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Optimizing information and communication technology (ICT) project life cycles (PLC) in developed countries with a focus on Qatar and the middle east - Part 3

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2.1. Causes of Project Failures

Poor communication

Difficulties often arise due to the lack of good, high quality communication between all team members; the PM, the team, the Sponsor and the customer. Therefore, a suggestion is to let the whole team cooperate to reach a shared goal in weekly meetings for example. (MS 2010) A project will be unlikely to succeed without clear channels of communication. Poole (2002) has explained that when this happens then the communication between team members has also been poor; without anyone really knowing how to meet the requirements of the project. Even when requirements have been available on paper, if information is missing and no clarification has been available the project is in trouble. (Poole 2002)

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Williams and Miller (2002) have sixty years of combined experience in management and consulting. They have used a survey methodology to determine how executive managers make their decisions. From January 1999 to June 2001, questionnaires had been distributed by email, over the telephone and in face-to-fact interviews. This resulted in forming a participant pool of approximately 1,680 executives working in wide ranging industries, which included high technology firms to small retail businesses. The researchers determined, using a cluster analysis, five typical styles of decision-making: (a) controllers, (b) thinkers, (c) sceptics, (d) charismatics, and (e) followers. Historically the first PM’s were chosen from the engineering pool of IT engineers. Unfortunately, IT engineers are by nature prone to be comfortable working alone and with little guidance. Those two traits have not been desirable traits in a PM. The article has given many interesting insights how to persuade a manager from a team member’s point of view or even how to persuade a sponsor from the PM’s point of view based on personality types of decision-making.

 

Delays

Delays in receiving resources can cause a problem in developing an appropriately integrated product on time; morale can reach low levels when constant delays slow the team down. (Poole 2002) Understanding the similarities between different sized companies has been found to be helpful in understanding the basic interactions in a project. For example CIEM (2011) has suggested considering the following six interacting processes “(a) schedule development, (b) schedule control, (c) activity duration estimating, (d) activity resource estimating,” and “(e) the activity definition” (professionalprojectmanagement.blogspot). The daily maintenance of these six key processes has ensured a project will progress successfully. Another positive aspect is that daily maintenance helps the PM maintain accountability. Five of the processes are part of a project’s planning phase; schedule control is not even though careful planning leads to more successful schedule control. Software applications have been developed in order to incorporate activity definition, sequencing, resource estimation and duration and schedule development. A PM can develop a Gantt graph which, when integrated with other data, forms the all-important Critical Path. (MS 2010) Each six activities is as important as the rest. Unless these six activities are maintained then it is unlikely any of the deliverables (or milestones) will be ready on time. (PMBOK 2004; MS 2010)

2.2. Scope

Scope has been defined as the work the project must finish on time to give the customer a high quality deliverable. The Scope document is one of the most important documents, if not THE most important document for predicting the success or failure of a project. The Scope document must be written in as much detail as humanly possible; otherwise, the scope of the project may turn into a constraint rather than a template that guides the project. One example, which has been given by Gilb (2006), can demonstrate the amount of detail that is ideal for one part of the Scope document. The purpose is to avoid changes in product requirements during a project. Gilb (2006) lists the “Rules: Design Specification” which are ten essential factors that need to be written down and signed off on by the stakeholders (12). The ten factors include

a) Design Separation (intentional constraints),

b) Detail (clarification in as much detail as possible of the design specification),

c) Explode (This refers to the strategy of breaking down the design specification into all the sub-designs necessary and defining each one.),

d) Dependencies (These are the factors that the design depends upon to be successful.),

e) Impacts (The impacts can be diagrammed using arrows throughout the project but even at the beginning has been shown to be essential to “specify at least one main performance attribute impacted by it” (12).)

f), Background Information (This is all information which may affect the performance of the desired project goal or influence the budget. Uncertainty should be spelled out under this heading.),

g) IE Table (Impact Estimation (IE) can be used as tool to evaluate if the design meets the criteria of the customer.),

h) Constraints, (Gilb (2006) emphasises his contention that “no single design specification, or set of design specifications cumulatively, can violate any specified constraint” (13)), and

i) Rejected Designs must be kept on file in the project’s database so the reasoning behind the rejection and the person responsible for making the decision are available if needed.

