Writing a quality case study report is a final closure over the results and conclusions drawn from the research and is a demanding task. For that reason the authors started writing on the method as well as the literature review in the early phases of the research (Yin, 2006). There are two ways of conducting a qualitative research; one way is to « create the research questions first » and the other way is « fieldwork first ». In this case study the authors selected the case and the aim of the research first and then executed the fieldwork before formulating the research questions. In order to reach the goal of the research it is important to have a good set of research questions in an early stage to make sure that measurements and necessary steps that need to be taken can be achieved in the research process. It helps to delimit the research and plan the literature studies that are necessary. A good set of research questions will evolve over time after the theme of the research have been considered and reconsidered. This was something that the authors experienced in this case study (Yin, 2006; Maxwell, 2013).
Qualitative research process
The model used in this research as a frame of reference for a qualitative research process is illustrated in figure 2. The way the research process actually was performed is illustrated in figure 3. As illustrated in figure 3, the data collection and analyze of the data was performed in two steps. The first step was performed in Sweden while the second step was performed in China. No hypothesis was formulated only research questions. The amount of time spent in each country can be divided by 1/5 in Sweden and 4/5 in China.
Since qualitative research aims to capture the circumstances that exist in real life and gather the perspective of the people living in it, the gathering of the data started early in the project. Yin (2006) describes three benefits from an early fieldwork. The first is getting the knowledge if the research problem is too broad and has to be delimited or redirected, the second is methodological e.g. if the people in the process has the availability to participate and are as informative as you have expected, and the third is to get the relative perspectives e.g. how the people in the process perceive their world and activities (Yin, 2006).
The research started out with a central idea that the underlying processes and management was to be investigated as the objective of this research was to study how transfer projects in a global company with the aim of parallel manufacturing is best being implemented. The structure was not planned in advance and evolved over time (Yin, 2006). The research design had to be an exploratory approach with a collection of qualitative data since knowledge regarding the problem area was not fully known by the authors (Patel & Tebelius, 1987). The main goal was to capture the words and perceptions of the respondents who all were involved in transfer projects (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002).
Since a qualitative research is a dynamic process of collecting and analysing data that evolves over time the authors worked dynamically which evolved in new questions being formulated and new people to interview. Usually the authors didn’t know what questions to ask and which person to interview or what to observe if the information wasn’t analyzed as it evolved. This didn’t mean that the data gathered was analyzed and finished as the process was over, it just enter another more intense stage in the process (Merriam, 1988). The author’s values and experiences of the process played a key role in getting the right information needed. Since one of the authors had earlier experience from employment and was familiar with corporate concepts and organizational structure this prevented the authors to get hindered on these issues. This increased the chance of getting the right information needed and interpreting the data gathered. This inner-perspective is a base for interpreting the data gathered (Patel & Tebelius, 1987).
Case study research
The possibility of using a mix of methods when collecting the data gives the case study its strength when compared to other methods such as surveys and historical methods and is also why the authors chose the case study as research method (Merriam, 1988). During the case study the authors was faced with decisions and made choices from different alternatives and judgments based on time, availability of the respondents and the research problem. When the problem formulation was defined, the case was selected and delimited based on the resources available for the research. The authors then determined the data required for the problem to be highlighted and decided to use the interview method as a base for the research with complementary observations and documentations (Merriam, 1988). Yin (2006) describes what skills that are necessary to have when conducting a good case study, which also summarize how this case study was performed. The authors must be able to formulate good questions and interpret the answers in the correct way, be a good listener and don’t let his or hers own preconceptions and ideological beliefs be in the way, be flexible and able to adapt to new situations and see opportunities instead of obstacles, have a clear understanding of the issues being studied and not be controlled by distorted perceptions derived from different theories of various kinds.
Presentation of case study company
The company is a part of a larger and global organisation structure and a manufacturer of complex products for the manufacturing industry. Until 2005 the company was only located in Västerås, Sweden, and had a smaller manufacturing plant in Bryne, Norway. In 2005 the company made the strategic decision to level down the manufacturing in Norway and offshore their business to Shanghai, China. A transfer manager has the responsible to plan and to allocate resources between the sending and receiving plant. Since 2005 the majority of products has been transferred from Västerås to Shanghai in approximately a dozen products. In recent years the R&D in Shanghai has developed three robots whereas two have been transferred to Västerås and one is on-going. In 2011 there was a strategic decision to produce products in parallel between Sweden and China, which automatically led to products being transferred. Recently there has also been a strategic decision to offshore the business to USA. The company is becoming more global which generates a need to manage transfer projects with state of the art execution.
Data collection techniques
The information that was gathered in this research was collected through interviews, observations and documentation. The strategy behind this is called triangulation and its strength lies in the combination of these methods (Merriam, 1988).
