Project Information Systems Complexity

Abstract

Information systems projects are complex enterprises subject to high rates of failure. Indicators that determine success or failure include stakeholder specification, budget and time constraints, and stakeholder satisfaction with the functioning system. Many of the issues which arise are due to poor communication with relevant stakeholders. Effective communication has been empirically linked to increased success on projects. A variety of strategies such as building social capital, introducing managerial frameworks to improve accountability, and improving social skills have been beneficial in enhancing communication among team members.

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Introduction

Technological and information systems are being used in practical settings by organizations worldwide, becoming increasingly more complex and evolved. However, there are significant risks of failure, with studies indicating that a large percentage of information systems projects do not achieve success because of the numerous components involved. This report will seek to analyze how communication plays a role in the management and subsequent success of information systems projects.

Problem

The discussion of why some information systems projects achieve success and others fail is inherently complex and multi-factorial. Despite significant research and literature over the years, the failure rate remains high. An important factor that is regarded as vital to success is effective communication, particularly on large-scale enterprises. A lack of competent communication via cross-functional and inter-departmental channels leads to only moderate success and a high chance of failure. Through communication, stakeholders can comprehend the objectives, specifications, and become further involved in the work.

A proficient communication system between project boards, managers, and their teams are more likely to produce a successful and functional project. Meanwhile, failed projects are characterized by poor communication, sparse feedback, a lack of face-to-face meetings, and exchanges through e-mail. Communication issues can lead to several unpleasant outcomes such as delays, errors, misunderstandings of stakeholder expectations, confusion, and ultimately a failure (Imtiaz, Al-Mudhary, Mirhashemi, & Ibrahim, 2013). Due to these factors and supporting research, communication was selected as the theme of this report as it seems to be a critical success factor for information systems projects.

It can be argued that communication is central to the success of information systems projects because several aspects are inherently based on the interaction of stakeholders. Based on a comprehensive study, some of the most valued factors for success include clear vision, realistic expectations, frequent communication with stakeholders, and maintaining a clear understanding of project requirements.

Meanwhile, frequent causes for failure are based on customer requirements being changed, inaccurate or incomplete, with poorly defined specifications and inaccurate time or cost parameters (Montequin, Cousillas, Ortega, & Villanueva, 2014). This demonstrates that the success or failure of information systems projects largely depends on clear and effective communication amongst stakeholders both ways.

Success of Project

There are various indicators of a successful information systems project, but the most common ones have met specifications, on-time delivery, and remains within budget constraints. It is a measure of effectiveness for organization processes responsible for implementing such projects until the deployment of the system to the end-user. Success also encompasses proper functioning and excellent quality, the satisfaction of the client, and value-added to the organization which is vital to project stakeholders when the project is delivered (DeLone & McLean, 2016).

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There are differing data on the success rate of information systems projects. A 2013 survey indicated that at least 50 percent of businesses experienced a project failure within the last year. Another survey of IT professionals in 2015 reported a 55 percent failure, which was higher than their estimate of 32 percent failure rate in 2014 (Florentine, 2017). The level of support is vital as the failure rate increases with a lesser amount.

Global organizations can waste on average anywhere between $97 and 122 million dollars per every $1 billion invested in information systems. However, enterprises are becoming more mature and aware of project management regarding information systems as well as boosted by the digital convergence rate globally which has demonstrated some improvement in success rates over the past couple of years.

Data Collected

Research on the topic of communication for the success of information systems projects was conducted mostly through the use of online academic databases. Scholarly journal articles and professional papers on the topic serve as the primary source of information. Most of the data is qualitative, regarding general methods or observations in systems project management. However, quantitative data such as statistics are used to provide some support throughout the paper as well.

Discussion

Most sources on the topic agree that information systems projects are complex and multidimensional, requiring efficient communication. Both the project in its process of development as well as the system of the finished product should follow a theoretical concept in project management such as the Theory of Communication suggested by Shannon and Weaver. They defined various degrees of communication, such a technical level which addresses accuracy and efficiency, a semantic aspect that conveys meanings, and an effective level which is how well the information is received (DeLone & McLean, 2016).

Furthermore, sources agree on the importance of communications management and engaging stakeholders in the process. This effectiveness of communication with stakeholders allows for competent decision-making and can prevent many factors that lead to project failure. Through a communications requirements analysis, the stakeholders are highly aware of the ongoing events and the project can be modified to fit specifications or remain within budget and time constraints (Imtiaz et al., 2013).

A significant dissimilarity is an approach to evaluate the success and communication of information systems projects. Most organizations use ‘adherence to planning’ as the primary indicator of success, such as specifications, timeline, and budget constraints. However, there is often neglect of stakeholder satisfaction, particularly of clients who are dissatisfied with the final product. It falls under the expectation-confirmation theory which is based on cognitive dissonance suggesting that knowledge can be contradictive.

In other words, unmet expectations lead to discomfort and dissatisfaction, which can be mitigated by organizational relationships (Diegmann, Basten, & Pankratz, 2017). This inherently provides vital importance to client-vendor communication during the project as an important tool to enhance client satisfaction and avoid misunderstandings.

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Strategies

Team Social Capital and Knowledge

The development of information systems is a knowledge-intensive collaboration process. It requires high levels of communication and social capital in the team amongst business and technology professionals. Most tasks on the project include a heterogeneous exchange of complex knowledge amongst team members, which allows for collaborative problem-solving. Improving social capital is key to enhancing communication within three sub-categories: establishing social connections, trust, and a shared vision.

