Master's Thesis Research Overview
Updated: Jan 27
First, I’ll give some theoretical background on the research.
After hearing about issues in planning projects, I was frustrated and curious- how can planning organizations deliver successful projects? How does the way of working in an organization affect this? In order to begin research on the subject, “success” had to first be defined. This was done by adapting the iron triangle to the planning context. Three success indicators were determined: (use of) money, time, and (serving) citizens.
Note: While there is no universal definition of success, this is how it was operationalized for this research.
In order to arrive at a way of working that yields successful projects, it is necessary to transition from what is happening now. This concept of a transition served as a theoretical framework and led to a research question around the subject: How can planning departments transition to working on projects in a way that uses less money and time while better serving citizens? To further operationalize this, a way of working with extensive literature that is already in widespread use in the IT and project management fields was selected to be studied: “agile”. To break the research into manageable chunks, three sub-questions were derived from Geels’ theory on transitions:
Theoretical steps & sub-questions (images adapted from Geels, 2002, p.1263)
Next, let’s move on to the research methods.
In order to answer the sub-questions and the overarching research question, I decided to use multiple methods. The goal of this approach (“triangulation”) is to try to explore the subject matter from multiple angles to reach deeper analysis. These are the methods I’m using:
A literature review to learn about how accessible and relatable agile is to planning departments
Interviews and qualitative analysis to learn about: a) how a planning department currently works, b) to gain insights on potential gaps between this and agile, and c) under what conditions agile might be adopted in practice
An assisted process analysis for more in-depth analysis on the way of working for a specific project
A focus group with experts to test potential solutions that could lead to an agile way of working
The literature review has provided a base for the research on what agile is. Now, I am conducting interviews with different stakeholders in the local government and preparing the assisted process analysis and focus group. My day-to-day includes finding and scheduling practitioners to interview, talking to them, transcribing the interviews, and reflecting on my role as an interviewer. As I move into the next portion of the research, I will begin to do qualitative analysis on these interviews and see what insights can be drawn from them. I’ll also facilitate the focus group and assisted process analysis, and do some basic analysis on those methods as well. Then comes the thesis writing: putting everything together and reflecting on how the research could be improved.
Note: the assisted process analysis combines a narrative interview and an adaptation of business process mapping to explore a specific project in more detail with a stakeholder.
Finally, time to wrap it up.
It’s been a really interesting intellectual journey so far, and it reminds me how much there is to learn out there! At the end of this research, I hope to inch closer to understanding how planning departments work and how they might be able work on projects in a way that best serves citizens and makes use of time and money. And, I hope to think about new questions to ask! :)
Update: since this blog post was written, an academic article has been published on the thesis research (see here, open access).