Establishing and operationalising a PMO: A theoretical perspective

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This chapter discusses the research methodology used for achieving the research aim and objectives stated in Section 1.6. The term methodology represents a system of procedures on which research is based and against which claims of knowledge are evaluated (De Vos, 2001) and it includes brief details of how the collected data is analysed and reported. Neumann (2004), defines a research methodology as a portion of the research in which the methods to be used to collect and analyse data are specifically outlined. Therefore this research methodology focuses on the research process and the kind of tools and the procedures used (Mouton, 2001; Bryman, 1998).
Furthermore, the chapter provides a theoretical background for various research strategies and then lays the theoretical foundation on which the research strategy employed to collect and analyse research data is premised. In addition, the Chapter summarises in a logical format the various data management processes and activities that were put into place, to effectively collect and analyse research data. Therefore, the chapter provides an outline of the plan of action and the research method that was followed. It is divided into eight sections. The next section discusses in detail the research process, while the third section describes data collection methods and research instruments used. The fourth section presents data analysis techniques. The fifth section defines how the reliability and validity concerns were tackled and the sixth section discusses limitations and ethical issues. The last section presents a pilot study before wrapping up the chapter with a summary.

The Research process

This study adopts a generic research process that allows the researcher to depict the issues underlying the choice of research design, as described by Saunders et al. (2007). Figure 3.1 illustrates the research onion as proposed by Saunders et al. (2007).
In line with Saunders et al. (2007) the onion approach presents a favourable structure with a clear framework for the most suitable methods and strategies that helped in addressing the research aim and objectives in this study. As per the onion, the following aspects are covered:
Research philosophy
Research strategy/designs
Time horizons
Techniques and procedures

Research philosophy

It is the view of the researcher that the research aim and objectives should objectively help in determining the selection of the most suitable philosophy, or philosophies that should be followed. The researcher is also of the view that the research aim and objectives for this study necessitate an interpretivist philosophy.
The aim of interpretivist philosophy is to understand how members of a particular social grouping, (in this case, members of PMOs, municipality officials and end-users of the services provided by the municipalities, community leaders and service providers) through their participation in implementation of service delivery projects, enact their particular realities and endow them with meaning, and to show how these meanings, beliefs and intentions of those responsible for providing these services help to constitute their actions. Meaning, believe, intentions and actions are cognitive elements that form part of ontological description of interpretivist philosophy (Goldkuhl, 2012). And these cognitive orientation is pivotal in understanding the role players and their views and interpret the existing meaning system shared by these role players in this set up (Goldkuhl, 2012). This is because the interpretivist approach takes the influence of the context on human behaviour into account and the emphasis is on developing and the understanding of individual cases. Also, the interpretive approach assumes that access to reality is only possible through a social construction such as language (project management jargon), consciousness and shared meaning and generally attempts to understand phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them (Boland, 1985). In the interpretivist approach, the social process is not captured by hypothetical deductions, covariances and degrees of freedom. Instead, understanding the social process involves getting inside the world of those generating it (Orlikowski & Baroudi, 1991). So the idea is to choose a research philosophy that will factor in the influence of both the researcher and the participant’s perspectives, hence the interpretivist philosophy is deemed appropriate for this study.


Saunders et al (2007) states that an approach can take either two forms, deductive or inductive approach. According to Saunders et al. (2007), the features of inductive approach include among others, gaining an understanding of meanings human attach to events, a close understanding of research context, a collection of qualitative data and a more flexible structure to permit changes of research emphasis as research progresses.
So, in the light of the above mentioned philosophy, an inductive approach was implemented. Generally, inductive approach would involve observations and theories are proposed in the end of the research process. This normally involves search for patterns from observations and the development of theories from those patterns.
As indicted above, epistemological stance on interpretive approach is that knowledge of reality on the ground is gained only through social construction such as language, meaning, documents and tools (Boland, 1985). Also, in an interpretive research, there are no predefined dependent and independent variables, but a focus is on the complexity of human sense-making as the situation emerges (Kaplan & Maxwell, 1994).