The interview is the most common method for obtaining data and was also used in this research. The interview was conducted between three people, the two authors and the respondent (Merriam, 1988). The approach used was a qualitative interview with a guided conversation with the emphasis on the authors asking questions and listening, and the respondent answering. The respondent was seen as meaning makers rather than passive channels for retrieving the data needed. The purpose was to derive interpretations rather than facts or laws (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). When gathering data through interviews, one very important step is to target and select the significant respondents. The authors started by asking a key stakeholder who knew which respondents that possessed the relevant knowledge and data necessary for the research, in this case the manager who is responsible for production and logistics. This resulted in a total of 13 initial respondents in Sweden within the SU being suggested (Merriam, 1988). The authors used the snowball effect where the selected respondents helped to locate new important people through their networks (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). When contacting the respondent a letter of introduction was attached in the invitation. In this case the invitation or request was sent by e-mail through the manager receptionist who explained who the authors were. The letter of introduction was formulated with a short presentation of the authors, the purpose with the research and explanation why the respondent was chosen (Yin, 2006).
The authors tried to act open and honest in the interviews to establish trust with the respondents. Since the case study was conducted in two different countries with different cultures the cross-culture phenomena played an important aspect in the research. Establishing trust is difficult enough between people in the same culture and even more difficult in a cross-culture. To overcome this situation the authors always tried to establish a trust with significant people in the context in which the research were conducted (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). The motivation is important to establish with the respondent in an interview. The way the authors tried to stimulate this motivation was to let the respondents talk about what they felt rewarding and was in their interest considering the topic and as soon as the respondent was getting off track, the authors led him or her in the right direction again. The authors also used a method called probing during the interviews that is a technique that aims to get more information and let the respondent talk without being interrupt (Patel & Tebelius, 1987).
The interviews were guided by a number of questions and issues that was discussed, the actual order in which the main questions was answered or issues being discussed did not really matter, see Appendix 1 & 2. This kind of open less structured interviews makes it easier for the authors to adjust the situation and obtain the relevant data as the interview progress (Merriam, 1988). When the authors formulated questions, the arrangement was to begin and end the interview with neutral questions and with the main questions in the middle. This was carried out in a way that the respondent would get the background variables necessary for understanding the research problem, but also gave a chance for the respondent to add additional questions that he or she felt were important for the research (Patel & Tebelius, 1987). The interviews can be divided into questions regarding transfer projects in general and questions regarding the on-going transfer project. The questions regarding transfer projects in general were carried out with the general management. The question regarding the on-going transfer project was carried out with the project management and staff at operational level.
In total, 34 interviews was carried out in Sweden and China with key stakeholders at all levels in transfer projects; general management, project management and at operational level, see table 1. The interviews are divided 25 in Sweden and 9 in China. More interviews were carried out in Sweden than in China since the Swedish unit were the outsourcer and the place where transfer projects is being managed from and also the place where the problem definition for the thesis was carried out.
The interview questions varied depending if the respondent was involved in the on-going transfer project or in transfer in general but also depending on the respondent. The authors tried to have the same topics being discussed in each step in the interview process both in Sweden and China.
Topics- interview process:
• Introduction & basic questions, see Appendix 1
• Main questions- Transfer in general, see Appendix 1
• Main questions- On-going transfer project, see Appendix 2
• Other- Additional questions, see Appendix 2
An active listener is important during an interview but it doesn’t mean that silence is a bad thing. The authors waited a few minutes extra before breaking the silence during the interviews to prevent that important information didn’t get lost and to give the respondent time for reflection and possibility for adding additional information (Ruane, 2006). The cross- culture communication is a challenging aspect when it comes to breaks and silence during an interview and this was taken into consideration especially when conducting interviews in China. Especially in some Asian cultures silence and pauses is seen as an active part in the communication. Also the nonverbal communication like physical expressions shouldn’t be ignored during a cross-culture interview (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002).
All the interviews were recorded after approval from the respondents. The recording were conducted by a computer in Microsoft’s words notes that made the actual tape-recorder invisible and not noticeable since the computer was recording instantly by one tap on the mouse (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002; Ruane, 2006). Notes were taken and transcriptions were made besides recording. The flaws are eventual uncertainty or reluctance from the respondent to be interviewed but this usually decreases during the interview and eventually gets forgotten which is also what the authors experienced (Merriam, 1988). One of the biggest disadvantages with recording an interview is that it takes about 4-6 hours of transcript for 1 hour of recording. The transcription was made faster since there are certain benefits from the program such as orientate in the document while listening to the recordings (Patel & Tebelius, 1987).
Documentation and Observation
In this case study documentation is meant as information gathered or given to the authors in written form and not something that the authors have documented themselves during the research (Patel & Tebelius, 1987). The documentation served mainly as a base for improving the author’s knowledge in the subject and understanding the context of transfer projects. The documentation used in this research can be categorized in corporate documentation and project documentation. The corporate documentation was information such as organizational structure, values, strategies, goals and processes provided mainly through the internal intranet via computer. The project documentation was information provided by the respondents such as information about transfer project, emails, pictures and internal project folders via computer on the corporate servers. Observation can be used as a method for different purposes but the most common use is for the exploratory case study. One of the greatest benefits with observations compared to interviews is the chance for the authors to study the research problem as it evolves. Another benefit is that the respondent find it easier to explain certain processes, feels more relaxed and open with his or her thoughts when being in his or her real element when compared to an interview. There are two types of observations, the structured and unstructured observation. The exploratory unstructured observation method was used at both plants in this case study. This was carried out together with production managers at both plants as they explained the process in the production. This method is often used when the authors needs to collect as much information about a research problem as possible (Patel & Tebelius, 1987). Observation is not always about what is being seen it can also be informal observations such as listening and making conversations. The authors did informal observations when visiting the company during lunch, breaks and at random coincident when talking to people at the company (Ruane, 2006). Other observations made during the case study were company factory layouts and workplaces at both plants (Yin, 2006). The authors did also direct observations on the Chinese culture both in a work and social context, as they lived in China for 20 weeks.
