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Balancing Four Factors in System Development Projects


The success of system development is most often gauged by three primary indicators: the number of days of deviation from scheduled delivery date, the percentage of deviation from the proposed budget, and meeting the needs of the client users. Tools and techniques to help perform well along these dimensions abound in practice and research. However, the project view of systems development should be broader than any particular development tool or methodology.

Any given development philosophy or approach can be inserted into a systems development project to best fit the conditions, product, talent, and goals of the markets and organization. In order to best satisfy the three criteria, system development project managers must focus on the process of task completion and look to apply controls that ensure success, promote learning within the team and organization, and end up with a software product that not only meets the requirements of the client but operates efficiently and is flexible enough to be modified to meet changing needs of the organization. In this fashion, the project view must examine both process and product.

Often, tasks required for project completion seem contradictory to organizational goals. Within the process, managerial controls are applied in order to retain alignment of the product to the initial, and changing, requirements of the organization. However, freedom from tight controls promotes learning. The product also has contradictions among desired outcomes. Designers must consider tradeoffs between product efficiency and flexibility, with the trend in processing power leading us ever more toward the flexibility side. Still, we rage between conflicting criteria, with the advocates of a waterfall system development lifecycle (SDLC) usually pushing more for control aspects and efficient operations while agile proponents seek more of a learning process and flexible product.

Regardless of the development methodology followed, project managers must strive to deliver the system on time, within budget, and to meet the requirements of the user. Thus, both product and process are crucial in the determination of success. To compound the difficulties, those in control of choosing an appropriate methodology view success criteria from a different perspective than other stakeholders. Understanding how different stakeholders perceive these factors impacting eventual project success can be valuable in adjusting appropriate methodologies. Our study looks at these relationships using well established instruments in a survey of IS development professionals to better clarify the importance of these variables in system project success and any perceived differences among different players in IS development (see the sidebar on "How the Study Was Conducted").

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