Social Issues in IT Project Teams

Social Issues in IT Project Teams

Awie C. Leonard (University of Pretoria, South Africa) and D. H. Van Zyl (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch067

Abstract

The role and impact of social issues in IT project teams should not be under estimated. With the involvement of virtual project teams, this is even more relevant. One such social issue is the establishment of relationships between members of teams. The establishment and maintenance of social relationships and networks in the IT project environment is a phenomenon all IT professionals are exposed to and in many cases involved in. The question is what impact such social relationships and networks might have on the success or failure of any given IT project? The objective of this chapter is therefore to emphasize the important role social relationships and networks play in the IT project team environment. Furthermore, to illustrate to the management of software project teams how such relationships can have a positive or negative impact on team members. In this regard a climate or culture should be allowed for these relationships to flourish to the benefit of the IT department.
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Background

The IT project management literature is extensive with regard to success factors as well as the causes of failure; however, little focus is placed on the role or importance of social relationships and networks within IT projects.

Liebowitz (1999) feels that the greatest threat to the success of any IT project is the failure to communicate. This statement in particular draws the attention to the problem area of the research. Although one wants to see a project environment where a culture of sound communications is promoted, it is difficult for any project manager to “control” any influence this might have on team members and as such on the progress of a given project. Sauer (1993) believes that a major part of the problem of IT project failure is the lack of recognition that information systems development is largely a social and political process. This view is also shared by Standing (1998). Considerable effort has already been spent on the process of managing IT projects and has produced multiple methodologies and methods for project management and the IT software development life cycle (Standing & Bavington, 1996). This is further complicated by the fact that virtual teams are in particular an area of great risk as pointed out by Reed & Knight (2010). According to them, the lack of project team cohesion can impact seriously on team performance. Problems with team cohesion can occur when there is conflict between team members or when the relationships necessary for the team to function do not develop.

Ashworth and Carley (2006) state for example that “Social network theories suggest that the types and degrees of an individual’s relationships in social and communication networks are key impactors of group performance, while resource dependency theory suggests that non-social factors, such as knowledge and skills, figure at least as prominently as social dimensions in determining such performance.”

In organisational theory, managers are viewed as contributing over and above the skills they have acquired through experience and education, the value of their social networks. These values or assets refer to the social capital of the manager. Scholars have highlighted the ability of these social networks that can be used to the individual’s or organisation’s advantage (Gargiulo & Benassi, 2000; Ashworth & Carley, 2006). With this in mind, the question is how social relationships and networks within IT project teams are viewed, instead of focusing only on that of the project managers. The social capital of the individuals participating in the IT project teams is an influencing factor on the social networks that are active within the project teams.

The first consideration is that of determining the strength of these social networks. Network strength can be defined as the frequency of communication, while the degree of the network is defined as the number of direct links with other network members (Monge & Contractor, 2003, cited in Hovorka & Larsen, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information Technology (IT) Projects: Projects that are launched to develop an information and communication technology system or to provide any kind of ICT service to an organisation based on a specific need.

Project Culture: The way people in a specific project think and apply their values. It impacts on their behaviour and how they perform their responsibilities during the project life cycle. A project culture is normally based on the belief (value) system of a group of people or that of the organisation.

Information Systems: S ystems that are used by organisations to support them in decision making. These systems provide information to all levels of management in an organisation. These systems are normally the end result of in IT project.

Virtual Teams: Virtual project teams, by definition, are groups of people working together toward a common goal. Whether, they are called virtual or distributed, the team members are not co-located; they can reside in different cities, states or countries.

Social Networks: The group of people or staff that are involved in a relationship for a specific reason. For example, a social network of people having a discussion each week to discuss technical issues regarding a specific project.

Social Relationships: The relationships (professional or personal) that are established during the project life cycle between employees of different teams or the same team or other parts of the organisation.

Grounded theory: Although this kind of research approach is complex; one can briefly say that it means to develop your theory based on what you find in the existing data. The theory is therefore “grounded” in the data and this is called an inductive process.

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