Making Sense of IS Failures

Making Sense of IS Failures

Darren Dalcher (Middlesex University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch394
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Researchers with a keen interest in information systems failures are faced with a double challenge. Not only is it difficult to obtain intimate information about the circumstances surrounding such failures, but there is also a dearth of information about the type of methods and approaches that can be utilized in this context to support such information collection and dissemination. The purpose of this chapter is to highlight some of the available approaches and to clarify and enhance the methodological underpinning that is available to researchers interested in investigating and documenting phenomena in context-rich and dynamic environments. The chapter concludes by introducing a new range of antenarrative approaches that represent future developments in the study of IS failures.
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Contemporary software development practice is regularly characterized by runaway projects, late delivery, exceeded budgets, reduced functionality, and questionable quality that often translate into cancellations, reduced scope, and significant re-work cycles (Dalcher, 1994). Failures, in particular, tell a potentially grim tale. In 1995, 31.1% of US software projects were cancelled, while 52.7% were completed late, over budget (cost 189% of their original budget), and lacked essential functionality. Only 16.2% of projects were completed on time and within budget; only 9% in larger companies, where completed projects had an average of 42% of desired functionality (Standish, 2000). The 1996 cancellation figure rose to 40% (ibid.).

The cost of failed US projects in 1995 was $81 billion. In addition, cost overruns added an additional $59 billion ($250 billion was spent on 175,000 US software projects, however $140 billion out of this was spent on cancelled or over budget activities) (Standish, 2000). In fact, Jones (1994) contended that the average US cancelled project was a year late having consumed 200 percent of its expected budget at the point of cancellation. In 1996, failed projects alone totalled an estimated $100 billion (Luqi and Goguen, 1997). In 1998, 28% of projects were still failing at a cost of $75 billion, while in 2000, 65,000 of US projects were reported to be failing (Standish, 2000). As of 2004 partial failures still accounted for over 50% of all projects (Standish, 2004), whilst the figure for total failures continues to hover around the 20-25% mark.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Challenged Projects: Completed and approved projects which are late, over budget, and have fewer features and functions than originally specified. The degree of challenge depends on the way constrains are applied and interpreted within the organisation.

Antenarrative: The fragmented and messy and dynamic stories of real life in their original context before a clear narrative is developed to explain away a certain aspect.

Case Study: Investigation of phenomena in naturalistic setting, conducted in order to enable in depth analysis of that phenomena.

Failed Projects: Projects that are: cancelled before completion, are never implemented or are scrapped following installation. May also apply to projects that involve significant litigation.

Storytelling: A method of communicating and sharing ideas, experiences and knowledge in a specific context.

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