Optimizing information and communication technology (ICT) project life cycles (PLC) in developed countries with a focus on Qatar and the middle east

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Abstract

Qatar is considered to be one of the richest, if not the richest country in the world. This is a good sign for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) businesses that have been established there. Successful Information Technology (IT) projects are complex and many challenges and even obstacles face Project Managers working in Qatar. This research includes a literature review which explores the IT/ICT business environment including resource constraints, use of the Hexagonal approach, use of PRINCE2® and PMBOK® and introduction of Agile methodologies. Management leaders in the IT/ICT Qatari business sector were interviewed in order to understand their methods of bring a project to a successful end. The participants in the interviews also shared their experience with the most important fail factors. Also they discuss the necessary changes that will make Qatar more conducive to IT/ICT businesses. Each of the interviewees rely on the hexagonal approach to management which uses the six points of a) Time, b) Budget, c) Quality, d) Scope, e) Risk, and f) Resources. The managers also shared their strategies such as preparation of detailed Scope documentation, convening weekly team meetings, involving all stakeholders and uses external testing to establish a successful product for the end user.

(Hexagonal approach, Agile, PRINCE2, PMI, Information Technology, Communication, project managers)

Table of Contents

Definitions

 

Agile Processes

These are process that can adapt to change; they are not rigidly set in place. The developers are supported by the process, in other words, the process is not in charge. The opposite of an agile process is when a PM punishes team members for not following a rigid expectation of how a project should unfold. An ITPM must think creatively and be willing to take risks for the good of reaching the goals of the project. Each individual on the team has unique skills and experience to bring to the project. These valuable assets need to be recognized, used, and appreciated. (Cohn 2004; Davies 2006; Fowler 2005; Gilb 2004; Larman 2003)

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Budget

For IT projects money has been considered a tangible measurement. For the customer’s shareholders it is perhaps the key factor which they consider as a measurement success or failure. The evaluation using money as the measurement has been most often carried out by evaluating the actual return of investments (ROI).  Determining the error factor in a budget is extremely difficult; although many managers consider the budget as the best way to calculate the outcomes and the return of investments as essential measurements. For a PM the most important advocate in a company for budgetary requirements (and other resources) is the Sponsor who is someone from the senior management of the IT project provider’s company. (PMBOK 2004; Reyck et al. 2005)

 

Communication

The importance of communication between the PM, the project team, the sponsor and all stakeholders has been show to be essential to success. Team members should be allowed to share their progress and state their needs openly and regularly. In a team Flynn and Mangione (2008) have noted that “individuals with differing expertise and backgrounds can be both beneficial and challenging (1).” The benefits include cooperation between team members. For example someone with more experience in a certain area can teach or assist another IT engineer working on the problem. The challenge has been to encourage team members who are used to working on their own that cooperation is to their benefit and to the benefit of the project. (O’Rourke 2003; Poole 2002; Al Neimat 2005)

End user/s

The end user is the customer or the employees of the customer who uses the finished product of the project; they are the beneficiaries of all the hard work of the project team. From the project team’s point of view the end user is the receiver of the deliverable which has been produced during the project. The end user’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the final product determines the failure or success of the project. (Chen et al. 2009)

Hexagonal method

The six main factors (characteristics) of the hexagonal approach include a) Time, b) Budget, c) Quality, d) Scope, e) Risk, and f) Resources. (Siegelaub 2009; Stiffler 2011)

Project

A project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (PMBOK 2004). Weidermann describes a project as “a novel undertaking or systematic process to create a new product or services, the delivery of which signals completion. Projects involve risk and are typically constrained by limited resources” (Weiderman as cited in Rohmann 2007). According to The Standish Group International research standards (1999) successful projects ended on agreed upon date, on budget, with release of the initially agreed upon deliverables; failed projects were never finished or were not implemented. The five phases considered by the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) of a project are the initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. Page (2004) has suggested that the above five steps of methodology for a PM are “the bare minimum of processes a project manager must” use to design the project (13). Page (2004) has recommended that any methodology is better than no methodology but he has suggested that a “good project management methodology provides a framework with repeatable processes, guidelines, and techniques to greatly increase the odds of success” (13). Other good advice Page has suggested documenting agreements after conflicts or confusing issues have been resolved. Also a manager needs to be proactive rather than wait for a difficult situation to arise. According to Page (2004) the PM should be confident when presenting the scope baseline and the project schedule (13).

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Project Failure

Milis and Mercken (2004) mention a few of the variables that cause failures in complex IT projects such as (a) technical errors, (b) the human factor, (c) environmental circumstances, (d) organizational snafus, and/or (e) mismanagement. Bakker (et al. 2010) discussed the lack of a definitive yet general definition for project failure (498). The researchers found that Conrow and Shishido (1997) formed the best wording for what the other research articles implied; they wrote “rising costs, failing performance and slipping schedules are common problems” (83). Lack of customer satisfaction with the finished product has always been a definite signal of project failure. Bakker (et al. 2010) have noted the engineering origin of evaluating project success which is based on strictly following the rules which is called the functionalist approach whereas a management approach takes a project-specific style for managing uncertainties.

Project manager

The project manager must be the leader of the team. In order to be a leader a project manager must be able to show a balance between the project’s interests and the project team’s interest. Another job of the project manager/leader is to show that he or she cares about the individuals. Usually this care would be shown by simply treating the team members with respect; knowing their names as well as their concerns.