Selected research strategy for the study

A multiple case study strategy is adopted from an epistemological perspective. A case study method refers to study of a particular individual, program, or event in depth for a defined period of time and it is suitable for learning more about a little known or poorly understood situation (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). It may also be useful for investigating how an individual or program changes over time, perhaps as a result of certain circumstances or interventions (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005).
Its aim is to build theory and inform practice in similar situations by comparing and proposing generalisations, (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). According to Larsson & Lowendahl (1996), the case study research method has been the qualitative method mentioned the second most often in studies published in the organisational sciences. Although its main purpose in management literature has been to generate new theories, Yin (1994) argues that case study research lends itself to the testing of existing theory. Yin (1994) particularly suggests that case study research is best suited to the examination of why and how contemporary, real life organisational phenomena occur, but under conditions where researchers have minimal control.
Methods used in case studies include interviews, observations, historical records, the study of documents and audio-visual materials (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). It is important to note that, just like most other methods, case study research addresses many of the questions traditionally answered by laboratory or field experiments, the major difference however, is that case study research does not require the control and manipulation of variables (Lee, 1999).
Its major weakness is mainly realised when a single case is involved and it transpires that a researcher cannot be sure that the findings are generalisable to other situations (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). But in this research, this weakness was overcome by multiple case study approach.
The analysis of this research study was based on the case study strategy. The multiple case study model as described by Eisenhardt (1989) was used as the primary methodological framework, as outlined in Table 3.1. Table 3.1 shows Eisenhardt (1989)’s process of building theory from a case study – from specifying the research aim and objectives to reaching closure step by step. The first column shows the steps that have been taken in building up a case study and the second column details with all the activities that were involved in each step. The last column indicates the justification for each step and activities that were carried out. This process was followed in this research in a quest to build theory from the three cases. The process was highly iterative and tightly linked.
The multiple case study approach had in effect formed part of the comparative study approach, where the same questions were asked in different municipalities and compared with each other to draw conclusions. In this study, interviews were used as the primary data collection method in identifying factors considered in the establishment of PMOs and they were also used to assist in analysing the PMOs and their fitness for purpose and in identifying any patterns of municipal dependant factors.
With this strategy, it was possible to build up the case data through interviews, written documentation and observation. When planning for the interviews, it was envisaged that multiple viewpoints would be covered by interviewing both customer (municipal manager) and service provider (PMO manager) to validate the results of the case study. This was also done to capture the perspective of an outsider, when determining whether the projects are being implemented successfully by the PMO and if not, what can be done to improve the situation. The non-project team members from outside the PMO constituted the stakeholders such as the internal clients, external clients, project sponsor (National government official responsible for the MIG), service providers such as contractors, consultants and end-users.


Research Choices and time horizons

The Inductive approach was preferred in this study and the research choice as per Saunders et al. (2007)’s onion is a mono-method research approach, which was based on the multi-case study design strategy. This was achieved through a cross sectional time horizon. According to Saunders et al. (2007), time horizons are needed for the research design independent of the research methodology used. There are two types of time horizons namely Longitudinal and Cross-sectional. Longitudinal studies are repeated over an extended period. Cross sectional studies are limited to a specific time frame. This research was therefore limited to a specific time frame and hence the cross sectional time horizon is used.This was chosen to improve the reliability of the results. The multiple case study strategy allowed one to build theory from the three cases through the comparative study approach, with emphasis on the contextual analysis of each case and their relationships.

Sampling methodology

This section defines sampling methodologies, techniques and procedures followed in this research. It also defines the targeted population/municipalities of this research study.

Targeted Municipalities (selection criteria)

Methodological guidelines for case selection differ between single and multiple case designs. When the study involves more than one case, the strategy for case selection changes because the focus shifts to the issue of external validity of the case inquiry. External validation, in terms of the limited generalizability of the findings can be established through the replication logic of the multiple case study design (Shakir, 2002). The selection of the three case studies in this research follow therefore this (literal) replication logic. In the literal replication logic, cases are selected to predict similar results. The three chosen cases (municipalities) were expected to largely have similar settings and to achieve similar results.
For the purposes of this case study, only three municipalities in Limpopo were chosen. These were the municipalities that were willing to share information and whose staff were available for interviews. Considering that the PMOs were established in a similar manner with a similar mandate and resourcing strategy, the targeted municipalities are expected to provide a meaningful insight regarding the problem of infrastructure and service delivery backlogs (Ministry of Local Government, 2007).
As already indicated, category B and C municipalities are the most affected in terms of service delivery backlogs in respect of infrastructure projects. The three selected municipalities in category B and C are Polokwane municipality, Mogalakwena local municipality and Capricorn district municipality respectively. These municipalities were researched by evaluating the views, beliefs, attitudes and the application of project management principles by the project managers (and/or PMO managers), technical directors and municipal managers.
The population of this research are the municipal employees, service providers and the stakeholders of the three selected municipalities mentioned above and those with expert knowledge in provincial and national government.

