Example Research Proposal: Project Management Study

NOTE: This is an actual research proposal, based on the Office of Sponsored Research template. If you use this as a base for your own proposal, make sure that you change it appropriately. 


My notes to you are highlighted in yellow.


Things you'll need to change are highlighted in green.

Project Management in High-Tech Organizations: A Field Study

  1. Title:

Project Management in High-Tech Organizations: A Field Study


  1. Investigators (co-investigators)

Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin


  1. Hypothesis, Research Questions, or Goals of the Project

I seek to answer the following research questions:

      • How do people in high-tech knowledge work organizations manage projects? What tools and texts do they use?
      • How, and to what extent, do they collaborate in management?

      • How, and to what extent, do they share information?
      • What training have they received?
      • How has project management changed in their organization?

  1. Background and Significance:

    NOTE: For this section, just give us a bit of background on the organization itself: What it does, how many people work there, why you think it would be an interesting place to study. 

In knowledge work organizations, work in which the primary product is knowledge, information that is continually interpreted and circulated across organizational boundaries. It tends to be organized in distributed, heterogeneous networks rather than in modular hierarchies such as those Marx described (1990). Whereas modular organization encouraged "silos" with rigid hierarchical separations and few connections, knowledge work encourages proliferating connections across trades, fields, and disciplines, connections across which texts circulate. These connections lead to more flexibility and collaboration within networked organizations, but also more communication problems: workers from historically separated activities suddenly must interact, collaborate, and learn enough of each others' social languages and genres to work together. Complexities become more difficult to manage, and everyone needs to learn a little about everyone else's work. 


High-tech organizations, such as software and web services companies, fit this description. Such organizations have faced new challenges in project management. Yet little research on project management has been done in the field of professional writing, particularly for knowledge work organizations such as those described here. 


In this exploratory qualitative study, I seek insight into how such organizations manage their projects in the course of performing knowledge work. Particularly, I want to know what tools and practices they use, to what extent they use them in the course of collaboration and planning, and to what extent these have changed other aspects of their organizations.


  1. Research Method, Design, and Proposed Statistical Analysis:
    NOTE: Change this section to reflect your own research methods.

  1. Data collection involves these methods for exploring consultants’ training and practices:
      • Site interviews: Researcher will conduct one short (average .5 hour) semistructured interview with a manager before contacting participants. (see Appendix A for interview protocol.) Interviews will be audiorecorded.
      • Pre-observational interviews: Researcher will conduct one short (average .25 hour) semistructured interview with each participant immediately before each observation to collect information about their professional biography and history with project management, collaboration, and related tools and practices. (See Appendix A for interview protocol.) Interviews will be audiorecorded.

      • Naturalistic observations: Researcher will visit participants at work and conduct 1-2 short (average 1 hour) observations of each participant's work. During the observations, researcher will record events relating to project management, collaboration, information sharing, and training. Recordings will be in the form of detailed field notes.      

      • System monitoring: Participants will be asked to optionally use system monitoring software RescueTime (rescuetime.com) for two weeks, starting with the observation and proceeding continuously until the end of the two-week period.  This software will record use of applications and websites and allow participants to tag these applications according to use. To preserve privacy, participants will be allowed to delete application and website data before turning over data. 

      • Post-observational interviews: Researcher will conduct one semistructured interview with each participant immediately after each observation (average .5 hours). (See Appendix A for interview protocol.) Interviews will be audiorecorded.

      •  Artifact collection: Researcher will collect artifacts from the designer's workplace that are related to project management, collaboration, information sharing, and training. Artifacts might include copies or photos of project lists, to-do lists, training documentation, generic contracts, screen shots, and email. To ensure privacy of others, participants will redact artifacts before turning the artifacts over to researcher (see Appendix B for redaction protocol).


Researchers will analyze the observational, interview, and artifact data using visual representations (activity system diagrams, genre ecology models, communicative event models, sociotechnical graphs, operations tables, and contradiction-discoordination-breakdown tables)


  1. Human Subject Interactions

A. Sources of Potential Participants. Researcher will recruit up to 5 participants per organization through contacts with up to 5 local high-tech organizations. Participants will be company employees working in various web-related and software-related areas, such as search engines, search engine optimization, social media, and web development. Involvement should span August 1, 2008 - August 1, 2009.

NOTE: For your study, involvement will span the semester.


B. Procedures for the recruitment of the participants. Researcher will contact participants through his personal connections with local high-tech companies.


C. Procedure for obtaining informed consent. Participants will be presented with consent forms (attached).


NOTE: Below, make these match your own research methods (above). 


D. Research Protocol. Researcher will observe participants in their work settings approximately 1-2 times; observations will be for approximately one hour. Researcher will conduct 15-minute interviews immediately before and 30-minute interviews immediately after each observation. Total involvement time will be 1.75-3.25 hours per participant, plus two weeks' system monitoring if the participant and organization agree. During interviews and observations, researcher will identify artifacts of interest; participants will redact these artifacts and present them to the researcher. (See Section V above).


E. Privacy and confidentiality of participants. Participants can choose to discontinue participation at any time; if they choose to do so, their data will be destroyed. Participants can determine acceptable times for interviews and observations. The participant’s identity will not be disclosed in reports. Researcher will refer to participant with a pseudonym and redact any identifying characteristics in reports. Data will be kept confidential and secure (see F below). No publications resulting from this research will include identifiers of participants or their organizations. Finally, the researcher will explain to management it is entirely up to team members whether they wish to participate in the study; the organization will not require team members to participate, and team members can drop out of the study at any time, for any reason. 


F. Confidentiality of the research data. Research data will be kept in a locked cabinet at researcher's office, on an encrypted laptop hard drive, and backed up to a secure server account to which only the researcher has access. For interviews, (a) the interviews will be audiorecorded; (b) the digital files will be coded so that no personally identifying information is visible on them; (c) they will be digitally secured with a password; (d) they will be heard or viewed only for research purposes by researcher; and (e) after they are transcribed or coded, they will be destroyed.


G. Research resources, including digital voice recorders and server space, will be provided by the Computer Writing and Research Lab.


VII. Potential risks. The research may uncover weaknesses as well as strengths in the participants’ work. Reports will remind readers that this should happen and that the role of this research is to better understand the organizations' project management as a whole, not to evaluate individual work styles. In addition, the participants’ identities and organizational affiliations will be kept secret. Participants will be assigned pseudonyms.


VIII. Potential benefits. This study will have implications for understanding project management and collaboration in technology studies. In addition, the project should serve as a way for participants to articulate, reflect upon, and justify or improve their project management practices respective to knowledge work


IX. Sites or agencies involved in the research project. Research will be conducted at the workers' workplaces.

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