Effective communication has a positive impact on forming reliable relationships and leads to a raised level of team productivity. Therefore, to build social capital with subsequent trust and vision, it is vital to creating a structure where team members can communicate and collaborate based on their unique expertise of either business or technology. Project managers should seek to establish the social capital early on in the process for most effectiveness through an optimal combination of team members which can complement each other in skills (Lee, Park, & Lee, 2014).

Risks

Furthermore, general stakeholder involvement such as holding frequent short meetings to keep everyone informed; communicating directly and truthfully (not overly optimistic or pessimistic); and being a good “active listener” are all contributing factors to establishing social capital and information sharing. There is inherently little risk in using this strategy. The only downside is that it may take up a manager’s time and resource to the right combinations of employees, and it is not something that can be changed later on without negatively impacting the project. To mitigate this risk, it is possible to have possible alternatives for team members who collaborate well together and enable rotations to ensure overall communication and cohesiveness among the project members and stakeholders.

Flexible Management and Improving Accountability

Traditional information systems project management has been criticized as lacking the flexibility to respond to any changes in later stages of the project and requires significant planning. Introducing a methodology such as the Scrum project management framework which focuses on communication rather than documentation can lead to significant improvements. A lesser administrative oversight results in increase accountability and trust amongst project stakeholders.

The framework is built on incremental goals which a team dedicates productive time to in short periods, helped to pace the large project. In between such periods, meetings and training are held which allows us to hold meetings, discuss accomplishments, and troubleshoot issues. The meetings are set so that each team member establishes individual goals to achieve maximum progress in the next working increment (Dulock & Long, 2015). In turn, this leads to significantly improving accountability since stakeholders are responsible for themselves just as much as they are to management in this framework.

Risks

Accountability is a vital aspect of improving communication, as it ensures a level of participation in the activities meant to enhance collaboration and keep stakeholders up to date. People can be held accountable by publishing meeting minutes and an attendance list as well as assigned responsibilities to team members and stakeholders. However, accountability holds the risk of creating pressure on staff and possibly lowering morale. This can have the opposite effect and lead to a decrease in communication. It can be mitigated by taking a gradual and responsible approach to introducing accountability in project management. The measures should focus on stimulating accountability such as the system described above and avoid punishing employees.

Improving Communication Skills

Various individuals inherently have different levels of communication skills. In the context of information systems projects, many employees have superior technical skills, but lack in communication. However, communication skills can be developed and can be significant in advancing professional careers and the success of the project. These abilities include everything from the ability to conduct a presentation to mannerisms and cultural awareness of other stakeholders.

The importance of communication and meetings in achieving the success of the project implies a certain level of participation and teamwork, for which people require social skills. Leadership and management can help improve communication by example and setting high expectations. The quality of presentations, written reports, and day-to-day personal communication should remain professional and competent, with successful organizations providing time and feedback to prepare communication mediums (Schwalbe, 2015).

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Risks

The risk of focusing on communication methods may draw away from the technical aspect of the project, as significant training and resources have to be dedicated to it as well. Furthermore, if communication strategies are artificially forced, it is unlikely that the information shared will always be substantial and useful, thus taking away more time. To mitigate this, the balance should be found. Management can guide instances when communication should be necessary while not removing the technical aspect, but rather encouraging its integration into effective communication.

Recommendations

To implement the discussed strategies, it is vital to develop a communications planning process. This includes the stakeholders receiving the information, setting, and method of communication, as well as types of data that will be shared. It is a significant aspect of a manager’s job. Communication methods can take various forms and should be appropriate to the type of information and situational contexts. Methods can include emails, formal status reports, online schedules, meetings, conversations, and conference calls among others. Communication must be synchronous, to include all levels of stakeholders and those operating from different locations or time zones (Watt, 2014).

Stakeholders and employees should be aware of communication parameters and objectives as the primary aspects of strategic development. The communication should not be a burden, provide the benefits to increase change and accountability, and not overwhelm with unnecessary information. Therefore, the communications plan should be streamlined. The best manner to implement a communications strategy is to notify stakeholders and employees of protocols (such as daily briefings, weekly meetings, and quarterly status reports) which ensure consistency and accountability in the long-term.

Conclusion

It is evident that information systems projects are highly complex and multi-dimensional which leads to a high rate of failure. One aspect that strongly impacts success is communication, which can be lacking in technological projects. Effective communication allows us to keep stakeholders up to date and satisfied. Communication can be improved through factors of social capital, accountability, and collaboration. These lead to the success of meeting stakeholder expectations and satisfaction while remaining within budget and time constraints.

References

DeLone, W. H., & McLean, E. R. (2016). Information systems success measurement. Foundations and Trends® in Information Systems, 2(1), 1-116. Web.

Diegmann, P., Basten, D., & Pankratz, O. (2017). Influence of communication on client satisfaction in information system projects: A quantitative field study. Project Management Journal, 48(1), 81-99. Web.

Dulock, M., & Long, H. (2015). Digital collections are a sprint, not a marathon: Adapting Scrum project management techniques to library digital initiatives. Information Technology and Libraries, 34(4), 5-17. Web.

Imtiaz, M. A., Al-Mudhary, A. S., Mirhashemi, M. T., & Ibrahim, R. (2013). Critical success factors of information technology projects. International Journal of Social, Human Science and Engineering, 7(12), 1547-1551. Web.

Lee, J., Park, J.-G., & Lee, S. (2014). Raising team social capital with knowledge and communication in information systems development projects. International Journal of Project Management, 33(4), 797-807. Web.

Montequin, V. R., Cousillas, S., Ortega, F., & Villanueva, J. (2014). Analysis of the success factors and failure causes in information & communication technology (ICT) projects in Spain. Procedia Technology, 16, 992-999. Web.

Schwalbe, K. (2015). Information technology project management (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Watt, A. (2014). Project management. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus.

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