Final dissertation project

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1.0 Abstract

It is anticipated that this research proposal will provide the framework for my final dissertation project. The topic area is sustainability in project management. The critical literature review focused on the key features of project management practice, key features of sustainability and sustainability measures in project management. The assignment discusses the relative advantages and disadvantages of various potential methods and methodologies to assess which types would be best suited to assist the research of the hypothesis. A prediction and the rationale relating to the most appropriate types of methods and methodologies; and an evaluation of the potential problems that could arise in undertaking the project conclude the assignment.

2.0 Introduction

Sustainability is fast becoming the major talking point in many industries as people and companies are looking to reduce their carbon footprints in order to operate more environmentally friendly. This is partially due to an increased awareness of the negative impacts of not operating sustainably and government legislation driving sustainability. Working with the Internal Sustainable Development manager of the Audit Commission has increased my interest in sustainability and how it relates to project management. For these reasons, I have chosen to take this opportunity to research this topic further.

2.1 Aims and Objectives

This assignment aims to address the following expected learning outcomes in relation to the subject area:

  • Critical evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of various quantitative and qualitative research methods
  • Use of existing knowledge in identifying, locating and evaluating secondary sources of information;
  • Application of appropriate analytical tools and techniques to effectively support research projects

The assignments marking scheme outlines a clear set of criteria upon which the assignment will be assessed. In light of this fact, this assignment has been structured in accordance with these criteria which are listed below:

  • A critical review of the relevant literature
  • Defining/developing hypotheses or research questions
  • Constructive discussions of possible methods/methodologies
  • Reasoning process in arriving at conclusion

3.0 Critical Review of the relevant literature

The critical review if the relevant literature is arranged as follows:

  • Key features of project management
  • Key features of sustainability
  • Sustainability measures

3.1 Key Features of project management

Before identifying what constitutes good project management, one needs to understand what a project is. A project can be defined in many ways but the definition that is required is one that is within the scope of the topic project management. Woodward, J. (1997) states that the principle features of a project as the word relates to project management can be summarised as follows:

  • Each project has the specific objective of creating some new entity which did not exist before, i.e. projects are goal orientated.
  • Projects have a defined beginning and finish, with a clear project life cycle.
  • Projects are made up of a large number of separate but interdependent tasks.
  • Projects are unique.
  • Project tasks make demands on a range of resources, usually on an intermittent or varying basis.

Burke, R. (2003) concurs with this by stating that a project will have the following:

  • A start and finish
  • A life cycle
  • A budget
  • Be an activity of a non-repetitive nature
  • Utilise resources

The Association for Project Management (APM), of which Woodward J is a member, is a worldwide organisation which aim is to promote the professional disciplines of project and management for the public. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's leading organisation for the project management profession. They produce a comprehensive guide which is used by a large number of project management practitioners known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The guide defines a project as "A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or service. Temporary means that every project will have a definite date. Unique means that the product or service is different in some distinguishing way from all similar products or services." This supports both the definitions of Woodward, J. (1997) and Burke, R. (2003).

Woodward, J. (1997) states that it is not feasible to convey the approach of Project Management in a single sentence though the PMBOK defines the approach as "... the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities in order to meet the stakeholder needs and expectations from a project.

British Standard 6079 - 1:2002 defines project management as:

The planning, monitoring and control of all aspects of a project and the motivation of all those involved in it to achieve the project objectives on time and to a specified cost, quality and performance.

3.2 Key Features of sustainability

In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development Report was published after a four year study period. The Commission defined sustainability as "Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Walker, A. (2007) states that it is still the most frequently quoted definition. Wackernagel, M. (2000) defines it as "Living well within the limits of nature".

Blackburn, W. (2007, p.4) states that '...the scores of definitions [of sustainability] have reflected a common theme about its meaning'. He uses the theme to develop a meaning for sustainability in his 'Sustainability Handbook' and '...call[s] this meaning the "2Rs," which stand for:

  • Resources: the wise use and management of economic and natural resources; and
  • Respect: respect for people and other living things.'

Blackburn, W. (2007, p.4&5)

The general consensus is that we should do what we can to protect ourselves and the environment for the present and the future. Some firms, companies and even individuals see sustainability as a burden rather than for the benefits that a sustainable approach can achieve. This assignment will focus on the benefits for companies which encompasses project managers, who are likely to be either working within a company or on behalf of another company having being contracted to do so.

Some of the key benefits of sustainability are a reduction in energy usage, waste and costs.

