Investigation of a management process: An exploratory study to identify underlying patterns in planning
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This study linked the management activity of planning with Alexander et al.’s (1977) concept of pattern languages developed within architecture. Since the 1990s the concept has been expanded in the information systems discipline to document software development practices. Moreover, uses of the patterning concept have focussed on software from a technical aspect; however, authors such as Coplien and Harrison (2004) have moved beyond the purely technical aspects and have used the concept of patterns to discuss issues of organisational structure. Similarly, within the discipline of management, process management tools are used to manage, track or simplify core processes by recognising patterns that can be replicated to produce more effective and efficient structural systems. Whether practitioners seek continuous improvement through control of business structures, inputs or processes, planning of desired outcomes is critical. Practical implementation difficulties continue despite a plethora of independent planning tools/applications available to managers. Consequently, a focus of this study was to explore human processes of planning in organisations, using Manns et al.’s (2001) definition of patterns to determine whether identifiable underlying patterns existed. There is a dearth of literature and practical resources related to the concept of management patterns. However, identifying flexible patterns in planning would provide a direct link between the theory of management planning, its practical implementation or both.Qualitative research was conducted by means of within case and cross-case analysis of interviews of senior planning personnel in public and private organisations. At a general (macro) level, planning performances in all participating organisations indicated a strong relationship to Alexander’s concept of patterns; i.e. an underlying pattern that represented actual planning practices has been identified. Participating public sector organisations demonstrated some common themes in their planning, usually due to government accountability demands. In participating private sector each organisation undertook very different processes, largely because there was no internal or external accountability. The major conclusion in this study was that the reported practice of planning in participating organisations exhibited underlying patterns that matched Alexander-type patterns at the general (macro) level. Other original outcomes generated in this study included identifying, at the specific (micro) level, evidence of common indicators and categories of planning, development of individual case maps displaying pattern indicators, design of a planning component model using information that emerged from the interview data and within case analysis, amendment to that model after cross-case analysis and linking of the findings to the literature. Overall, the findings led to a revision of the conceptual model devised from available literature on planning and the concept of patterns.
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