Information Management: The Organizational Dimension

By Michael J. Earl | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

Often when one discusses with senior managers their experiences in, and attitudes to, IT, they are coloured by recent experience of an IS project that has been in difficulty. Successes may abound in the case studies we teach; they are rarer in the real-world cases that managers themselves recall. It is therefore perhaps appropriate that this volume contains a substantial section on IT project management and systems implementation. Indeed, many CIOs will observe that project management remains one of the key but elusive capabilities required in exploiting IT today. And in the media, it is failed projects that often give IT 'a bad press.'

Morris opens this section by presenting a historical perspective on project management--not just IT projects, but projects at large. He compares IT and non-IT projects and argues that often the former are more complex than the latter. It is the uncertain environment of IT projects which Morris particularly highlights and it is fairly well established in the IS literature that we should examine context when we choose project management techniques and information systems development methods.

In the IS project management prescriptive literature ( McFarlan 1981; Davis and Olson 1984), we often describe and analyse context in terms of complexity, uncertainty, structuredness, and the like. Indeed, perhaps we already adopt Morris's mindset of the 'management of projects' rather then 'project management' when we recognize the roles of project sponsor and champion analysed later in this section. These too are seen by Morris as important factors in managing projects.

The other distinguishing factor in IT projects that Morris highlights is the degree of user-involvement required, not least because the 'product' of the system is often conceptual, vague, or ill-defined at the outset. This is, of course, one of the fundamental issues in IS, namely, establishing information requirements or user needs. Indeed, I sometimes think that it is fundamental issue, even the only one that matters. It is the heart of systems development, it is perhaps the trickiest aspect of project management, and it is the question we are really addressing at a broad organizational level in strategic information systems planning. In the classical area of building user-specialist relationships, it is also a critical issue. 'Tell me what I can have', says the user. 'You can have anything', replies the specialist. This is the eternal problem of IS.

Such an analysis can be depressing. However, Morris provides some surprising comfort to IS professionals and CIOs. He suggests that project management in the IT industry, relatively speaking, is quite competent. He even suggests that other project-based industries could learn from the IT industry or the IS profession.

-317-

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