Optimizing information and communication technology (ICT) project life cycles (PLC) in developed countries with a focus on Qatar and the middle east – Part 4

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2.4. Success and Failure

Dorsey (2000) has noted that “there is no free lunch in software engineering.” In other words a project requires focus, concentration and hard work from the beginning to the end. It is also important to point out that success is different than “avoiding failure” (Dorsey 2000). Dorsey (2000) suggests that the three foundational and critical success factors are (a) top management support, (b) a sound methodology, and a (c) solid technical leadership by someone who has successfully completed a similar project (2). So the project requires support from the executive branch of the company, a solid design and someone who has experience in a similar project.

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2.4.1. Successful projects

The recipe of success offered by the Standish Group (1999) is based on ten and only ten characteristics. The ingredients are (a) minimization, (b) communications, and (c) standard infrastructure; then the addition of (d) a good project manager, (e) an interactive process, (f) project management tools and (g) adherence to key roles; with the boundaries being set at (h) a duration no longer than six months, (i) a team of no more than six people and (j) a cost of no more than $750,000.

Raymond and Bergeron (2008) are both academics from universities in Quebec. They have found in their research that Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) have been shown to have a positive impact on projects and been effective in project success. A PMIS is a software package that consists of applications that a project manager can use to plan and conduct a complex IT project. Raymond and Bergeron (2008) have explained how the need for PMIS software packages arose.

Globalization and the internationalization of markets have increased competitive pressures on business enterprises. This has led companies to engage in projects that are critical to their performance, if not their survival. These projects, common in industries such as engineering services, information technology, construction, and pharmaceutical have one thing in common: they need to be managed, that is, they need to be planned, staffed, organized, monitored, controlled, and evaluated. (Raymond & Bergeron 2008 213)

The purpose of their study was to evaluate the help or hindrance of PMIS in the day-to-day decision making processes of an IT project; including (a) the initial planning, (b) the organizational plan, and (c) the ability to control elements of the project. The researchers developed a model in order to empirically quantify five major impacts of PMIS on IT projects; (a) PMIS quality, (b) PMIS information output quality, (c) PMIS practical daily use, (d) PMMIS individual inputs, and (e) PMIS impacts on successful meeting the criteria of IT projects. (Raymond & Bergeron 2008) Interestingly the attitude towards PMIS is that although there is no guarantee of success using a PMIS system; it is thought to be essential to running a project. A startling figure that has been calculated is that “Research estimates that 75 percent of large IT projects managed with the support of PMIS will succeed, while 75 percent of projects without such support will fail” (Gartner as cited by Raymond & Bergeron 2008 214). The researchers used thirty-nine out of forty-five questionnaires which were received from a pool of 224 project managers and project management consultants (a 17.4 percent response rate). (Raymond& Bergeron 2008 215) The researchers concluded that the “actual impacts of IT-based PMIS” have demonstrated a positive impact and are “advantageous to project managers” (Raymond& Bergeron 2008 219). The main PMIS advantages to project success were demonstrated to a) keeping the budget within boundaries b) helping to meet deadlines, and c) making sure the initial technical criteria is met.

Chen (et al. 2009) also evaluated IT projects facing multiple risks. The purpose of the research was to evaluate the impact of both public and private risks combined because there has been a gap in determining the correlation between “IT investment value and risk factors” (Chen et al. 2009 776). The researchers delineated the types of private risks and public risks which they explored to determine risk association with IT investments. Under the risk category of private risks they have determine six types of risk (a) organizational which refers to management stability, (b) user risk which refers to the involvement and attitude of the end user, (c) requirement risk – accuracy and stability of initial requirements, (d) structural risk – the process and the internal departmental players plus the appropriateness of the application, (e) team risk refers to inappropriate and inadequate skills of team members as well as team membership turnover, (f) complexity risk – will the developed product be put into use; if not the project has failed, will the ability to use the newly developed product require extending the user’s systems in order to accommodate the product – this would incur more cost and time for the user. The public risks evaluated were (a) the risk of internal or external competitiveness that acts as an obstacle for the product’s development and (b) the risk of the market environment which has the ability to change quickly, the stakeholders may refuse the end deliverable, and the product may even have become obsolete by the time of delivery. These have been shown intuitively and empirically to all be risks that can make or break a project. The researchers developed a method of statistical analysis in order to evaluate completed projects. Chen (et al. 2009) concluded that using a real option method to evaluate IT investment which are naturally subject to a mix of complex risks is possible. The researchers modelled the public and private risk in order to develop a correlation with investment. Chen et al. (2009) have stated that “We are confident that this method would help IT managers produce a well-structured valuation process in IT investment decision-making” (785). That does not mean that there problems are not left to overcome. Certainly more research must be done to fill in gaps of knowledge. The researchers also suggested that future research in order to refine the valuation approach especially overtime, delete the individual preferences bias inherent in multi-criteria decision models. (Chen et al. 2009 785)

