Managing Preliminary Requirements Information in Information Technology Projects

Managing Preliminary Requirements Information in Information Technology Projects

Marcus Keutel (Department of Information Systems and Systems Development, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany) and Dirk Basten (Department of Information Systems and Systems Development, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/ijitpm.2014010106


Information technology (IT) development often suffers from requirements uncertainty as in many cases only preliminary information is available. Wrong decisions may lead to rework that wastes resources and delays the project. Coping with preliminary information is thus an important aspect of project management. The authors apply a case study approach to analyze how IT professionals react to preliminary information and why they do so. The authors base their study on a concurrent engineering research study that provides guidelines how the downstream process (implementation) should react if the upstream process (analysis) is not able to provide all information. According to the authors' results, IT professionals predominantly apply these proposed reactions. Nevertheless, it is often unclear why they react the chosen way. They recommend IT professionals to invest effort to more systematically consider multiple reactions. Future research should focus on how the upstream process should react when the downstream process needs to make a decision.
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Information technology (IT) development takes place under various competitive conditions. One of these conditions is the need to quickly deliver innovative products (Lee & Xia, 2010; Cao & Ramesh, 2008). In this context, project managers cannot postpone the implementation phase until the precise elicitation of all requirements is completed. Consequently, eliciting requirements and IT implementation considerably overlap. Thus, IT professionals are in need of a flexible software process that enables code changes in case of new requirements - even close to the product’s delivery (MacCormack, Verganti, & Iansiti, 2001). This need is emphasized by a case study indicating that even waterfall approaches tend to be flexible to respond to requirements uncertainty and changes (Ruël, Bondarouk, & Smink, 2010).

Analysis’ and implementation’s overlapping is problematic if the downstream process (implementation) needs to decide on features before the upstream process (analysis) is able to provide all required information. Consequently, information passed from the upstream to the downstream process is preliminary, that is, imprecise or instable. In those cases, the downstream process needs to decide without sufficient information. Such decisions may be misguided and lead to considerable rework (Dieste, Juristo, & Shull, 2008).

This problem is apparent in other disciplines as well. Concurrent engineering denotes the parallel execution of coupled development activities (Terwiesch, Loch, & De Meyer, 2002). In this context, an important question refers to the design of the communication between upstream and downstream process in order to enable the shortest possible overall development time (Yan, Wang, Xu, & Wang, 2010; Krishnan, Eppinger, & Whitney, 1997; Bhattacharya, Krishnan, & Mahajan, 1998). Nevertheless, these studies primarily analyze upstream process’s possible courses of action. In contrast, Terwiesch et al. (2002) explicitly consider downstream process’s possible courses of action (i.e., reactions to cope with preliminary information) in cases when only preliminary information is available.

With regard to these reactions, we continue previous research and want to provide insights into IT professionals’ decision processes. Therefore, our first research question aims to identify the different approaches IT professionals apply to cope with preliminary information:

  • RQ1: How do IT professionals react to preliminary information during implementation?

Furthermore, we want to understand the reasons why IT professionals choose one of the possible reactions:

  • RQ2: Why do IT professionals decide to implement their chosen reaction?

Based on the first two research questions, we are further interested in the evaluation of the different reactions:

  • RQ3: Do IT professionals evaluate the outcome of their applied reactions?

To answer these research questions, we apply a case study approach (Yin, 2009), mainly based on semi-structured interviews with IT professionals responsible for IT project’s implementation phases. Thereby, we aim to find insights into the reasons for the decisions and the decisions’ suitability for different situations. These insights are of potential value for practitioners and researchers. First, researchers are able to focus on the problems that practitioners face in such situations. Second, we provide practitioners a new perspective on the management of preliminary information and thus contribute to the improvement of such highly important decisions.

The remainder of this paper is the following. In the next section, we present Terwiesch et al.’s (2002) proposed reactions and argue for their relevance in the context of IT development. Then, we provide a description of our research design. Subsequently, we present and discuss our results. We finally draw conclusions for practitioners and future research.

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