3.3 Sustainability measures in project management

Fryer, B. (1997) says that "Both the construction and property industries must play a responsible role in managing the environmental impact of development..." This is where project managers can make a difference by implementing sustainability measures to achieve that end.

Basiago, A. (1998) Identifies 3 main facets of sustainability which are:

  • Economic sustainability
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Social sustainability

Incorporating economic, environmental and social issues into sustainability is often referred to as a Triple Bottom Line approach. Griffiths, K. (2007) identifies this as a useful basis for a performance management and measurement system.

It is believed that all issues relating to sustainability fit into one of those mentioned above.

The question however is, what can be put in place to meet sustainability aims? Labuschagne, C and Brent, A. (2004) believe that a framework needs to be established in order to effectively assess sustainability within a given scope. They have assessed integrated frameworks which are used to assess sustainability on a national and international level and have proposed a sustainability assessment framework based on their review. It can be seen below:

The proposed framework identifies areas which can assess levels of sustainability of projects.

Griffiths, K. (2007) also believes that a sustainability framework is necessary to assess sustainability during the management of a project.

Blackburn, W. (2007) indicates that it is important to develop a strategic plan for sustainability and that key performance indicators are an effective measure that can be adopted which will aid the assessment of sustainability.

Developing strategic plans and frameworks are timely and costly however. Some may be willing to invest this time and money whilst others may not.

4.0 Defining/developing hypothesis or research question

The review of literature and research thus far has explained that project management involves the integration of knowledge and skills to complete a temporary endeavour within the specific time period allocated. It has also been recognised that with regard to sustainability, this needs to be executed in a way that provides for the needs as required, without compromising the needs of others including the environment, now and indeed in the future. One measure identified for doing this is establishing a sustainability framework when conducting a project to ensure that issues relating to sustainability are addressed and sustainable performance can be assessed. This topic is of particular interest to me because my current role within the Audit Commission, involves analysing ways in which the commission can improve on sustainability particularly with regard to the estate which they occupy and the projects that they are involved in. The Commission do not have such a sustainability framework in place for their projects, just an organisational aim to achieve an increase sustainability performance. Measures for this have so far been limited to reducing company miles and energy consumption which saves on cost. The focus has been on reducing cost to achieve the sustainable targets and where costs are high, certain measures are overlooked. Sometimes sustainability is seen more as a cost than an opportunity which has resulted in many lost opportunities.

I would like to research how sustainability can be integrated into the project management process, to deliver a successful sustainable project and whether it is seen as a cost or an opportunity.

In conducting the research, certain tasks need to be realised.

  • Indentify what constitutes good project management
  • Establish what sustainability is
  • Identify if and how current organisations incorporate sustainability into project management
  • Evaluate discovery
  • Establish how sustainability can be effectively incorporated into project management
  • Report

Bryman, A. (2008) emphasises the importance of planning in the research process and establishing the reasons behind the research so that one will be able to better determine the best course in conducting the research. Creswell, J. (2009) supports the detailed planning approach as do Dawson, C. (2007) and Fellows, R. and Lui, A. (1997) who believe that the following considerations should made addressed as part of a research plan:

What? Why? Where? When? How? Whom? And How much?

Yin, K. (1994) also believes that the considerations above should form part of the process for developing the research question.

Jiang, L. (2009) Identified the necessary steps in the research process which is shown below:

5.0 Constructive discussions of possible methods/Methodologies

The different types of research methods and methodologies will now be examined so that the most suitable one can be chosen for this particular study. The common types are qualitative, quantitative and an amalgamation of the two known as the mixed approach.

Creswell, J. (2009) identifies three different types of research design as qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods but adds that they "...are not as discrete as they first appear".

Knight, A. and Ruddock, L. (2008) describe how

"...in order to examine the methodological positions and research methods adopted by construction management researchers, an analysis was carried out of every paper published in Construction Management and Economics in Volume 24, 2006.."

Four broad terms were utilised to describe the methodologies chosen within the papers which are as follows:

  • Quantitative - unambiguously adopting quantitative methods rooted in a positivist research paradigm
  • Qualitative - unambiguously adopting qualitative methods rooted in a interpretative research paradigm
  • Mixed methods - comprising a combination of both inductive and deductive research methods.
  • Review - not utilising empirical research methods

The distribution of the methods amongst the papers can be seen below

It would appear from these results at least, that the construction management community are ground in a positivist way of thinking. There also seems to be large dependence on the use of interviews for qualitative research. Knight, A. and Ruddock, L. (2008) state that those involved in construction management:

"...present a view of a community reluctant to adopt the kinds of radical qualitative research methods which could provide richer insights into industry practice."

