Theorizing IT Project Success: Direct and Indirect Effects in a Hierarchical Framework

Theorizing IT Project Success: Direct and Indirect Effects in a Hierarchical Framework

Hannu Kivijärvi (Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/IJITPM.2020010105
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This study theorizes IT project success by integrating the project level drivers to the IT, business, and environment level enablers. An attempt is made to delve into underlying structures below the project level in order to understand the systemic reasons behind a particular success or failure. In this journey we rely on the general systems theory and the key concepts like elements, state, properties, process, hierarchy, and environment. It is shown that IT projects can be straightly abstracted by the general system principles. Within the systemic framework, potential factors behind the success of the IT projects are identified, the relationships between the factors are hypothesized and then the hypotheses are integrated into a hierarchical research model. Finally, the hypotheses and the research model are empirically evaluated. According to the results it was confirmed that all levels considered in the research model have significant impacts on the success of an IT project. Similarly, a significant improvement in IT project management in terms of project success can be obtained by improving the quality of involved factors. A favorable financial situation, highly-perceived importance of IT, sound business – IT alignment, and good IT and IT project competencies have remarkably significant positive impacts on the success of IT projects.
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In the human history there have always been temporary undertakings, projects, aiming at a defined purpose by given resources. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the famous voyages by Christopher Columbus and putting a man on the moon are examples of successful projects we all know. Today, approximately 20 to 25% of the national products are spent each year on projects (Larson & Gray, 2011; Project Management Institute, 2017). However, all projects are not successful. Budgets can be exceeded, timetables overrun, or the scope of the project can be distorted (Boyd, 2016; Hamrouni, 2017; Schneider, 2017). Unfortunately, failures are significant and too general.

In recent years, firms and other organizations, groups, even individuals in their everyday operations are closely tied to dichotomized information. Information technology (IT) along with different kinds of information systems are needed and they are developed by IT projects. A large part of those projects fail or the results do not fully satisfy the stakeholders involved.

Thus, the problem of failing projects is general, significant, and sometimes even dangerous. The question is: why the scientific intelligence has not been able to solve such a problem? Has any serious effort ever been made to solve the problem? The answer is: certainly. Thousands of studies during the last decades have addressed the problem and hundreds of factors have been found to describe the reasons behind the success or failure (e.g. Belouf & Gauvreau, 2004; Clarke, 1999; Cooke-Davies, 2002; Ika, 2009; Kappelman, McKeeman, & Zhang, 2006; McLeod, Doodlin, & MacDonell, 2012; Nelson, 2007; Pinto, 2004; Shenhar, Dvir, Levy, & Maltz, 2001; Srivannaboon & Milosevic, 2006; Young & Poon, 2013). Still, the problem exists. The failure rate of the IT projects has not disappeared but on the contrary, it is perhaps even growing.

The difficulties to solve the problem scientifically are certainly rooted to the special nature and scope of the problem. Although projects and project management have universal properties, due to the extensive standardization by the project societies like PMBOK (Project Management Institute, 1996-2017), ISO21500 (International Organization for Standardization, 2012), PRINCE2 (Axelos Corporation, 2017) or IPMA standards (International Project Management Association, 1996-2018), they still form a temporary, unique phenomenon.

In addition to the well-known universal properties, one of the key features of the projects is ‘uniqueness’ or we can call it singularity, which creates the basic dilemma behind project management studies: universal dimensions vs. unique dimensions. The unique properties of any phenomenon have challenged philosophers during centuries. David Hume (1711-1776) noted that “science cannot say anything very satisfactory about the cause of any genuinely singular phenomenon” (e.g. Cartmill, Pilbeam, & Isaac, 1986, p. 410). It is paradoxical that when a unique phenomenon is adequately explained it is no longer unique, meaning, by definition, that a project is no longer a project if it loses its unique properties.

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