UJ researcher on managing IT initiatives Professorial Inaugural address: Prof Carl Marnewick

Managing Information technology (IT) initiatives requires a new approach. According to Carl Marnewick, the Deputy Head of Department: Postgraduate, Department of Applied Information Systems within the College of Business and Economics at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), there is overwhelming evidence that IT initiatives managed as projects are not successful and do not deliver the value as intended.

Prof Marnewick pointed out that organisations uses IT projects to implement strategies and ultimately the vision, when he delivered his inaugural address, Rebooting IT Projects Management, in the Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Thursday, 19 April 2018.

“Most IT projects are currently managed in a very traditional way based on engineering and construction project management which were invented in the early decades of the 20th century,” said Prof Marnewick.

“This way of managing projects follow a very linear process from design, build, implement and closure. However, it is working fine when the product can be visualised like a bridge or the development of a skyscraper. It is not working when the product cannot be visualised like an ERP system. As a result, IT projects fail at an alarming rate with success rates averaging at 28% internationally and close to 50% locally. This is a clear indication that traditional project management is not applicable anymore to IT implementations and that new ways to manage and implement these initiatives should be explored,” he said.

Prof Marnewick stressed that according to a study to determine what contributes to project failures and success the current best practices are not conducive, as IT project managers do not follow the best practices. “Inherently this might be that the best practices are not suited for IT projects or that IT project managers are not competent. Research also found that IT project managers are in certain cases competent, therefore it can be deduced that best practices are not conducive. Also, even when IT project managers are certified in these best practices, most still not deliver successful IT projects.”

Furthermore, evidence shows that the introduction of agile principles improves IT project success. “The conundrum is that the introduction of agile principles negates the concept of an IT project and introduce the concept of IT initiatives. The introduction of agile methods have seen IT project success rates increased to 39% internationally and to 77% locally,” said Prof Marnewick.

“It also implies that IT initiatives cannot be managed using traditional project management and an alternative needs to be found. The Scaled Agile Framework, which allows organisations to manage IT initiatives but still gain the benefits of portfolio management, is an alternative.

“Replacing project management with portfolio management and its underlying principles and philosophies, is not enough as we are currently within the 4th industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, which requires additional new skills that needs to be mastered by portfolio managers as well as team members.”

He highlighted that these skills are not the traditional skills but skills focusing on problem-solving, critical thinking and cross-cultural collaboration. “Team composition and management is also influenced by Industry 4.0. Teams are more autonomous, self-forming and highly flexible based on the team members, who will be predominately from Generation Z and iGen.”

Prof Marnewick concluded: “A new approach is needed to manage IT initiatives as project management per se does not meet the changing needs of IT in general and IT initiatives specifically. The two major recommendations are the replacement of the Waterfall approach with an Agile approach and the replacement of project management with portfolio management. There are still various unknowns that need to be addressed. The very first challenge is what will happen to current IT project managers. What will their future role be? Do they need to upskill into portfolio management or cross-skill to become release train engineers or even scrum masters? Another challenge is more of an organisational challenge and it relates to the culture of the organisation. Organisations should embrace the Agile approach as well as Scaled Agile as a way to deliver IT initiatives.”

Read the full Professorial Inaugural address by Prof Carl Marnewick.

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