This will be considered when choosing which method to adopt for this particular research project.

Bryman, A. (2008) has detailed some of the main differences between quantitative and qualitative research in table 16.1

5.1 Quantitative Research

There are many ways to define qualitative research. Creswell, J. (2009) states that it is a means for testing objective theories by examining the relationship among variables. Bryman, A. (2008) concurs and adds that it is a deductive approach which tests theory and that it is objectivist. He has also produced "...an ideal - typical account of the process..." of quantitative research which is displayed in the diagram below:

Amaratunga et al (2002) states that quantitative research is strong in measuring variables but it's weaknesses lies mainly in the failure to ascertain deeper meanings and explanations.

5.2 Qualitative Research

Bryman, A. (2008) states that:

"...qualitative research can be construed as a research strategy that usually emphasises words rather than quantification in the collection and analysis of data..."

Gubrium and Holstein (1997) have suggested four traditions of qualitative research which are as follows:

  1. Naturalism: seeks to understand social reality in its own terms; 'as it really is'; provides rich descriptions of people and interaction in natural settings
  2. Ethnomethodology: seeks to understand how social order is created through talk and interaction; has a naturalistic orientation.
  3. Emotionalism: exhibits a concern with subjectivity and gaining access to 'inside' experience; is concerned with the inner reality of humans.
  4. Postmodernism: emphasizes 'method talk'; is sensitive to the different ways social reality can be constructed.

Dawson, C. (2007) believes that qualitative research looks into attitudes, behaviour and experience through methods such as interviews or focus groups. She also lists the following methodologies that fall under the qualitative research method:

  • Action research
  • Ethnography
  • Feminist research
  • Grounded theory

Creswell, J. (2009) concurs with Dawson, C. (2007) also listing ethnography and grounded theory studies as qualitative research methodologies. He adds to the list narrative research, phenomenology and case studies

5.3 Mixed Methods Approach

"There is a strong suggestion within the research community that research, both quantitative and qualitative, is best thought of as complementary and should therefore be mixed in research of many kinds." Amaratunga et al (2002)

Tashakkori, A. Teddlie, C. (2002) define a mixed method research design as follows:

"...the incorporation of various qualitative or quantitative strategies within a single project that may have either a qualitative or a quantitative theoretical drive. The "imported" strategies are supplemental to the major or core method and serve and serve to enlighten or provide clues that are followed up within the core method"

This is not to be confused with a multi-method approach to research which they define as follows:

"the conduct of two or more research methods, each conducted rigorously and complete in itself, in one project. The results are then triangulated to form a comprehensive whole"

A mixed method approach to research combines both quantitative and qualitative methods into a study. Benefits from both elements can then be realised.

Bryman, A. (2008) states that the two main arguments against the mixed methods approach are:

  • the idea that research methods carry epistemological commitments, and
  • the idea that quantitative and qualitative research are separate paradigms.

The argument is that if each individual research method carries its own epistemological commitments, then more than one cannot be applied to an individual topic for study and if qualitative and quantitative research represent separate modes of thought; they cannot both be used for one individual study.

Hammersley, M. (1996) has proposed three means to mixed methods research.

  • Triangulation. This refers to the use of quantitative research to corroborate qualitative research findings or vice versa
  • Facilitation. This approach arises when on research strategy is employed in order to aid research using the other research strategy
  • Complementary. This approach occurs when the two research strategies are employed in order that different aspects of an investigation can be dovetailed

6.0 Reasoning process arriving at conclusion

The broad topic area was sustainability and I wanted to look at it in relation to project management. The research above has enabled this topic area to be narrowed down to; How sustainability can be integrated into the project management process to deliver a successful sustainable project and whether it is seen as merely a cost or an opportunity.

The critical review of the literature revealed that although frameworks have been developed to assess sustainability there seems to be no real measures that can be implemented to incorporate sustainability into the project management process and no indication as to which stages it should be implemented at. The literature did not indicate the likely costs associated with operating sustainably and therefore it was not possible to ascertain the opportunity cost of sustainable measures which also needs to be understood.

In deciding on the most applicable method/s and methodologies to use for the research, reference will be made to the recommended considerations by Fellows, R. and Lui, A. (1997) and Yin, K. (1994) as outlined in part 4.0 of this proposal:

What? Why? Where? When? How? Whom? And How much?

