Information systems software projects must be considered as risky undertakings. The very nature of software contributes to this riskiness in that it consists of intellectual concepts without physical substance. For example, Brooks[1] describes software, the output of the project, as "pure thoughtstuff, infinitely malleable" and "invisible and unvisualizable." The effects of these risky characteristics are manifest in the frequent reports of IS projects that are late and over budget. Furthermore, many systems do not meet the needs of the business when they are delivered and have a low user satisfaction rating. This set of truisms seems to surround information systems projects. A Standish Group study found that over 50 percent of IS projects were late or over budget.[2] This was estimated to amount to $59 billion in cost overruns and another $81 billion in canceled software projects. The ultimate extension of the late and over-budget condition occurs when projects become victims of escalation — the condition of continuing, even increasing, expenditure on a project that to the onlooker is clearly a failure.[3] Why does this happen and what, if anything, can managers do about it?

This chapter develops a behavioral model and concomitant strategies that include strategies for executives and user managers that are as fundamental to IS project success as are the strategies for IS project managers. In addition, a particular case[4] is discussed that has already been published and discussed elsewhere to illustrate how these strategies can be used to identify where, and why, an IS project is going off track and how these strategies might be used to avoid IS project failure.

[1]Fred P. Brooks, Jr., 1987, "No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering," IEEE Computer vol. 20 (4) pp. 10-19.

[2]J. Johnson, 1995, "Chaos: The Dollar Drain of IT Project Failures," Application Development Trends vol. 2 (1), p. 47.

[3]For example, Mark Keil, 1995, "Pulling the Plug: Software Project Management and the Problem of Project Escalation," MIS Quarterly vol. 19 (4), pp. 421-447. From another perspective: M. Lynn Markus & Mark Keil, 1994, "If We Build It, They Will Come: Designing Information Systems That People Will Use," Sloan Management Review, vol. 35(4): pp. 11-25. Also, State of California, Bureau of State Audits. California State Auditor, 1994, The Department of Motor Vehicles and the Office of Information Technology Did Not Minimize the State's Financial Risk In the Database Redevelopment Project.

[4]Byron Reimus, 1997, "The IT System That Couldn't Deliver," Harvard Business Review, vol. 75(3) pp. 22-26. This case is discussed by various luminaries in the ensuing pages of the same issue of the HBR.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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