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Power relations in information technology projects : applying Turner’s three-process theory of power

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Ye, Y (2016) Power relations in information technology projects : applying Turner’s three-process theory of power. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the nature and exercise of power in an Information Technology (IT) project, which involved the implementation of an Information Systems (IS). The existing IS research on power in IS implementation is clustered either in a strong theoretic-low pragmatic grouping, or a strong pragmatic-low theoretic grouping; thus there is little evidence of research being grounded in strong theoretical traditions and strong pragmatic ones as well (Ye et al., 2014). This thesis has improved the situation by associating a new theoretical lens of power with the traditional social and political theories of power used in IS. This new theoretical lens is the Three-Process Theory of Power developed by social psychologist, John Turner (2005) based on Social Identity Theory (SIT) (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) and Self-Categorisation Theory (SCT) (Turner et al., 1987). The findings demonstrate the value of Turner’s theoretical lens as well as its insufficiency for explaining all power related activities. This research has led to the development of an extended Three-Process Theory of Power by adding the alternative components that emerged from the data in the case study in relation to the nature and exercises of power. Thus, this thesis contributes to providing a clear and useful picture regarding the sources of power and tactical applications of power in given situations, particularly in IS implementation projects.
Past research on power in IS implementation mainly focuses on the relations between project stakeholder groups such as between project practitioners and system users (Backhouse et al., 2006, Ball and Wilson, 2000, Berente et al., 2010, Doolin, 2004, Hussain and Cornelius, 2009, Markus, 1983, Markus and Bjorn-Andersen, 1987, Silva, 2007, Silva and Backhouse, 2003, Silva and Fulk, 2012, Smith et al., 2010). Evidence revealed that existing research lacked a real analysis of power relations between project team members (Hussain and Cornelius, 2009, Silva and Fulk, 2012), which is in fact an important facet of power relations. More recently, Chang and Yeh (2014) argued that the relationships between intra-project team disagreements and conflict communications are important factors for project performance and decision making. Therefore, it is argued that a deeper understanding of power relations within an IT project can be gained when including the analysis of intra-project team power relations (Ye et al., 2014). This research study has filled this gap in knowledge by investigating power relations both within and outside the project team in an IT project in the case study. Indeed, evidence from the current study suggests that strategies for effectively managing power relational issues within the project team differed from strategies between the project team and other stakeholder groups. For example, while accepting one’s legitimate authority was effective in short-circuiting the unnecessary debates, deliberations, and arguments inside the project team, the project team had to resort to persuasive strategies in dealing with stakeholder relational issues because authority became no longer effective outside the project team since a project leader had no direct legitimate authority over a business stakeholder.
The research methodology employed a qualitative approach that was underpinned by a subjective ontology and an interpretivist epistemology. The research strategy consisted of a longitudinal case study and a two-phase data collection and analysis process. In the first phase, the matters of power relations, politics and group influence emerged from the data collection. In the second phase, noting the emergence of aspects of Turner’s theory from the preliminary analysis, a more focused, theoretically informed approach was conducted in which Turner’s theory was used as a lens to guide subsequent data collection and analysis. In both phases, data were collected by semi-structured interviews, observations, and examining documents. Interviews were the primary source of data, with the other sources used to contextualise and confirm the researcher’s understanding of data throughout the analysis phase. A Grounded Theory based three-phase coding analysis strategy (Creswell, 1998), namely, open coding, axial coding and selective coding, was applied for revealing major themes in the case with extractions of quotations. To establish rigour and trustworthiness in the research process and therefore the findings, this research applied Klein and Myers’ (1999) set of criteria for evaluating interpretive field research.
This thesis makes three distinct contributions:
• Theoretical: The augmented Three-Process Theory of Power contributes to the IS discipline and other social science disciplines by building a deeper understanding of power related behaviours in IT projects. This research also contributes to Turner’s theory itself by extending it with the alternative determinants discovered from the case data thereby improving the explanatory power of the theory.
• Methodological: The interpretivistic case study approach contributes to Turner’s theory by applying it in a real-world study involving complex human relations and consequences of decision making, whereas the other social science research using this theory is commonly conducted by psychological experiments (Wenzel and Jobling, 2006, Willis et al., 2010, Fritsche et al., 2013). These experimental studies tend to provide ready-made and post hoc findings, because they lacked natural social structure or history and real consequences that flow in real situations (Ye et al., 2014). As Turner’s theory is relatively new, this novel research, in terms of the theory and the context, has illustrated a solution for coping with the difficulties in applying this theoretical lens thereby guiding future work.
• Practical: This research adds to knowledge regarding project management, particularly in the area concerning the effective management of power relations in IT projects. This is achieved by recommending specific guidelines for IT project managers or systems implementers including the do’s and don’ts of ways that project managers persuade and overcome human relational (as well as non-human-relational) issues during IS implementation. These recommendations target IS theoreticians and practitioners, and demonstrate what constitutes effective and ethical management of power relations, and what non-human-relational aspects will require attention in setting up and managing IT projects.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: IT project, IS implementation, IT project manager, power, power relations, resistance, social identity, psychological group
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2016 the Author

Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2016 22:06
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2017 01:54
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