ACCELERATING EMPIRICAL RESEARCH THROUGH PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Victor S. Sohmen
Assoc. Prof. Ph.D., Ed.D., Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, USA
Empirical research falls outside the domain of theoretical research that does not require pragmatic exercise to prove or disprove the theoretical formulations. On the other hand, rooted as it is in empiricism or pragmatism, empirical research is predicated on direct and indirect experience of natural phenomena, personal observations, and measured results. It derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory, opinion, or belief. Conversely, non-empirical researchtypically theoretical researchdoes not require the collection of specific data or conduction of experiments, observations, or field studies. Nonetheless, when theoretical or non-empirical research is created scientifically by formulation of testable hypotheses, frameworks, and conceptual models, it depends on empirical studies to prove or disprove/falsify these theoretical constructions undergirding the non-empirical work. It can be seen therefore that non-empirical, scientifically based intellectual exercises provide a basis for empirical research. Thus, empirical and non-empirical research complement each other: the non-empirical research remains theoretical and dormant, unless enlivened by being proven or falsified through empirical research. Logically therefore, it takes both non-empirical and empirical research working in tandem to add new knowledge to a specific field of exploration.
A pragmatic field of knowledge based on empiricism that has attracted increased interest and application today is that of project management. This is because in a competitive, resource-constrained, and globalizing world, launching projects as temporary, goal-oriented, and strategic exercises has become necessary for a variety of organizations, industries, and communities. Projects are time-limited and unique entities that are created to meet corporate goals rooted in organizational strategy. Projects are endeavors that are dynamically bounded by the triple constraints of time, cost, and quality that comprise the core parameters of project management (Sohmen, 2007; Turner & Müller, 2005). This is because project management (PM) has inherent efficiencies: a deliberately planned approach; goal-orientation; resource optimization; time compression; and, phase-by-phase progress toward economical execution and successful realization of project goals. Therefore, PM could be a critical contributor to optimizing efficiencies in conducting empirical research.
This paper demonstrates the use of project management (PM) skills and techniques to accomplish the following in an empirical research project:
For a Senior Design program in the engineering department of a reputed university in Pennsylvania, empirical research was conducted using project management skills and techniques to accelerate the research agenda. The time window was a compressed eight (8) weeks to complete the entire study before the students graduated in mid-May. To accomplish this feat, the project management skills and techniques employed served to ensure that the quantitative and qualitative surveys, as well as the one-on-one interviews, were completed with 100% and 70% results respectively.
As a first step, the study was divided into two contiguous phases: Phase 1 was a combination of the SDLRS-A® Survey, a widely validated quantitative instrument to explore the nuances of self-directed learning, and a nested qualitative study as an addendum, focusing on Change Leadership (CL). Phase 1 targeted all 30 students in the Senior Design project. Phase 2 was entirely qualitative, comprising one-on-one semi-structured interviews posed to: six student leaders spearheading their respective six capstone projects, and six faculty advisors. A special session was held by the researcher to inform the respondents about the importance of the SDLRS-A® Survey, further emphasized by the faculty who collected the data during a compulsory class period. This resulted in a 100% return on the SDLRS-A® Survey. For the entirely qualitative Phase 2, 6 out of 8 student leaders (75% of respondents) and 67% of faculty advisors (6 out of 9 faculty advisors) participated, averaging a high 70% return. The high overall returns reflected the maximum possible resource utilization undergirding efficient and effective project management: 100% returns in the quantitative/qualitative Phase 1, and over 70% average returns in the entirely qualitative empirical research in Phase 2 involving primary, interview research of 12 respondents
Keywords: Empirical research, project management, time-compression, acceleration
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