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Novel case study series in IT management now a novel

In the market for a real page-turner? A classic hero’s journey? Or, perhaps, a rigorous case study in information technology management? Improbably, Richard Nolan, the Philip M. Condit Endowed Chair in Business Administration at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, has produced all three in one volume.

“Adventures of an IT Leader,” published by Harvard Business Press, is the product of a novel experiment in serial case studies developed over several years by Nolan and co-authors Rob Austin and Shannon O’Donnell.

The suite of chapter-cases invites the reader to walk a year in the shoes of Jim Barton, the newly promoted chief information officer at a financial services firm, as he learns, under considerable duress, to be an effective leader in the most volatile job in business. The story is fiction. But it’s rooted in many decades of real-world experience in IT consulting and higher education pedagogy on offer from Nolan and Austin.

Forged in the classroom
The authors devised the 18-chapter narrative as a flexible teaching framework. They test-marketed the approach in the crucible of undergraduate, MBA and executive classrooms. “It has been well received in every forum,” Nolan said. “The real acid test may have been Harvard’s executive program for CIOs. We got great validation that we had the power of the story—the classic hero’s journey—with the power of real consulting experiences that resonated with 65 CIOs.”

Beyond an engaging study in IT management, the case study series was designed to be a prototype for a new style of teaching that engages “digital natives,” the tech-savvy young people studying in our universities and infusing the business world. The tone of the book is far from academic; its design is inspired by Japanese graphic novels. For the classroom, the experience is multimedia. There’s even a theme song.

“The idea that students today can’t engage as deeply as they have in the past is just wrong,” said Nolan. “Today’s students have grown up with multimedia engagement. And it’s the task of higher education to get up to speed with how to utilize these things.”

Found in journals and bookstores
As an experiment in modernizing the classroom experience, Nolan’s IT management case series also has generated two academic papers. “A ‘Novel’ Approach to the Design of an IS Management Course” is published in the March 2009 Communications of the Association for Information Systems. And “The Technology Manager’s Journey: An Extended Narrative Approach to Educating Technical Leaders” will be published in the September 2009 Academy of Management Journal.

In its novel form, “Adventures of an IT Leader” is available on Amazon.com and at bookstores. A digital version is available for Amazon’s Kindle reader.

Nolan, Austin and O’Donnell are currently developing a sequel that concerns the 21st century CEO. In this forthcoming volume, Barton the protagonist will be catapulted to the top job at an aerospace firm in crisis. Suspense and high drama are certain to follow.