However While each of the I.V’s ( work design choice, project
characterstics and project management style ) are essential, they
are not sufficient individually to prevent Product Architecture misalignment
Need for a Configuration approach (Sinha and Van de Ven, 2005)
“Managers typically encounter conflicting demands among
context, design and outcomes in their work system. Realistic
choices in work design , of course are always limited by the
feasible alternatives available to decision makers” (p.389)
A configuration approach attempts to explain how a work system is
designed from the interaction of its constituent elements taken together
as a whole instead of adopting a reductionist attitude
Elements of configuration
theory
Elements of a work system
Strategy
Project Management Style
Structure
Work Design arrangement
Environment
Project Characterstics
‘Fit’ represents a set of gestalts or feasible sets of equally
effective patterns of work design choice, project characteristics
and the project management style
Hypothesis 4 : Fit between work design arrangements, project
characteristics and project management style is negatively
associated with product architecture mis-alignment.
Hypothesis 5: Product architecture mis-alignment is negatively
associated with project performance.
Proposed Steps in Research Design
Step 1 : Carry out case studies of R & D/Software projects in
each of the work design choices.
Substantiate a priori constructs and identify newer constructs.
Currently interviewing project managers and team members in a
Fortune 500 firm working on both offshoring and offshore-outsourcing
projects ( embedded software development) with India.
Step 2 : Finalize the conceptual framework for testing
In process
Step 3 : Development of a preliminary measurement
instrument and pilot testing
Unit of analysis
–
Unit of observation –
Project ( Software Development / R & D)
Project Managers, team members
Adapt measures for constructs from existing studies
Technological uncertainty - Song and Montoya-Weiss (2001),
Nidumolu (1995)
Project Complexity
- Tatikonda and Rosenthal (2000)
Project Management Style - Tatikonda and Rosenthal (2000)
Work Design Choice
- Categorical Variable
Project Performance
- Smith and Reinerstein, Tatikonda
and Rosenthal
Product Architecture Mis-alignment – developed by self
Step 4 : Large Scale Data collection and test for internal
consistency
(reliability
using
Cronbach’s
alpha
,convergent validity and discriminant validity)
Step 5 : Test the proposed relationships
Hypotheses 1-3
Categorize project architecture mis-alignment into high and low
Compare means of independent variables
For the hypotheses to hold, one would expect to see a clearly decreasing trend in
the means of I.V moving across from collocation to offshore-outsourcing.
Hypothesis 4
Categorize I.V’s into two categories (High , Low) . Total no of theoretical
distinct pattern would be 32
(4 work design choices * 2 categories of technological uncertainty * 2 categories of
technological complexity * 2 categories of project management style
Incongruent combinations should be observed less frequently.
Compute average project architecture mis-alignment for projects in each
combination and compare.
Hypothesis 5
Regress Project performance on Project Architecture Mis-Alignment
Potential Contributions
 A rigorous conceptual understanding of the various
factors that result in effective work design choices
 Blend project management literature with distributed
organization of work.
 Addresses the relative lack of literature in OM on
distributed work design.

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