Performing a sound literature study is a necessary, yet not an easy step in the PhD traject.It requires the researcher to investigate his or her initial topic and to get a clear understanding on the subject context. In my case, I have now performed my second literature study on business case research after completing the earlier one on it value management. The latter has been accepted at the HICSS conference in Hawaii last year and was an eye opener on methodology. During my paper presentation, I was lucky to receive a critical question of Prof. Dr. Jan Vom Brocke on my literature search process and the methodology I had employed. I answered his question: “No specific methodology, I just started using some e-databases such as EBSCO and ScienceDirect and entered my keywords ‘information technology’ and ‘value management’. In addition, I have used google scholar to find non-academic publication which could broaden my understanding of the it value management context.” As a result, he recommended me to read his ICIS paper on the execution of a literature study and the literature study process. Later that day, the paper was already in my inbox…
So, to execute the business case literature study, I was already aware of the methodology. I followed the process as described by Vom Brocke and are much more confident with regard to my results. It provides a lens on the business case concept and delivers many opportunities to develop a good conceptual model. To describe the literature study process and how a qualitative literature study can be achieved, I have taken an excerpt of my paper submission to the Conference on Information Systems and Technology (CIST) 2012.
“A comprehensive description of the literature study process is desirable according to Vom Brocke et
al. (2009), so readers can assess the study exhaustiveness and other scholars can more confidently
(re)use its findings. As suggested by Vom Brocke et. al. (2009), the literature study is discussed in
line with Cooper (1988) categorisation using six constituent characteristics consisting of (1) focus,
(2) goal, (3) perspective, (4) coverage, (5) organisation, and (6) audience.”
(1) Focus: the management practice and application of business cases. Yet, any paper is included that focuses on a specific research outcome, method or theory and that deals with a business case only in passing.
(2) Goal: to understand, accumulate and integrate knowledge on business case research and to develop a taxonomy that portrays the key business case dimensions. Moreover, literature gaps will be identified stimulating further investigation of an interesting and divers study field.
(3) Perspective: neutral, in an attempt to produce an objective representation of the research thus far;
(4) Coverage: an exhaustive search in multiple e-databases (EBSCO, JSTOR, ScienceDirect, Swetwise, WILEY) between 1990 and 2011 for academic and practitioner publications from top IS, management and finance journals:
* IS journals
– Decision Support Systems
– European Journal of Information Systems
– Information and Management
– Information Systems Journal
– Information Systems Research
– Journal of Management Information Systems
– Journal of Strategic Information Systems
– Journal of the AIS
– MIS Quarterly
* Management journals
– Academy of Management Journal
– Academy of Management Review
– Administrative Science Quarterly
– Decision Sciences
– Management Science
* Finance journals
– Journal of Banking & Finance
– Journal of Corporate Finance
– Journal of Finance
– Journal of Financial Economics
– The Review of Financial Studies
* Practitioner journals
– California Management Review
– Communications of the ACM
– Harvard Business Review
– MIS Quarterly Executive
– MIT Sloan Management Review
(5) Organisation: literature study is organised through a taxonomy of business case dimensions as found in the literature data analysis: application area, content, process, goals, stakeholders and risk factors.
(6) Audience: beneficial to both academics for an innovative and clearly structured overview of business case research and for further research opportunities, and practitioners to understand the importance and
diversity of a business case in current and future investments.
In my opinion, there are only a few options as a PhD student. On the one hand, you can perform a trial and error approach like I have done with executing a literature study. The first time you execute such a study, you try to find some articles on literature studies and ‘copy-paste’ their methodology. In addition, you can search for publication via google scholar and rely on your gut feeling to describe the keywords and to select the right e-sources. On the other hand, a PhD student can be lucky to have a methodologically educated supervisor who can guide you with nice references on how to execute a sound literature study. Unfortunately, only few PhD students have the luck of the second option.
Therefore, I wish to propose a third option to the universities and the doctoral schools. One cannot expect a supervisor to be a specialist in everything, not in methodology and in qualitative research and in quantitative research and a good writer and so on. We cannot expect them to be superman or superwoman. As a PhD student relies on the skills of a supervisor, his options on doing research are limited as well. For instance, a quantitative oriented supervisor will not advise a PhD student to perform a comparative case study analysis building on the grounded theory approach.
Hence, I would suggest to install networks of experts. A university or doctoral school builds a network of academic and/or practitioner experts who are able and open to share their knowledge and experience with PhD students and other people of the network. The university or doctoral school lists all skills and specialties of the experts which can be easily consulted. This way, PhD students can easily contact a certain expert to get to know his field of study and to consider it as a useful methodology in his or her own work. PhD students will still be in contact with their own supervisor who can overlook the whole as a PhD project, but does not need to be a specialist in everything. Specific knowledge can be gained through the network of experts which opens many opportunities for joint research across (sometimes politically sensitive) departments. To me, this seems to be a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win…
The latter is just an initial idea that should be further concretised in the coming months, but feel free to comment on it and to suggest other opportunities which are not yet covered.