The Role of Social Relationships and Social Networks in IT Project Teams

The Role of Social Relationships and Social Networks in IT Project Teams

A.C. Leonard, D.H. Van Zyl
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch526
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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).

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).

Social networks have a key function in the social information processing within an organisation, especially relating to connecting social influence, knowledge and the organisational culture to the actual projects at hand. This influence is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Interaction of network strength and social information processing (Hovorka & Larsen, 2006)


In the rest of the chapter a brief theoretical analysis of the field is described as well as a brief description of the empirical research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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