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Project Management, Contradictions, and Textualized Activity: Supporting Reflection in Project Based Organizations

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Purpose: Fluid team dynamics, pressures for shortening temporal cycles, and ever shifting configurations of work pose fundamental challenges for workers in project based organizations (PBOs). Since project work is episodic, project professionals rarely have opportunity to reflect across projects to identify potential organizational, social, or tool-based contradictions affecting their work. Given these challenges, an opportunity exists for technical communicators to leverage skills in communication analysis and modeling to aid project professionals with reflective exercises. Method: We propose an Activity Theory framework to analyze and model email communications generated during a project lifecycle to help technical communicators identify emerging contradictions and provide reflective feedback loops for project workers. Using the Enron corpus, we offer a case study detailing the construction of a reflective activity-centric model for project workers. Results: Our case study provides empirical evidence that activity-centric models can be constructed using email and attachments when organized by the five process groups outlined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Sample modeling and questions derived from the work offers examples for reflective engagement with project professionals. Conclusion: Activity-centric models derived from email records offer technical communicators an approach to identifying contradictions within and across projects. Resulting models and reflective exercises can support project professionals with feedback loops aimed at improving how they understand their work and the collective culture in which it is produced.
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Keywords: ACTIVITY THEORY; CONTRADICTIONS; EMAIL; PROJECT-BASED ORGANIZATIONS; REFLECTION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2018

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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