Alison B. Flynn is VP of Operations and Technology and Timothy J. Mangione is the manager at Nexera, Inc. They have researched the health care industry in order to assess several project needs in a health care environment. These include the basics of most industry’s need for projects: “(a) technology implementation, operational and process improvements and facility planning” (Flynn & Mangione 2008 para 7). Their analysis resulted in five strategic steps. (a) Building the right team was found to be an essential first step. They emphasized including corporate leadership so the project would have a person in the top of the hierarchy to add valuable feelings of motivation and morale. (b) Facilitating excellent channels of communication so that the team remains cohesive and focused on the same goal. Flynn and Mangione (2008) have recommended a “proactive approach” when challenges and/or obstacles may hinder communication (para 5). Their first choice has been to arrange face-to-face meetings. When that type of meeting is impossible they recommend the use of conference calls, the Internet such as blogs and Web postings to keep the lines of communication open. (c) Collaboration must be encouraged and rewarded. In short “by matching each team member’s incentive to the overall goals, the entire team is further motivated to achieve success” (Flynn & Mangione 2008 para 7). The PM must be alert to barriers to project success that will arise. The PM must be responsible for diligently watching for problems and finding solutions to any potential obstacles. Refactoring, customer tests and programmer tests during development are essential (Flynn & Mangione 2008 para 9). (e) Celebrate successes because everyone who has contributed to a successful project deliverable deserves a reward.

Al Neimat (2005) offers eleven tips that he highly recommends PMs using while continuing a careful and thoughtful project management process. By doing so they should reduce the risk of failure substantially. (a) The critical path is the most important Gantt graph to keep in mind. Making the adjustments necessary to stay within the critical path is a good one to stay on the path to success. (b) All the processes that must be used need to be part of the project design for good risk management. The descriptions of the processes will facilitate evaluating the risks. (c) The main goal of the IT project needs to stay in focus during any decision-making. Constant and/or regular discussion of the end goal will help define for each team member their expected role in creating the deliverables to meet the goal. (d) When objectives change, appropriate trade-offs must be considered as essential. Without making the hard decisions trade-offs require the project will become uncontrollable. (e) The PM must monitor resources and employees per task on the daily IT worksheets to make sure resources are delivered on time and that there are enough employees working on the project at all times. But Al Neimat (2005) cautions that the PM must consider duration of the project to estimate the schedule not by estimating task times and trying to come up with an end date. (f) Many PMs have the habit of considering the estimates of time and resources as variables along a linear approximation, but this must be avoided. (Al Neimat 2005 7) (g) The support of executive management is necessary. Any questions and/or reservations they have should be shared at a face-to-face meeting or even better, at during weekly team sessions. (h) The progress made during an IT project is rarely visual that makes the role of the PM especially responsible for communicating the progress regularly. (i) End-users are an essential part of the process so a customer representative and a technical tester from the client add to the probability that the end product will be the result the client expects. (j) The PM needs to have the “appropriate planning, communication, and technology skills” necessary to run the project (Al Neimat 2005 7).

 

2.4.2. Failed Projects

Al Neimat is an Infrastructure Specialist for a Middle Eastern bank. He has extensive experience working with Microsoft and other large network projects. He has stated that research demonstrates that “project failures are rooted in the project management process itself and the aligning of IT with organizational cultures” (Al Neimat 2005 p. 3). As Al Neimat (2005) has pointed out the most transparent of the failed projects are those which were paid for with public money such as in the US the Virtual Case File Technology project for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He has noted that five years of IT development and 170 million USD were “lost” (Al Neimat 2005). The failures in the project were recognized as all being involved with the human factor rather than the technology. The problems included changing requirements for design to the point that none of the requirements were included in the design according to the National Research Council in 2004 (as cited by Al Neimat 2005). There Virtual Case File Technology had also been experiencing a high turnover of PMs during that time.

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Al Neimat (2005) evaluated IT projects’ failure and has offered the five primary causes. (a) Poor initial planning, (b) fuzzy understanding by the team of goals and objectives, (c) changing objectives midstream in a project, (d) estimates of necessary resources and project duration that are not realistic, (e) no support from the executive level and no end-user involvement, (f) poor to no communication between team members and no team cohesiveness, (g) team members with skills inappropriate for meeting the project goals. (3) Al Neimat (2005) has pointed to two features of failed IT projects; “scope creep” and “feature creep” (5). These are both results of the problem of changing the goal/objective/deliverables during the process. The initial project scope should have the description of the customer’s expected deliverable and the PM’s list of the required resources to reach that goal. When this scope changes than the trade-offs must be assessed; otherwise changes can become out-of-control. Feature creep refers to the addition of unplanned features which no matter how small add to the cost and affect the scheduling.

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