Respondents within the targeted municipalities

In order to cover multiple viewpoints in the data set, key interviewees included the respondents as summarised in Table 3.2. They include:
PMO manager – this is a project manager or the project management unit manager responsible for the operationalisation of the PMO and the implementation of the infrastructure projects within the municipality. He is therefore a key service provider to the municipality who ensures that the projects are delivered. He should be able to understand the failures and the successes of the PMO.
Municipal Manager – this is an accounting officer of the municipality and all service delivery failures are attributed to him. He is the primary (internal) customer of the PMO manager. He is also at the centre of the PMO establishment and is expected to contribute a wealth of information regarding PMO establishment and to assist in identifying any patterns of municipal dependent factors that may dictate the type of PMO that is suitable for the municipalities.
Project Sponsors (external customers) – these are the project sponsors from the national and provincial offices of the Ministry of Local Government. This ministry is pivotal in drafting establishment documents and guidelines documents. The PMO is in a way providing services to this ministry as well, in addition to the municipality (the internal customer). Only three project sponsors were interviewed and they are the same for all the three municipalities. This is because all the municipalities report to the same national and provincial ministries of local government.
Community leaders and/or councillors – community leaders and/or councillors were interviewed. Preferably, members of mayoral council (MMCs) in any service delivery related activities: infrastructure: roads and storm water: water and electricity were targeted as these are expected to share a more meaningful information and add value to the study. The MMCs are assumed to be directly involved in the implementation of infrastructure programmes for the municipality and therefore should have an idea on what attributes to the failures and backlogs related these infrastructure programmes. Community leaders can also be non-politically aligned representatives of a community and are end-users themselves, also representing end-users and/or beneficiary of services delivered by the municipality. These are external participants and by working with political figures and community members in addition to the key role players such as the municipal manager and the PMO manager, particularly in a setup where service delivery has been depleted, the outcome of the interviews may yield a wealth of hidden information. Moreover, this may enrich the research as multiple viewpoints were gathered in the data set and were also used to validate the information sourced from the municipal manager and the PMO manager. This is despite the fact that collaboration with the community members may not be practical if the community members are not interested in the goals of the research. In as much as the community members participated in the IDP programmes, it can be argued that the community members also should participate in the development and the conceptualisation of the PMOs, if they are to function effectively towards service delivery. As such an ‘empowerment model’ as opposed to a ‘lone wolf’ approach is ideal in this study, where community is to a certain extent, engaged in the research (Crippen & Robinson, 2013).
Service Providers: These could either be professional service providers like consulting engineers or contractors that have entered into a service level agreement with the municipalities, in provision of the infrastructure services to the municipality. Normally, these service providers are managed by the PMOs within the municipalities and therefore should be able to provide a different perspective in the data set. Just like the community members and the politicians, these service providers are external and the ideal scenario is to push for an inclusive empowerment model of research.
All the interviews were arranged in advance with the relevant participants at the time that was convenient to everyone. They were held at the place of work of the interviewee or at any convenient place for the interviewee. One on one interviews were held instead of focus groups to increase the response rate and cope with their busy schedules.
Table 3.2 shows the summary of the research respondents within the targeted municipalities, including the sampling method and the data collection method that was applied in this research. In total, 27 people were interviewed across three municipalities. The first column named classification, refers to the stratified sampling of various participating groups described above. The second column “research respondents’, is further filtering the stratified sampling group to identify the role or position of each respondent within the stratum. The third column indicates the number of participants in each stratum. The fourth and fifth columns show the sampling method and the method of data collection respectively.

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Table of Contents
Statement of originality and acknowledgement of sources
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Appendices
Glossary of Acronyms
1.1. Preamble
1.2. Public Sector Project Management in South Africa
1.3. An overview of South African municipalities and their PMOs
1.4. Gap in Knowledge
1.5. Problem Statement
1.6. Research Aim and Objectives
1.7. Scope of the research
1.8. Expected contribution of the research
1.9. Thesis outline
1.10. Chapter summary
2.1. Introduction
2.2. The concept of PMOs
2.3. Best practice for PMO methodologies
2.4. Establishing and operationalising a PMO: A theoretical perspective
2.5. Analysis of an effective PMO
2.6. PMO performance variables
2.7. Chapter summary
3.1. Introduction
3.2. The Research process
3.3. Data Collection and Research instruments
3.4. Data analysis
3.5. Reliability and Validity
3.6. Limitations and Ethical issues
3.7. Pilot study
3.8. Chapter Summary
4.1. Introduction
4.2. The profile of respondents who participated in the study interviews
4.3. Position and structural organisation of the PMOs in three municipalities
4.4. Factors considered in establishing PMOs in the three municipalities
4.5. Adequacy of the PMOs to carry out their mandate
4.6. Patterns of municipal dependant factors
4.7. Chapter Summary
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Municipal processes and requirements
5.3. Proposed conceptual framework
5.4. Chapter summary
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Conclusion
6.3. Recommendations

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