Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

A Cross-Functional Systems Project in an IS Capstone Course

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

A Cross-Functional Systems Project in an IS Capstone Course

Article excerpt


Information systems (IS) practitioners must regularly work cross-functionally with business users when implementing enterprise systems. As such, systems implementations require a breadth of both functional and qualitative skills (Mabert et al., 2003; Ngai et al., 2008; Stratman and Roth, 2002). Many of the functional skills can be taught within an information systems (IS) degree program, culminating in a capstone course to integrate and advance the concepts (Gupta and Wachter, 1998; Steiger, 2009). Given that most IS course projects rely on homogeneous, IS-only teams however (Kruck and Teer, 2009), the qualitative skills can be difficult to teach.

With this challenge, we coordinated a multi-course systems development project to emulate realistic obstacles of working cross-functionally with business users. The project paired 56 "users" from an undergraduate operations management (OM) class, who defined the business requirements of the system, with 40 "developers" from an undergraduate IS capstone class, tasked with scoping project requirements and building a new solution. The subsequent primary objectives of the research include:

1. Emulate the critical success factors of a cross-functional IS project in an academic setting.

2. Assess opportunities for improvement and replication of the project, including enhancing IS student cross-functional interaction.

We address the first objective through qualitative analysis of student feedback informed by statistical assessment of student survey responses. The results reveal moderate actualization of the success factors and subsequent replication of a realistic IS project. However, the students still did not fully appreciate important cross-functional factors such as teaming and communication. So, we review student debriefings and our own reflections to support the second objective of project improvement and replication.


We focus the literature review on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems due to the richness of the literature base and similarity to the application used in our project. In linking data and processes across departments, ERP requires cross-disciplinary thinking and integration of business processes (Cronan et al., 2011; Pellerin and Hadaya, 2008; Rienzo and Han, 2011). With such complexity, ERP implementations are generally long and costly (Mabert et al., 2003) and are also frequently unsuccessful (Kanaracus, 2010; Momoh et al., 2010).

Table 1 summarizes the most frequently-cited critical success factors for ERP implementation. First, top management support involves leadership communication, commitment, resource allocation, and conflict resolution (Finney and Corbett, 2007; Ke and Wei, 2008; Stratman and Roth, 2002). Next, team interaction must be cross-functional across technical resources and business users (Finney and Corbett, 2007; Rothenberger et al., 2010), thus requiring a broad set of interpersonal skills (Boyle and Strong, 2006;

Hignite et al., 2002). Communication within the cross-functional team is also critical (Finney and Corbett, 2007; Wickramasinghe and Gunawardena, 2010) as is strong project management skills such as project planning, task assignments, and progress monitoring (Chen et al., 2009; Dey et al., 2010). Training refers to teaching users how to use the ERP system (Finney and Corbett, 2007; Schmidt et al., 2001; Stratman and Roth, 2002). Finally, change management entails overcoming internal resistance to adapt to the new system and associated processes (Finney and Corbett, 2007; Stratman and Roth, 2002).

Applying this literature to our project, we hypothesize that higher levels of top management support (H1), team interaction (H2), communication (H3), project management (H4), and training (H5) each increase cross-functional IS project success. We omit change management due to the lack of a formal user implementation stage in our project. …

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