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September 16, 2012

Essay Paper on Information Technology Projects Evaluation Process

Information Technology Projects Evaluation Process

            Information technology is a very common term of 21st century and everyone today is familiar with it. The era of business competition has taken the world by all leaps and bounds. The use of information is somewhat frequent in the era of information technology as the name suggests. The marketing strategy that a business uses must reflect the objectives of the business as a whole. They must also set strategies on how to promote a product better than competitors (Rocheleau, 2006).

Information Technology project management is continuously developing since the early stages of the technology. IT Projects depend mainly on the support of the stakeholders and users involved. A possible criterion which could be used to measure the success of an IT project is the benefits to the many stakeholders involved with the project such as the users, customers or the project staff. Without the support of stakeholders, IT projects could run into problems that can result in the failure of the project. But with the support of stakeholders, problems that are discovered are dealt with and the project can continue to progress. Director of Information Management Issues at the U.S General Accounting Office, stakeholders can offer valuable and much-needed insight regarding existing work processes and information technology needs, and their stake and participation in the systems development initiative is essential for ensuring its acceptance and use (Rocheleau, 2006).

Stakeholders are defined as "individuals or organizations who stand to gain or lose from the success or failure of a system". For a software system, this can include managers, designers, and users of a system. Since, by definition, stakeholders are those who are impacted by (or have an impact on) the project, their perspectives need to be taken into account in order for a project to be successful. Stakeholders can have positive or negative views regarding a given project, and often don't agree with one another, making it a challenge to reconcile their varied viewpoints.
According to Robertson (2002) the stakeholders are all the people who have some kind of interest in the project. This might be because they have an active role in building or using it or it might be because their knowledge is necessary to make it fit into the world (Robertson, 2002).

The Stakeholder's Power
            The perspectives of the stakeholders have been devolving because of the fact that corporations don’t take them seriously. According to the statement of the stake holders tend to focus on the bottom-line issues.  Recently, protesters descended on Kellogg Co. headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., demonstrating against the presence of genetically modified organisms in the company's products. Kellogg executives also fielded complaints from parents about the presence of Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops mascot, in a line of children's books about counting. In increasing numbers consumers are willing to use their purchasing power to punish corporations with bad track records. A recent study by the Conference Board Inc. revealed that close to 50% of all consumers have refused to buy from companies they considered socially irresponsible  (Nambisan, 2009).
The consumers are the people who make a decision to buy the product and/or use the product to do work. Buyers are an important consumer role that each project needs to identify and understand. People who play the role of buyers are those who decide whether or not to buy the product. They might be individuals who decide to buy a new piece of software or a new hi-fi system. They might be people in an organization who decide to commit part of their department's budget to buying a new piece of communications software or a new personal organizer for their staff. But money does not necessarily change hands; instead a buyer of the product might be someone who influences whether or not a product will be used by its intended users.
Another important consumer role is that of the people who will have direct contact with the product, the people who will actually use the product to achieve some specific task. These people are normally referred to as users of the product. Someone who uses a bank machine, an air traffic controller looking at a radar screen, a nurse monitoring heartbeat on a screen and the patient to whom the device is attached, a bank clerk using an on-line interface to make an inter bank transfer, a householder entering his code in a home alarm system, a software designer using a tool that records and evaluates a design. All of these are users of particular products. People playing the role of user will rarely have a wide view of the product. Instead, all of these people have requirements that relate to the way that the product specifically affects them. Some users will tell about specific requirements.
From the above, it can be seen that the power of the stakeholder can be an important factor in the success or failure of various projects including many IT projects. The knowledge of the users helps us to build a product that fits into those users' real world. Involving the stakeholders in the conception stage of the IT project will help to detect problems before the project even starts and hence can be important factor in the success of the project.

Stakeholder's Involvement
According to The Standish Group International (2001), the number one contributor to project success is user involvement. Not surprisingly, the absence of user involvement is a major cause of project failure. Even when delivered on time and on budget, a project can fail if it does not meet users' needs. Participants in the Standish group's focus groups conducted in 1998 were virtually unanimous in citing increased user involvement in the project planning stage as the most notable change in application development over the past 2 years. Participants recognized the benefits of early and continuous user involvement. When users are actively involved in planning, IT cannot second-guess them. Users who are fully engaged in design, implementation and testing feel a deeper sense of ownership. 
The Standish group surveyed IT executive managers for their opinions about why projects succeed. The three major reasons that a project will succeed are user involvement, executive management support, and a clear statement of requirements. There are other success criteria, but with these three elements in place, the chances of success are much greater. Without them, chance of failure increases dramatically.  The survey participants were also asked about the factors that cause projects to be challenged.  Opinions about why projects are impaired and ultimately cancelled ranked incomplete requirements and lack of user involvement at the top of the list.  The comment most indicative of the chaos in project development came from Sid, a project manager at an insurance company. "The project was two years late and 3 years in development," he said. "We had 30 people on the project. We delivered an application the user didn't need. They had stopped selling the product over a year before".