2.2.1. Risks

Risk has traditionally been a factor considered after all the other because uncertainties are often difficult to predict. Risk can be understood as the main indicator of where obstacles are apt to occur and their affect on the project. Most importantly, it draws attention to weaknesses in the project and how to overcome these weaknesses effectively. Risk assessment of a project is a key step towards project success, since it makes the project run as smoothly as possible. The use of risk assessment has been considered a way to fulfil the scope of the project using the available time and resources while guaranteeing the highest quality product delivered on time and within budget. (PMI 2008; Diana 2010; Al Neimat 2006; Cambridge 2011)

Bakker (et al. 2010) have researched the assumption that poor risk management is the cause of most IT project failures. They performed a meta-analysis on available empirical evidence to answer the question “Does risk management contribute to IT project success?” (493). Secondly, the researchers considered whether valid assumptions have been used as a basis of risk management. The reason the research was initiated was to understand why, even though over a decade much literature has addressed the problem of project failure due to risk management mistakes, the incidence of project failure is still high. Startlingly their research found that a risk management approach to addressing uncertainties may “only work under very strict conditions” (Bakker 2010 494). Therefore, the most important findings in this particular research study have been the suggestions for further research that would help understanding risk management much better than the current state of research. For example, the three main suggestions from the conclusions of Bakker (et al. 2010) (a) question the assumption that risk management works appropriately in IT projects, (b) explore the effect of risk management to a project’s success when all stakeholders understand that risk is an integral part of IT projects, and (c) include a larger definition of project success and evaluate if and how risk management effects success.

Alhawari (et al. 2012) has offered a “knowledge based risk management (KBRM) framework” for IT projects. Essentially, they have combined the necessary task of risk management with knowledge management. The definition of knowledge in this context could be considered the type of information whether it be data or verbal information which is necessary to solve a real world problem such as meeting the criteria of an IT project’s deliverable. The knowledge needs to be managed in order to gather, organize and share the appropriate knowledge with the appropriate stakeholders. The authors explored the interrelationships and their importance inherent in consideration of risk from a knowledge-based perspective. The research concluded with the development of a model called the RiskManIT, which they would recommend for pilot studies and to automate in the future. (Alhawari et al. 2012 64)

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2.3. Role of an IT Project Manager (PM)

A PM should have motivational and organizational skills. The first essential task of the PM would be to hire the appropriate team members. Suchan (2003), Microsoft Office Project’s PM, has suggested developing the resource plan first in order to identify the stakeholders. In addition, the plan would identify the skill types needed. Ahn (2005), Operations Director for JNC solutions has emphasized her belief that the PM’s most important job is to “keep all members aware of ... Time, Budget, and Quality.” Five important traits for team members include (a) skills useful to the project, (b) appropriate level in the business hierarchy, (c) capable team players, (d) amount of network access and resources they would bring to the team, and (e) an ability to work effectively within a team. (Ahn 2005) Suggestions in the literature from other PM did not include ‘(b) appropriate level in the business hierarchy’ but it would definitely be a reasonable asset. For example, higher levels in the business hierarchy would be good to have on board for necessary support for things such as quality facilities, enough Internet time, and the availability of resources.

Lawlor (2010) has explained the first two priorities of a project manager should be a thorough knowledge of the (a) expectations of the customer, and (b) the purpose of the project. The goal of the project needs to be clearly defined to every member of the project. The personnel must be kept on track to reach the same goal. If the PM has a clear vision of the end product their ability to keeping the personnel on the same track increases the chances of a successful project.

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