Management Accounting Above and Under Ground : Field Studies of Operations Managers’ Everyday Work

Abstract: This thesis concerns operations managers who are required to adhere to both management accounting and operational concerns in their everyday operational work. The question addressed in this thesis is how management accounting is implicated in the everyday operational work of operations managers and their team members in production environments. The purpose is to explore management accounting practices in the everyday work of operations managers and their team members in production environments, and to theorize about their practices at the intersection of management accounting and operations. The research process drew upon ethnographic ideas and included travels back and forth between theory and practice at a mining company. This thesis shows that operations managers use management accounting in an analytical manner when they draw upon management accounting frames of reference to organize and mobilize action in their everyday operational work. An analytical use of management accounting suggests that management accounting extends beyond accounting departments and meeting rooms at operational levels and reaches out to the shop-floor and the mines. In such settings, operations managers are found doing accounting when they alternate between management accounting and operational frames of reference to interpret, construct and talk accounting in their everyday operational work. Management accounting enables operations managers to make sense of operational situations, and to gain and exert agency in their operational work. The results indicate that management accounting becomes a ‘way of doing things’ in everyday operational work via mimetic mechanisms. At times, operations managers are required to abide by management accounting in their everyday operational work via coercive mechanisms. The first conclusion is that management accounting is implicated in the everyday operational work of operations managers and their team members through its presence as a frame of reference. Operations managers do not always need to rely on accounting artefacts to mobilize action. Rather, they can rely on their developed management accounting knowledge. The second conclusion is that management accounting is implicated in the everyday work of operations managers and their team members through its presence as a practice. Management accounting influences operational routines and activities, which enables operations managers and their team members to handle the intersection between management accounting and operations by developing ways of practicing management accounting in everyday operational work. One contribution to the accounting practice literature is presenting how operations managers are shown to engage in management accounting, thereby making it a practice in their everyday work. Another contribution to the literature on the intersection between management accounting and operations is showing that operations managers gain agency via management accounting in their everyday work, which helps them navigate between management accounting and operational concerns.