Optimizing information and communication technology (ICT) project life cycles (PLC) in developed countries with a focus on Qatar and the middle east – Part 7

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Chapter 4. Results

All eleven of the professionals targeted as potential interviewees accepted the initiation to be interviewed. Out of the total eleven, only eight gave their permission to have their interview data publicly shared. Two of the eight interviewees work at IT production companies whereas the remaining interviewees, six of them, work at IT service companies. The Appendix contains the notes from each of the eight interviews.

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4.1. Hexagonal approach

The six main factors (characteristics) of the hexagonal approach include a) Time, b) Budget, c) Quality, d) Scope, e) Risk, and f) Resources. Each of the professionals interviewed agreed that the hexagonal method of project strategy is essential to project success. Although success will not be guaranteed by the use of the hexagonal approach; it is the most practical and helpful strategy. Therefore, although each interviewee labelled the project phases differently, essentially the hexagonal approach was the basis of their strategy in managing projects. For example, Interviewee #1 listed the six main project phases as a) Conceptualization, b) Initiation (by the Sales Department), c) Planning, d) Development, e) Handover, and f) Support (support services to the project’s client). Interviewee #2 lists these six phases as a) Idea management (requirements), b) Scope, c) Business approval and Capital approval, d) Tendering process, e) Development, and f) Integration. One can immediately recognize that step 6 of each list involves getting the end user trained and familiar with the end product. Support and integration for the end users are important for the success of the product and must be taken seriously in order to satisfy the customer. Although it is the last step it is essential to establishing the success (hopefully) of the project.

Interviewee #3 lists only four main phases a) Initiation, b) Planning, c) Execution, and d) Closure. However, by evaluating the challenges listed by Interviewee #3 the six essential steps of the hexagonal approach are easily discernible. Notice that the very first characteristic Interview #3 lists is Scope, the sixth is Risks, and the other challenges are related to Quality. Interview #4 has incorporated the six phases with the challenges inherent in projects. First, he noted that the internal communication could be a challenge especially if middle management input is missing and if no Technical Director is appointed on the team. This participant was the only interviewee who mentioned the importance of collaboration with middle management. The rest stressed the importance of top management co-operation in order to have support at the top of the business hierarchy.

Interviewee #4 has listed the five remaining phases and broken them down with the challenges faced in each of them. Number two is listed as the Initial Phase in which Scope and Business Clarity are coupled as challenges. A most important purpose of Scope documentation is always business clarity so all stakeholders understand the project’s scope. Interviewee #4 who is a developer and an IT PM, which is reflected in the types of challenges, he is used to directing. During the initial phase business clarity, monetization, requirements, vision, and the challenge Scope can offer if expectations are raised. Planning phase has been listed as number three and said to encompass the scope’s technical analysis, time and cost. He noted that the Planning Phase is based the quality and the expectations written into the Scope documentation. The development phase (list number 4) offers the opportunity to minimize the risk by implementing collaboration tools. Nevertheless, the point has been made that if the daily project management is not kept up-to-date then any estimates that have been made to end date, product requirements, etc. will not be reliable. Number five has been listed as the Integration Phase when a power struggle with middle management may become the largest challenge. This means that any Communication problems which must be solved. Good communication is essential for a successful project especially because this is the phase in which Interviewee #4 expects Testing to be carried out. Phase number six is listed as the Handover phase and has been assumed to determine whether a project fails or succeeds.

Interviewee # 5 is the Health IT Program Leader he has stated that the main project phases are the six phases of the hexagonal approach. It is the methodology for the service projects at the company. He also incorporates the project phases with his descriptions of project challenges. Firstly, he has made the point that clearly understanding the business is a key for success. He has gone on to describe this key factor as making sure that a PM has “a clear idea and full understanding of projects” and their responsibilities. He also explained that there is a necessity for understanding the procedural documentation of the business. Challenge number two has been listed as communication and full engagement of the clients (the end users). Three and four are the challenges of a lack of understanding of the IT project plus why the client as well as vague Scope documentation need it. It can be very difficult to collect all the details necessary for the Scope so the whole scope of the project parameters can be understood.

If top-down management pressures the PM and team members for project success without understanding what the project needs for successful development that creates an unwanted challenge. On the other hand if the senior management works to encourage the collaboration between all stakeholders. For example, Interviewee #4 stresses the input of the end users in order to guarantee project success. Internal and external resources can be assets or challenges. It depends on two things. Firstly, the willingness of team members to take responsibility for resources (as well as their participation) affects the project internally. Secondly externally, it depends upon the reliability of the vendors contracted for the project. The last thing mentioned in this interview but perhaps the most important were the skills and talents of the PM. A PM needs very good soft skills; especially personality based skills.