The person whose job it is to articulate and communicate what ‘done’ means and to guide the project team to done. By done, I mean a product that meets the needs of the organization developing the product and the customers who will use the product. (Rohmann 2007)

Project Success

A general definition of success would include meeting the following three criteria (a) delivering product on the agreed upon date of deadline, (b) keep within the budget, and (c) customer satisfaction with the deliverable (customer’s initial requirements are met). These three characteristics are targeted at customer satisfaction but there current research has shown the value of targeting satisfaction for all the stakeholders. (MS 2010; Standish 1999; Al Neimat 2005)

Product

The set of deliverables that are the goals reached which make-up the results of the project. (Rothmann 2007).

Quality

The measure of quality of any IT project has been used to gauge how good or bad the delivered service or products are. Quality is important in terms of meeting the customer’s initial criteria the delivered product so it is a measure of the outcome of a project. For example if a task or project is delivered on time and has not gone over the allocated budget, assessing quality is essential for evaluating the success or failure of the project. Traditionally quality has been considered a ‘project constraint’ which must be fulfilled to the maximum limit. The PM is responsible for the quality of the project in terms of delivery time and meeting the criteria which the customer has requested. In reality every person on the team needs to be kept fully aware of the quality criteria. Weekly team meetings which include assessments of the quality of the project have demonstrated an ability to ensure the quality of the project for the duration. This type of oversight highly gives better chances for successful product development. This means that the chance the deliverable will be satisfied with any deliverables and the end result of the project. (Ahn 2005; Kozak-Holland 2009)

 

Resources

Employees or the human factor are the basic resources necessary for an IT project. The number of staff is the largest affect on the budget. (Diana 2005) An initial evaluation of project resources has been a key indicator of the projects probability of success or failure. Resources range from (a) staff and their profiles, (b) procurement of IT computers and applications, (c) money flow plus (d) general resources management. When the appropriate resources are coordinated with the with the right profiles and allocated to the project, it has been shown to be number one guarantee a successful project with less associated risk. Cash flow is an important manageable part of the resource pool. (Diana 2005; Atkinson 1999; Morris & Sember 2008; Ambler 2011)

Risk

In general a good example of a PM taking a risk is throwing out the business theory books. A PM can have better results by observing and assessing the team dynamics and making the most of each team member’s skills. Diana (2005) suggests that from management’s point of view risk is “a good window into the health of a project.”

Risk Management

The risks of a project are those uncertainties that are hard to predict but must be managed in order to deliver a suitable end product. Bakker (et al. 2010) described two approaches to tackling risk (a) the evaluation approach and (b) the management approach. The evaluation approach is a process with essentially three steps which are repeated throughout the project; using an iterative style.

(a) The known factors are input for a project. (b) The project risk management process collects information about the risks and failure of the project, which leads to

new risk factors. (c) These new factors are added to the list of known risk, factors, together forming the input for the next project. (Bakker et al. 2010 494)

 On the other hand the management approach evaluates project-specific risks and may use a brainstorming style with other team members in order to manage the risk. (Bakker 2010 495) Including team members (and stakeholders such as a customer representative) is an Agile technique that can empower the team and strengthen the project.

Scope

The project scope defines what the project wants to have as a result in order to deliver it to the customer. Diana (2010) defines scope as “functional completeness” that is a completely operational finished product. In other words the scope includes the range of criteria which the project should be covering and including in the IT project process. The IT Project Scope document must explain how the project should fulfill and reach the outcome services and deliverable product. A clear and concise discussion of the aim and objectives of the project must also be included. The project scope also includes discussion of the tasks and responsible team member to the work breakdown subject, lists the necessary signatures for signoff on deliverables and addresses the fail-safe plans for possible risks. The IT Project Scope document is provided to stakeholders for their approval and provided to the project team for the team members to fulfill. (Bakker 2010; Diana 2010)

Sponsor

The sponsor is the person in senior management who is usually one of the strategic leaders. The sponsor gives support to the project by helping to ensure resources, for example. The budget for the project is best supported by someone in senior management who has the power and access to resources the project needs. A sponsor has been shown to be essential for handling internal politics so the project can progress to a successful completion. In this way the sponsor has been the person that negotiates for the project so that resources are not stopped and also that the project can continue without the PM having to be concerned if politics exist to try to kill the project. A sponsor is one of the stakeholders of the project. The duties include a range of tasks including signing off on key deliverables, meeting with the PM and if necessary negotiating with the client. (al Neimat 2004; Milis & Mercken 2004; Verzuh 2005; Siegelaub 2009; Kendrick 2011)

 

Team

The teams put together by the PM are the core of any project. At the same time the team can be the determining factor of failure or success. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word ‘team’ as “a group of people working together in order to achieve something” such as a shared goal. A team most generally includes the PM and the software engineers. In modern teams using agile methodology all the stakeholders have been included as part of the team; they interact with one another on a weekly basis. So a team does not have a strict and rigid membership. A team may also be made up of the PM, the sponsor, the team members and a customer representative. (Verzuh 2005; Siegelaub 2009; Kendrick 2011)

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Time

Traditionally time has been considered the most critical constraints among all the other constraints. The necessity to extend the time of a project is considered a failure; on the other hand delivering the project on time is a signal denoting a successful management project.

Time tasks are defined as tasks that are affected by time only and no other factor; for example perhaps waiting for cement to dry for a new computer lab has been a necessary part of the project. This is a time task that no one on the team can control. Furthermore time flow is the only factor which is not controllable; only how the tasks managed within the duration of a project can be managed. This is the reason the many applications have been developed in order to support the PM to integrate the time flow with resources, tasks, milestones and every possible detail of the project. Since time is one of the ways the customer has almost always judged the success or failure of a project’s end product this turns out to be one of the most essential characteristics of the hexagonal approach. (Milis & Mercken 2004; Raymond 2008; Siegelaub 2009; Kendrick 2011)

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