The Research Process
Continued from: hypothetico-deductive method
Dictionary meaning of problem can be: complication, dilemma, dispute, doubt, mystery, teaser or twister. It does not mean something undesirable or bad. It is a situation in need of a solution, improvement, or alteration; or a discrepancy between the way things are and the way they ought to be. There may be a temporary shortage or disagreement or delays. Such a situation occurs in daily life and can be dealt with in the normal course of business. Some problems are blessing in disguise because many useful ideas maybe brought to light in the solution process.
PROBLEMS & RESEARCHClick thumbnail to view full-size
Business is a wide field and covers all activities for profit. When dealing with research even non-profit organizations are covered such as Non-Government-Organizations, charities and welfare institutions.
As the business field is wide so are problems: A strike of machine operators may impact delivery of goods to retail and wholesale customers. A manager may be considering takeover of a toy company under a long ranged horizontal expansion. Management of Gul Textile may be under pressure to resort to Just-in-time inventory to cut down investment in working capital. A fire may have destroyed primary loading and unloading shelter of a warehouse.
Business problems can be classified into four categories: (i) existing problems of routine nature, (ii) problem areas needing improvement, (iii) culture issues that may be sensitive and potentially problematic, and (iv) some advanced knowledge which may give an edge to the company while competing in the market. As stated earlier, the problems are not specific to operations or marketing but in every field of business like accounting, finance and planning which includes product development.
Not all business problems are tedious or novel. These are generally solved through guidelines provided in the administrative manuals, policies, procedures, regulation and information. Vision plays a great role in taking an appropriate decision.
Those problems which cannot be solved by the managers or warrant a deep study because of their sensitivity or importance are referred to own research officers or outside researchers.
On his or her part, the researcher would try to find out the real issue which requires some preliminary research. One should not define symptoms of a problem as real problem. In a laundry shop, there were always customers' complaint against staff for bad behavior. The management changed many staff members but complaints continued. An investigation, same as research, showed that it was late delivery of the clothes by the factory which was the root-cause of the problem but the customers were outpouring their anger on the staff. Once delivery problems were sorted out, the complaints become negligible.
Once Research problem has been identified, the research questions would have to be formulated to guide the research. Research questions stay within the context as set by the research problem thus focusing on the main issue. Such questions provide the very basic foundation of research work. They are helpful in determining the scope of research i.e. what to research and what not to research thus setting the frame of reference for the study.
At this point, sufficient information would have been gathered to take a decision: whether to research or not. Research must not be undertaken if it appears difficult to implement it. There are many old and deep-rooted issues which cannot be resolved at an organizational level but require a nation-wide consensus. Similarly, if a managerial decision involves a small risk, there is no need for research which is both costly and time consuming. Also, research should not be resorted to if there are insufficient resources or where the cost of study outweighs the expected cashflows.
Multan, Shams-e-Tabriz Shrine
An example of Research Problem from personal experience
During my bank job, I used to go on follow-up visits all over the country. My favorite area was Multan City in the central Pakistan. It was an historical place. Strolling in city was like a dip in the spiritual world. Great Saints and Sufis had lived there. Nowhere else, there was such a cluster of shrines and tombs. Their domes were visible from every direction. They were decorated with glazed tiles.
A borrower in this city always delayed loan-payment on one pretext or the other. Labor absenteeism was usually advanced as a factor resulting in lower profitability. Once for a while, it was OK but dishing out the same reason year after year was not acceptable. In one of my visit, I decided to stay for a few days to conduct an in-depth study.
The borrower, a public limited company, had two units for cloth weaving and processing. Unit No. 1 was older, established by the main road on a spacious space. Nearly all the employees of this unit had constructed their own houses in the vicinity of the mills and were well settled. Later Mill No.2 was installed about 3.5 km away and some staff was transferred there. Though both the units had the same capacity and the same market, Unit No.2 always remained much behind in profitability and sometimes recorded losses. Preliminary investigation revealed that there was frequent absenteeism which badly affected the performance. The management tried its best to persuade the workers to be punctual though a variety of methods such as attendance bonuses, rewards and sometime penalties or even dismissals. But the problem remained unabated.
I had some discussion with the managers, staff members and even some workers. (I may point out that as a senior bank executive; I had considerable leverages for forcing the management to cooperate in any inquiry stemming from loan defaults). The problem was narrowed down to night shift of Mill No.2 where the absenteeism was maximum.
The unit was located at a deserted place; there was no life beyond the mills. Since the workers were reluctant to go there, the management decided to send everyone turn by turn to work in Mill No. 2 for 15 days a month. While it worked well for day shifts, it posed a problem for night shift. There being no metalled road, the workers used to go walking or on cycles. They had to pass by an old grave yard which was reportedly very scary at night. Many became frightened and avoided the night shift by hook or crook.
I accompanied by two guards walked from Mill No.1 to Mill No.2 at night and did not feel anything unusual. There was a high boundary wall around the graveyard and unless someone pointed out, no one would come to know what lied beyond the walls. During my stay, I had informal visits to canteen, roadside hotels and to residences of some known staff members. It transpired that almost all workers were doing odd jobs or running a small businesses with the help of their family members and if they go to Mill No.2 they were cut off for pretty 10 hours from the mainstream. Hence they wished that the unit be closed down somehow.
In my report, I recommended that the owner be persuaded to sell off the unit and expand their Mill No.1 with our financial assistance. This was approved and conveyed to the owners who after some hesitation agreed and so their problem was solved.
Management problems are normal and are encountered in everyday life of a manager. As far as possible, the management problems should be solved through using necessary authority and keeping in view rules and regulation of the organization, industrial norms and environments. A manager should keep himself or herself update with the major breakthrough in management and technology and try to adopt it.
Some problems cannot be solved through administrative measures. They must be passed on to research division for indepth study. In the foregoing story of a borrower, I tried to show how a management problem turned a research problem and how it was dealt with.