Interviewee #6 also supported the six phases of the hexagonal approach as the strategy he has used at the software development company where he works as the CEO. The company is international and they were involved in four programs with ten projects at the time of the interview. Of the one hundred people employed at the company, eighty-five are developers.

Interviewee #6 also addressed the six project phases in terms of project challenges. Number one listed is the Scope, which must be clear in order to make the project run smoothly. In addition, agility must be introduced and delineated in the Scope documentation. Number two in the list is the difficulty of introduction changes into the Scope. That is why getting the Scope documentation as detailed as possible is very important. That is also why the more information that can be input from stakeholders into the Scope documentation the more realistic the end product can be designed. In addition, the project-planning phase can be more practically developed. This CEO noted that because profit margins are so low it is very difficult to manage project costs. He stated “Project cost management is an art in itself” (Appendix 6). Regardless of the design specifications, he noted that competition and risk management are big challenges.

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Most of the challenges listed by the IT production company’s CEO had to do with challenges faced due to running a company in Qatar. He noted that regardless of the budget managing time and general project management are always challenging. Because time constraints are so essential, the lack of fast delivery in Qatar causes problems. Both internal and external difficulties exist. The internal politics of the company make establishing budget approval and gaining support within the company challenging. There are also difficulties in approaching other businesses. Part of that is because of the lack of understanding about information technology and its importance for business success in a globalized world. This goes for the open source methodologies; in addition, there is little understanding. The CEO also mentioned the atmosphere which has “no sense of urgency; no sense of people’s jobs being on the line” (Appendix 6) He discusses the problem of involving the expat population so they would be in alignment with the Qatari management goals. Lastly, he mentioned under ‘challenges’ that probable a top-down management approach works best now in Qatar. That is because there is not the comfort level with complex project variables and that there is little sense of “importance” (Appendix 6).

Interviewee # 7 is a computer scientist in Operations at a Qatari Telecommunications company. He has had twenty two years of experience. He also uses the hexagonal approach so he explained the Project Phases as part of the Challenges faced in project management. The requirements first mentioned in the interview were the tasks of gathering information and the needs of the project, plus the necessary expertise to invest the time and effort into a project. During the project initiation, his challenges have included choosing good people, appropriate resources, and facing the resistance to change in team members. Project Planning has two important branches a) Resources and b) Analytics. There are also decisions to make with both internal and external consultants. The risks of the project need to be assessed. There must be communication and interaction with the end user(s) in order to determine the design specifications. Stakeholders are considered by Interviewee #7 to be team members (including the project manager), sponsors, and the end users. He recommends that the before the project gets into the development phase the earlier phases need to be appropriately planned. Also the “projects objectives should be shared with openness and interaction” (Appendix 7). For him the challenges of integration are best faced by bringing in a third party for testing; not the teams who carried out the development. For the last phase, closure and handover, a minimum of two months after the service or product is delivered a decision will be made about whether or not the project is a success.

Interviewee #8 graduated with a computer science degree. He has had fifteen years of experience and at the time of the interview, he was in the position of CEO of a Qatari bank. He supported the hexagonal approach and delineated the challenges rather than the six phases. The six factors listed during the interview included a) define the Scope, b) time lines, c) business requirements, d) requirement changes, e) resources as a constraint, and f) project testing. The two most difficult challenges he mentioned were requirement changes during the project and not enough resources. As far as resources, he explained the both difficulties internally at the bank and externally in the country of Qatar. This CEO considered the key factor to be the out sourcing testing services before project delivery. The importance of a stress test by an external team was highly stressed.

Considering the hexagonal approach in terms of phases, in general the Initiation phase and developing the Scope were considered the most challenging. Next, the integration phase is considered the most critical for success. Resources were reported to be consistent problem regardless of any of the other variables. Costs mentioned as always difficult because of the low margin of profit. That coupled with the fact that the client usually expected lower costs than the reality can cause problems. However, the worst problem that can happen is for the end user to change the requirements from those that were already listed in the Scope document. Overall, each of the interviewed professionals agreed with this statement “Due to the complexity of projects and end user’s requirements the hexagonal approach is essential” (Appendix 2). Also the challenges “can be solved using the appropriate information and with the use of the hexagonal approach” (Appendix 3). “Hexagonal approach is great for IT as the constraints are more applicable for the IT projects” (Appendix 5). Interviewee #7 explained the need for the hexagonal approach must be “highlighted and explained” to the stakeholders including the team members (Appendix 7). The necessity of flexibility lends itself to the use of Agile methods but Interviewee #4 mentioned the difficulties which arise when the day-to-day tasks are not managed properly; if they are managed properly the “collaboration tools are minimized” (Appendix 4). For example, if the daily management is not done properly then the estimation of time, costs and specifications may be incorrect, even enough to cause project failure. Interviewee #5, the IT Program Leader in Health Services, noted that in his opinion “initiation and handover are the most difficult phases to clarify (and conform) with the scope and requirements” (Appendix 5). The Health Services IT director also emphasized the need for third party testing of the IT developed by the project team. The manager in Computer Science Operations in the Telecommunication Company also suggested the third party, external testing.

