Situational incompetence: an investigation into the causes of failure of a large-scale IT project

Carlton, D 2018, Situational incompetence: an investigation into the causes of failure of a large-scale IT project, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Situational incompetence: an investigation into the causes of failure of a large-scale IT project
Author(s) Carlton, D
Year 2018
Abstract Information technology (IT) projects in the government (public) sector experience significant challenges. Despite decades of research, the adoption of formal methods, the use of external suppliers and packaged software, these remediation attempts have not appeared to have reduced nor mitigated the problems faced when the public sector undertakes large IT projects. Previous studies have examined the causes of IT project failure, in particular these have focused on factor analysis. A relatively limited number of studies have investigated the contribution of IT competence, and even fewer have considered the role and contribution of non-IT executives in IT project outcomes. This study sought a deeper understanding of what drives the behaviour of large scale IT projects. Of particular note was the finding that `the skills required to do the job are the same skills needed to identify competence in others' (Kruger and Dunning 2009). It was this finding which was found to most influence the observed behaviours of executive leadership resulting in IT project failure.

This research reports on a qualitative study that investigated 181 interviews and 5,000 pages of project data drawn from a large-scale public sector IT project which resulted in a cost overrun that exceeded AUD$1 Billion. The interview transcripts and project data were analysed using an inductive case study methodology and the research process was influenced by aspects of Grounded Theory.

The question of most concern to this researcher has been to uncover why, despite all of the research, publications, education, training and certification that is available to individuals and organisations undertaking project management of an information technology solution, a project could still display all of the mistakes, errors and failings that have been consistently identified in the literature for decades.

The theme that was the most consistent throughout the project was that senior management was repeatably made aware of project risks and failings. Reports had been written about the whole-of-government project prior to the creation of the Queensland Health project that specifically enumerated the challenges and risks that needed to be kept front of mind to the QH project and executive team. The literature provided no plausible explanation to describe the fact that senior executives responsible for the direct execution of the project, and departmental executives with governance and oversight accountability apparently ignored all of the advice that they were presented with.

A new Theory of Situational Incompetence has been developed as a result of the analysis. The research culminates in a proposed measurement instrument intended to gauge leadership competence in the context of increasing project size and complexity.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Business IT and Logistics
Subjects Information Systems Theory
Information Systems Organisation
Information Systems Management
Keyword(s) IT Project Failure
Public sector waste
Failed projects
IT Governance
Situational incompetence
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Created: Wed, 27 Mar 2019, 12:34:53 EST by Adam Rivett
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