The purpose of the literature review in this research was to broaden the author’s knowledge in the specific research area of offshore activities and transfer projects. It provided the authors with the results and conclusions on what other authors already had found and how they had done so. Since the authors had difficulties finding scientific papers that was only dedicated to the specific research topic “transfer projects” the authors had to find other scientific papers that had similarities. The authors found out that much was written in the topic of offshore activities and that transfer project is a key element in this activity. Therefore, the literature review was concentrated on these research papers and journals. Following keywords were used when searching for scientific papers: “offshoring”, “offshoring production”, “transfer projects”, “knowledge transfer”, “knowledge management”, “project management”, “cultural differences” and “Chinese culture”. The search was carried out on the databases Google Scholar, Emerald Insight and Discovery. Further literature was obtained from the university’s supervisor and the snowball effect was used when finding an interesting paper, the references in that paper were also used. A literature review helps to create legitimacy and authority to the research, clarifying the contributions that has already been made and helps to constrain the research to a reasonable scope (Karlsson, 2009).
Technique for analysing data
The technique for analysing the data was straightforward and comprised of comparing the theory from the literature review with the data collected in the case study.
Subjects of interested for the research:
• Involvement and responsibilities of interview respondents
• Transfer process
• Critical susses factors, cooperation and communication
• Evaluation process
• Project plan Overall Execution
• Project management
• Improvement proposals
• Cross- culture
The authors analyzed the collected data without any predetermined opinions (Yin, 2006; Patel & Tebelius, 1987). The authors was predetermined in the nonverbal communication like bodily expressions and had to read between the lines during some of the interviews, especially conducted in China since cultural differences exists compared to the West (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002). Qualitative research is not a linear process but a process that needs to be done in parallel through the entire research. In the early stage and also while being conducted the authors analyzed each interview that lead to hypotheses being revised and fine-tuned (Merriam, 1988). Transcription is necessary to find the right information needed and was carried out only when the authors felt that important information regarding transfer projects was being discussed (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002).
Quality of research
The quality of a research is determined by its validity and reliability. The validity is determined by the ability to ensure that the aim of the research is really what is being studied. The reliability is determined by the ability to ensure that the results would be the same if the study was repeated (Patel & Tebelius, 1987).
To ensure the validity in this research the authors started with the fieldwork that later generated the problem definition and a set of research questions. This led to a clearly defined goal of the research. This stretched the validity of the research in the way that the authors knew what data to collect (Yin 2006; Maxwell, 2013). In order to ensure the significant respondents and the right data being gathered, the authors together with the responsible managers over the production and logistics both in Sweden and China determined which respondents to interview (Patel & Tebelius, 1987; Merriam, 1988; Ruane, 2006). The validity of the study is also strengthened by triangulation through interviews, observations and documentation (Merriam, 1988). The fact that the authors use multiple respondents and also interview both the Swedish and Chinese unit strengthens the validity (Merriam, 1988; Ruane, 2006). The validity of this research should also be evaluated from the limited time period of 20 weeks, which may be a weakness. What strengthened the validity was that the authors let one manager at the company review the report before being published (Maxwell, 2013; Merriam, 1988).
Projects often differ from standard organizational processes due to their temporality and uniqueness (Hanisch et al., 2009). The reliability that the exact same results would be obtained in another study is unlikely even though many findings probably would point in the same direction, especially if it’s executed at the same case company. The raw data from the literature review on the other hand would probably not vary that much if the same keywords and the same search engines were used. Also, the company information such as documents and processes and facts would probably not vary much if collected from the same company. The reliability of the respondents may vary since the interview process itself is a dynamic process (Patel & Tebelius, 1987; Gubrium & Holstein, 2002).
Table of contents :
1.3.AIM AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
2.2.QUALITATIVE RESEARCH PROCESS
2.3.CASE STUDY RESEARCH
2.4.PRESENTATION OF CASE STUDY COMPANY
2.5.DATA COLLECTION TECHNIQUES
2.6.TECHNIQUE FOR ANALYSING DATA
2.7.QUALITY OF RESEARCH
3.2.TRANSFER & KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER
3.4.PROJECT MANAGEMENT & KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
4.3.TRANSFER PROJECT STRUCTURE
4.4.TRANSFER IN GENERAL
4.5.ON-GOING TRANSFER PROJECT
4.7.OBSERVATIONS IN CHINA
5.1.OFFSHORING CASE COMPANY
5.2.TRANSFER & KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER
5.3.PROJECT & KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT
5.5.ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES WITH DIFFERENT CONDITIONS
6.CONCLUSION, DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS