Management Field Studies

title:Construction Area: Watch out for trucks!
Author: Stephen J. Turnbull

There is a Japanese version and a Chinese version of this page.

Possible Topics for 2013

In all of the topics listed below, I will seriously consider student preferences and ideas in planning the project.

I believe that management is best taught in a concrete context, such as in a case study based on consulting to an organization such as a business or an NPO. Because of the limited time and the abilities and skills of participants at the start, it should be focused on a single department of the organization which conducts a limited range of closely related activities. Where the project descriptions seem more general, you should expect that the early stage of the project will be to carve out a focused study from the general area described.

The projects are described as "consulting-type" and "policy-type." In consulting-type projects, the focus of the project is on improving the internal operations of the organization, or on strategies to improve the organization's position in the economy (interpreted broadly; obviously NPOs are not going to consider "increased profit" as a goal, but they do behave strategically). In a policy-type project, the focus is on the "generic" strategic response of organizations to government policies as implemented by the bureaucracy (an external relationship), and how those policies can be improved to better achieve the objectives defined by the government and the bureaucracy given an understanding of how organization respond strategically. The policy-type project also includes projects focused on generic strategy, such as Project V described below. Despite being characterized as "internal" and "external" respectively, both kinds of project focus on behavior of individual organizations.

I. Kirakira Service (Elderly Care)

The Kirakira Service is run by an NPO (the Tsuchiura Megumi Church) on a charitable basis. Currently it is covering operating costs. It provides in-facility care, at-home care, and care planning services, and is qualified as a care vendor by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW). For the past 8 (?) years it has used facilities of the Tsuchiura Megumi Church, but in late 2013 will move into a separate building of its own.

The Kirakira Service is current facing several long-run planning issues. Currently operating in the black, changes in remuneration policy by the MHLW may force it to grow in order to achieve break- even. Furthermore, due to aging of the local population as well as growth of the elderly membership of the church itself, demand is expected to increase. Based on Christian ideals, its pool of potential employees is restricted. With this background, the issues include

  1. Optimal size based on current and planned MHLW remuneration policies and service standards.
  2. Risk management vs. potential future revisions in MHLW policy.
  3. Operations management to achieve maximum utilization rates of available capacity.
  4. Marketing to attract new clients.
  5. Employee recruiting.

Notes: This is a consulting-type project.

The religious nature of the ideals is unimportant to the proposed project. However, the existence of the ideals is a feature, in that NPOs often restrict their practices for idealistic reasons (typical examples being religious principles, as here, and "going green"). Such restrictions can also be considered to be a relative extreme form of CSR, which has become an important aspect of public relations in the for-profit sector as well.

The church has not approved this project, but some of the staff have expressed interest in having a field studies team work with them on some of these issues.

II. Evaluating the DPC Remuneration System for Hospitalization

The Diagnostic Procedure Combination (DPC) is a system of evaluation combinations of health problems that require hospitalization with specific treatments. For example, cancer may be treated with drugs, radiation, or surgery, while surgery is indicated for many heart problems and trauma, as well as in some cases of cancer. The specific combination of a particular type and location of cancer, along with a specific surgical procedure, is awarded points for each day of hospitalization based on cost and effectiveness. These points then translate into specific levels of remuneration to the hospital. This system was introduced in a few hospitals in 2003, and has grown to cover well over half of all hospitalizations. By contrast with the alternative "cost-plus" remuneration scheme, the DPC system is intended to provide incentives for efficient provision of health services.

Doctors point out a number of problems with the DPC system, including long lags in getting the most recent (and often, most effective) treatments covered by the system, and perverse incentives such as suboptimally early discharge and (paradoxically) late discharge of patients from their hospital stay.

The tasks here could include:

  1. Evaluating the effectiveness of the DPC system in delivering the preferred treatments for each condition.
  2. Evaluating whether DPC actually has had perverse effects.
  3. Proposing remedial policies for such problems, including software systems for automatically incorporating new data on effectiveness as an "early warning system" to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that DPC scales need review.

Notes: This is mostly a policy-type project, although developing remedial methods (ie, optimizing DPC point scales and reviewing) would be on the consulting end of the spectrum.

This study was suggested by the blog of a doctor at Tsukuba Memorial Hospital (same doctor as mentioned in project III), who might be willing to cooperate in advising the study.

III. Indirect Cost to Patients of Illness and Treatment

Bureaucratic analysis of the effectiveness and efficiency of the health care system focuses on the direct costs of care (professional labor, equipment, medicine, etc) and the direct results (cure rates, death and disability rates, etc). However, socially we must also consider the effects on both economic activity and on quality of life in general. In this project, I suggest we focus mainly on indirect economic costs (costs of transportation to medical facilities, lost income due to excess sick days, cost of additional staff for self-employed patients), although there are ways we could try to include quality of life considerations.

Notes: This is a policy-type project.

This study is suggested by the blog of a doctor at Tsukuba Memorial Hospital (same doctor as mentioned in project II), who might be willing to cooperate in advising the study.

IV. Entrepreneurship in the IT Industry: IT Startups in Japan

I have a large number of contacts who have worked in recent (ongoing, sometimes not yet even named) startups and some not-so-recent startups (, GREE) in IT (mostly software and web services). Some expressed interest in working with field studies team (although they were drinking beer at the time, so who knows how serious they are!)

Notes: This is a consulting-type project.

At this stage it's kind of fuzzy; I'm not sure what it will turn into. That depends on the company(s) that participate as well as student interest.

I am also working on a (JSPS-funded) project, where I am doing an international and intersectoral comparison of software development (Japanese commercial developers vs. international, mostly American, open source developers). These two projects might be coordinated in some way, but I see the MFS project being a consulting-type project, whereas my research is more an economic/industry policy project.

V. Entrepreneurship and Finance in IT

In his "Forward" to Henry Chesbrough's book Open Innovation, John Seely Brown suggests that innovation by established companies requires coordination between financial modeling for new business models and product development. He proposes use of real options theory for this purpose. This project will center on a specific application of this approach to the software and/or Internet industries, involving evaluation of either or both of product development strategies (object-oriented design, waterfall model, agile development, etc.) and business model innovation (disruptive innovation, value chains and networks, etc.).

Note: This is a policy-type project (see Introduction, above).