IT Management
            The management of IT now relies upon the effectiveness of project management. Thus the effectiveness of the management plans relating to the projects of IT. The push for project management in the IT industry will be successful if IT professionals develop a clear realizing of the principles and practices of disciplined project management for IT projects. The bulk of the project-management body of knowledge has been developed by the engineering profession -- especially civil engineers. Many IT organizations are trying to replicate the principles, practices and tools developed by engineers to manage IT (and business) projects. This method can create a problem because those who are involved are from completely different professions and there are distinct differences between the two professions. IT projects are much more difficult to manage. For a project-management investment to pay off, the engineering project management body of knowledge needs to be adapted and expanded to the specific characteristics of IT projects.
During the management and implementation of an IT project many problems appear that can affect the stakeholders. The following list of IT project problems (or differences between IT and typical engineering projects) shows why it is important for the success of IT projects to involve the stakeholders so that all interests can be agreed upon and accepted. Ignoring the stakeholders can have a negative impact on the project.

Clearly defined end state
 The end state of a typical engineering project is clearly defined through well-documented artists' renderings, architectural models and engineering drawings before any construction work begins. In the case of IT projects, the converse is true. The end state of IT projects is often not clearly defined, or known, even after the project is completed.

Linear project phases
 The phases of a construction project (architect, design, specify and build) are linear and their boundaries are well-defined. In the case of IT projects, various phases not only overlap, but they even spiral -- making the project-management process extremely complex.

Creating vs. Fabricating
In the case of engineering projects, the construction process primarily consists of fabricating the end product from pre-designed and pre-tested components. In the case of IT projects, most code is still written from scratch.

Deterministic Deliverables
Deliverables in most engineering projects are defined in precise terms. For example: "Shaft-wall cavity, 1-in. steel C-H studs with two layers of 5/8-in. gypsum board, a two-hour fire rating." IT deliverables are seldom defined to the same degree of specificity and often remain open to different interpretations by different players.

Historical information
In engineering, extensive databases of highly accurate and easily usable effort and cost values are broadly available to estimators. In IT, there are few sources of such information. Most IT estimating consists of team members' best guesses.

Well-defined responsibilities
 In the case of engineering projects, responsibilities of team members, such as steel fabricators, drywall installers, masons, plumbers and electricians, are quite specific. In IT projects, the same person (time permitting) invariably ends up being the analyst, designer, programmer and tester.

Symbols vs. Text
With engineering drawings and specifications, most of the work is done through standard symbols and terms. In a project for a house, the landscape map by the contractor is drawn to scale, showing the drainage, drip watering, electrical wiring and trees and shrubs using standard symbols and a minimum of text. No confusion. Different construction companies do not create new or different symbols and terms to distinguish themselves from one another. But IT vendors strive to be different by inventing new, nonstandard terminology. Though the fundamentals of engineering project management apply to IT projects, success will come only to those who are able to understand the key differences and involve the stakeholders input during all steps of the project. The stakeholders should have an important role in the management of IT projects.
There is a better chance that a project is not ended because of over budget if the stakeholders are involved and provide their input during all stages of the project. Many IT projects begin with basic outline and a proposed budget and then in the middle stages of the projects problems arises such as costs are under estimated which may cause the project to fail. IT projects are announced as a failure and stopped when it seems to be costing more than the proposed budget and with little promised returns.  Involving the stakeholders in the conception, planning and the management of the IT project can get support if the project goes over budget.

IT Project Manager
IT projects are very risky. Alfred Spector co-authored a paper comparing bridge building to software development. The premise: Bridges are normally built on-time; on-budget and so do not fall down. On the other hand, software never comes in on-time or on budget. In addition it always breaks down.  There are various skills required by IT project managers to handle IT projects which are described above as very risky. Some of these skills can be provided by using the stakeholders while other ones are directly the responsibility of the project manager. Some of the skills required by the project manager using the stakeholders during different stages of the project include:

Visible leadership
This skill requires the project manager to set a vision and identify the necessary action steps to achieve that vision. It requires the tenacity to see the actions through to the results (Grembergen, 2004). The basic objective of every project manager is to get team members and stakeholders to take action. And the best way of doing this is through influence, rather than mandatory edicts.

 Have you ever heard of any project manager who has never experienced changes in resource, budget, requirements and company strategy? Probably not. The ability to adapt and manage different expectations during periods of change is critical to the project manager's image as a partner and leader, especially in the eyes of stakeholders (Grembergen, 2004).

Sound business judgment
 A project manager makes decisions that impact a business target. And new development and systems are being built as part of an organization's focus on business goals such as competitive edge in the marketplace. As such, project managers must know the business purpose of a project and make decisions within that context.

Organizations are betting their future on their project managers and their ability to get a particular job done on time, within the budget and according to specifications (Grembergen, 2004).

Act As a Mentor
A project manager has to provide feedback to team members and stakeholders (Grembergen, 2004). And feedback is delivered positively only with the recipient's input and commitment to taking action.

Set and manage expectations
Once an estimate and plan have been developed, the project manager must be able to communicate them to the stakeholders. On top of that, the project manager must also respond to subsequent impacts, new requirements and missed estimates.

Constructive project negotiations
A project manager must have the ability to say "No" and know when to do so, which means being able to build win-win situations or constructive agreements with stakeholders (Grembergen, 2004). As the Standish Group International (2001) research indicated earlier in this paper the stakeholders contribute significantly to the success or failure of an IT project.

According to the Standish Group (2001) lack of user involvement traditionally has been the number one reason for project failure. Conversely, the number one contributor to project success has been user involvement. Even when delivered on time and on budget, a project can fail if it does not meet users needs or expectations. However, the year 2001 it has moved to the number two position. It is not that user involvement is less important, but it is just that IT professionals have centered in on this and, in effect solved this major problem. This means that involving the stakeholders during different stages of an IT project can prevent the possible failure of the project.


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