PRINCE2® was mentioned by three of the interviewees a) an IT service company, b) an oil and gas company, and c) IT Health Services. The oil and gas company has been building up their system with the requirements they need using PRINCE2® as the foundation. The IT PM at the Health Services noted that they use either the PMI and PRINCE2® or a hybrid of both. The ICT Regulation Authority uses PMI guidelines. The IT Production (start-up) uses Agile and ScrumMaster for methodology. The CEO of IT software development company uses a PMI focus for the Project Managers and the Agile approach for the engineers. Two of the interviewees did not share their IT application although all eight used the hexagonal management approach.

 

4.1.1. Comments and Final Remarks

The comments and final remarks from the interviewees were helpful in understanding the situation of Information Technology in Qatar. The definition of a project differed depending on the type of company and on the type of project. At the oil and gas company a job was considered a project when the duration to complete it would take more than five working days to initiate.

 

4.1.2. Fail Factors

Often fail factors were discussed and placed under the heading of challenges during the interview. When the client makes a change in requirements during the development of a project were considered the most difficult. Cost and Scope were often mentioned in terms of project failure. The monetary resources usually are not enough; perhaps resources are usually not enough. Interviewee #4 suggested an important fail factor has been the “Lack of maturity and failure to acknowledge and recognize problems” (Appendix 4). Some of the other fail factors listed were end users, the technical side being much too time-consuming, not using a third party test. Others are inappropriate qualifications for the managers, change in client requirements. In terms of the country, Qatar needs ICT knowledge and resources development.

4.2. PMs

The Project Manager was considered the most important team member and the responsibility for keeping the project progressing on track is on the shoulders of the PM. There are ways to share the responsibility though, mainly by making good decisions on choosing the other team members. Interviewee #1, the Senior Project Manager at the IT Service Company discussed the challenges in communication during a project at some length. The PM and company management must use their soft skills to keep a continual communication going with the client. The six monthly present reports to the client is a necessary external report. Internally with the company, at least six monthly reports are well suited to encourage communication.

This Senior Project Manager also suggested three strategies for solving communication problems between the PM and the PMO a) a decentralized management style, b) regular thirty minute meetings between the Senior PM and the client, and c) thirdly a weekly team meeting with relevant stakeholders present. If a client is having political problems internally (in their own company) then meetings between the client and the Senior PM should be required. Interviewee #1 also brought up the issue of Quality Assurance and Customer Satisfaction, suggesting two useful strategies a) producing a survey on the work finished, and b) off-the-record meetings between the client and the Senior PM. On this subject the participant also suggested bringing up the points in the weekly team meetings in order “to avoid finger pointing at any specific person” (Appendix 1). Interviewee #2 also suggested weekly team meetings. In the bank where Interviewee #8 is the CEO, PMO is always available in-house; in fact, there are two PMOs within the bank’s IT department. (Appendix 8).

According to Interviewee #1 the Project Manager should be assigned sole ownership of the project. The Project Manger should be coupled with a Technology Management leader who is appropriately qualified. In terms of communication, the IT head at the oil and gas company found it challenging to arrange times when business and end users were available for input during the project. Interviewee #3 also commented that “during the Project Execution Phase the (it is) good to have the stakeholders endorsement of the project” (Appendix 3). Interviewee #2 stated that there is a need for Portfolio Management and “a need for PMOs as a culture to minimize work” (Interviewee #2). Weekly meetings to share reports on progress and review the project’s progress are very important in keeping the project on track. Weekly meetings have been shown to be a good way to avoid entrenched communication problems. Interviewee #3 pointed out that challenges are created when the PM does not understand the contracts correctly.

 

4.3. Qatar

Problems with accomplishing tasks in Qatar include the problem that “there is an immature production environment (for) an IT service focus” (Appendix 4). Interviewee #2 was more specific when he pointed out that a big challenge is “the availability of a good product vendor in Qatar who is both qualified and able to meet the expectations of the stakeholders” (Appendix 2). Also Interviewee #2 the IT head at the oil and gas company felt a challenge of doing business in Qatar was the lack of regulation from the country’s regulators. .Interviewee #8 discussed the Qatar as being a fail factor because Qatar needs “development of ICT knowledge and resources” (Appendix 8).

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4.4. Conclusion

The results were described in detail in this chapter. The interviewees agreed generally on the use of the Hexagonal approach for running a project. The Project Manager was also considered the main person of responsibility for project outcomes. The fail factor seen as the biggest challenge was when the client changed the scope during the project process. Suggestions for assessing risks, enhancing communications, and embracing flexible problem solving processes such as Agile tools.

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