What? - Conduct research using the most appropriate method/methodologies

Why? - Sustainability and its features is of interest to me and the hope is that through this study, the organisation for whom I work might better understand how to implement it successfully.

Where? - The research itself will take place at number of different places. Primary and secondary research will take place at the university library, my place of work and it is anticipated that a substantial amount of the work that needs to be completed will take place at my home. This is made possible by use of the wide range of resources available through the university via the internet. Interviews are likely to take place at the workplace of each interviewee but this will be decided on nearer the time.

When? - The research will commence in the second term of the academic year 2009/2010 once the current and forthcoming modules have been completed.

How? - Creswell, J. (2009) and Amaratunga et al (2002) both agree that a mixed research design approach will enable the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative research to be realised rather than using just one of the methodologies and this is the type research design that I have chosen to adopt.

Who? - This research will be completed by me as a requirement for the successful completion of the MSc Award for Construction Project Management.

How much? - This relates to time and cost. The time allocated to complete this research is somewhat limited in that a much more comprehensive level of research could be completed given more time. Cost is also a factor. Many resources such as access to databases are available through the university but there types of resources that are not available and as there so budget for the completion of the project, these resources are not within the scope of this project.

Details of other potential problems or limitations regarding this project are listed below:

  • Ability to find appropriate interviewees willing to participate in the study
  • It will not be possible to have the number of participants in the industry required for a greater study for this research project within the time allocation
  • Response to questionnaires will need to be considered to achieve a return rate that allows for a worthwhile sample that is useful
  • Questionnaire coding will need to be assessed to ascertain the best method as failure to do could have a major adverse impact on project completion within the allocated time period
  • The method for assessing successful or failure of the research project will need to be developed from the outset so there is an appropriate measure on which to assess the outcome. This will require it's on study.
  • Time management
  • Ethical considerations must be made in respect of the privacy of the research participants

7.0 Bibliography

  • Amaratunga, D. et al. 2002. Quantitative and qualitative research in the built environment: application of a "mixed" research approach. Emerald, 51(1) pp. 17-31
  • Basiago, A. 1998. Economic, social and environmental sustainability in development theory and urban planning practice. The Environmentalist, 19(2) pp.145-161
  • Blackburn, W. 2007. The Sustainability Handbook: The Complete Management Guide to Achieving Social Economic and Environmental Responsibility. Earthscan Publications Limited
  • Bryman, A. 2008. Social Research Methods 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press
  • Burke, R. 2003. Project Management: Planning and Control Techniques 4th Ed. John Wiley & Sons
  • Creswell, J. 2009. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches 3rd Ed. Sage Publications
  • Dawson, C. 2007. A Practical Guide to Research Methods: A User-friendly Manual for Mastering Research Techniques and Projects 3rd Ed. How To Books Ltd
  • Fellows, R. & Lui, A. 1997. Research Methods for Construction. Wiley Blackwell
  • Fryer, B. 1997. The Practice of Construction Management 3rd Ed. Wiley Blackwell
  • Griffiths, K. 2007. Project Sustainability Management in Infrastructure Projects. URS New Zealand
  • Gubrium, J. And Holstein, J. 199. The New Language of Qualitative Method. Oxford University Press
  • Hammersley, M. 1996. The relationship between qualitative and quantitative research: paradigm loyalty versus methodical eclecticism. J.T.E. Richardson
  • Jiang, L. 2009. The Research Process. The University of Glamorgan
  • Knight, A. and Ruddock, L. 2008. Advanced Research Methods in the Built Environment. Wiley Blackwell.
  • Labuschagne, C. and Brent, A. 2004. Sustainable Project Life Cycle Management: Aligning Project Management Methodologies with the Principles of Sustainable Development. Proceedings of the 2004 PMSA International Conference "Global Knowledge for Project Management Professionals" pp. 104-115
  • Tashakkori, A & Teddlie, C. 2002 Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social & Behaviour Research. Sage Publications
  • Wackernagel, M. And Yount, D. 2000. Footprints for Sustainability: The Next Steps. Environment, Development and Sustainability 2(1) pp. 23-44
  • Woodward, J. 1997. Construction Project Management: Getting it Right First Time. Thomas Telford Limited
  • Yin, K. (1994), Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA

Websites

  • Association for Project Management - http://www.apm.org.uk/
  • Project Management Institute - www.pmi.org.uk

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