1.2     Research Questions and Objectives

Before stating the research questions and objectives, a few reflections upon the basis for formulation are provided.

1.2.1 On the formulation of research questions

The specification of research questions or hypotheses (i.e., what is to be studied) and research strategy (i.e., how to conduct the study) is an extremely important part of any research project (Yin, 1989:19). Research questions or hypotheses influence the strategy that is employed in order to either provide answers to the questions or verify/falsify hypotheses. What research strategy to use ought to depend on the nature of the problem domain (i.e., sociology, biology, physics, mathematics, etc.) and exact formulation of research questions.

Formulation of precise research questions requires deep insights into the domain of study: Do the questions that are to be answered "fit" the research domain? Are they the ones most worthy of investigation? To which degree will answering the questions contribute to any progress within the research area? Do practitioners perceive the research questions to concern real problems?

In this particular research project, the preunderstanding of enterprise modeling practice was not considered to be sufficient to formulate precise research questions in advance. Instead, studies of the problem area were expected to result in more sophisticated understanding of dominant concepts, so that the research questions could be adjusted accordingly. This research approach will be argued further for in section . Hence, the research questions presented in section are a result of iteration through problem formulation and actual research. They are not just "snatched out of thin air" -- they have evolved as a part of the research process.

1.2.2 The research questions and objectives

The overall quest of the research project can be formulated as follows:
 
Main Research Question 

How is and should enterprise modeling be performed when the main purpose of modeling is to support human sense-making and communication? 

Two important foci here are purpose and context of enterprise modeling. Purpose is enterprise modeling as a means to support human sense-making and communication. The purpose is not compromised in the sense that a range of different purposes of modeling are sought supported. However, other purposes are discussed in the course of the research. Context is enterprise modeling in real world organizations. Any claims, propositions and conclusions are based on empirical studies and not on more or less plausible and idealized assumptions.

An immediate question concerns the purpose of improved understanding and communication: Is not the mission to change something? Certainly, understanding is not sought as an ends in itself, but the transition from understanding aspects of an organization to reaping the benefits of this understanding is outside the scope of the current investigation (although changing people's perception of reality may manifest itself in action).

In order to narrow the aspects of enterprise modeling that are investigated, four partial questions are formulated:
 

Partial Research Questions 

RQ1: What are the purposes of developing and using enterprise models, and how are enterprise models actually used? 

RQ2: What activities are most important in an enterprise modeling process? 

RQ3: What are the most important properties of enterprise models, i.e., the artifacts or manifestations of the modeling process? 

RQ4: What are the most prominent relationships between purposes, modeling processes, models, modelers and the enterprise that is modeled? 

Note that the focus is on enterprise modeling and not merely on enterprise models. The process through which enterprise models are created and used is a primary target to study.

The research objectives pursued in order to answer the research questions are:
 

Research Objectives 

RO1: Based on empirical studies of real enterprise modeling projects, formulate a set of assertions concerning enterprise modeling practice when the purpose of modeling is human sense-making and communication. 

RO2: Develop a methodological framework based on the above-mentioned assertions to guide practitioners in their enterprise modeling efforts. 

RO1 focuses on current enterprise modeling practice (the is part of the main research question). RO2 seeks to answer the should part of the main research question, based on the practice observed and summarized as a part of meeting RO1.

The research questions presented above cannot be given an exhaustive answer, at least not within the limited scope of a doctoral study. Narrowing of the questions question is required. Most of the focus in this thesis is on RQ1 and RQ2: The purposes, use and process of enterprise modeling. These are the aspects perceived to be least developed in current literature on the topic of enterprise modeling. Some limitations of the study are also pointed out in chapter 10.

1.2.3 Central terms and their meaning

Some of the central terms used in the formulation of research questions and objectives deserve a closer look to clarify their intended meaning in this thesis. The meaning of the terms become more sophisticated in chapter 3 after the introduction of additional theory, but a brief and informal outline is given here.

Enterprise modeling can be thought of as describing selected aspects of an organization, e.g., their business processes, products, objectives, actors, threats and opportunities. There are no restrictions on how the description is given, although a graphical layout in terms of a diagram or a drawing is considered typical.

Sense-making subsumes understanding, but has some connotations: Sense-making stresses that the focus is on the process of understanding, not on a final state of knowing. Further, sense-making is an active term, indicating the creation of meaning and not merely passive interpretation. Sense-making is as much a matter of invention as it is of discovery, according to Weick (1995:13). Finally, sense-making implies not only attribution of meaning, but also incorporation of this meaning into a coherent whole.

Communication is taken to mean the exchange of information between actors, relying on a more or less common language. Communication serves a purpose in informing other actors of how an actor makes sense of reality and is to be interpreted in a broad sense (i.e., communication does not only rely on speech, but also action).

The notion of enterprise modeling as a means to support human sense-making and communication is to see enterprise modeling as a process that may influence how actors make sense of and communicate about the modeled enterprise. At the same time, sense-making and communication are central activities in enterprise modeling. Consequently, sense-making and communication are both parts of and purposes of enterprise modeling.

Finally, that an activity or property is important or prominent is indicated by repeated observations of the same issue, outstanding performance, assigned priority by actors in the projects that are studied, etc. Hence, there is an element of subjectivity involved in assessment of importance.