Transformations in Information Systems Development have renewed efforts to deviate from generalizations and standardizations in that field. However, this has resulted in enormous failure of ISD projects. Organizational designs and configuration of teams are partly to blame. An example is the Taurus Project that was commissioned by London Stock Exchange. It failed after six years. The case explores reasons for ‘learning failure’ and suggests ways to overcome ‘failure to learn’. Additionally, the case looks at stereotypes that characterize learning to fail. It concludes that organizations should place attention on when and how to learn. The authors suggest that learning from experience is the best practice for ISD organizations.
The authors acknowledge the high-risk nature of ISD projects. Hence, many organizations tend to shy away from them, which results in failure. Considering the many ISD projects that fail, many experts tend to settle for a standard. Hence, they fail to customize the project to the specific needs of a business. Looking at it from different perspectives, a project fails since it does not explore. The authors note that this is what happens in all projects that an organization undertakes leading to a belief that no project can be successful. This notion leads to continued failure to learn.
Theories in Use
Organizational learning has two broad concepts, ‘learning to fail’ and ‘failing to learn’. The former is utter disregard for external or internal forces to change and the latter points towards clinging to a process that is not working despite knowledge and results that allude to that. ISD organizations use different formulas to arrive at a solution to this problem, which centers on examination of past cases and theories. Compusys and Centco are two such cases. The former was product configuration software that eliminated sales representatives’ errors with the view of improving quality. It would have been successful if it had user incentives. However, employees developed a negative attitude since they were not rewarded anymore for minimal errors and the system made their work monotonous.
Centco is a name for a company, which had a need for a materials management system. However, this did not materialize as planned because of inherent differences emanating from project management, software acquisition, and lack of stakeholders’ commitment and change of leadership in various levels. After 15 years, the costly and time-consuming system was in place. Notably, the whole system was installed in the last four years after change in management and the realization and acceptance of past mistakes.
Organizational Learning and Information Systems Development
Researchers in the field of ISD projects failure have largely focused on specific areas leading to popular prescriptions such as risk management. However, many organizations do not align their practices to such prescriptions. Additionally, they (organizations) do not have projects’ history in Information Systems Development. They depend on popular sources of knowledge such as reports to carry them out. However, applicability of external sources of knowledge in an organization is sometimes questionable. Hence, an organization should develop an internal learning program that incorporates past learning failure. It is detrimental to focus on success when embarking on a project.
Diagnosing Learning Failure
Diagnosing learning failure is a comparative process, which looks at the goals an ISD sets out to achieve. It can either be a deviation from goals or an achievement of the goals. Based on this, an ISD can be categorized as a failure or success. However, when a project does not merely conform to standards, it is a success despite the possibility of not achieving the laid objectives.
Four Barriers to Effective Learning in ISD
First, the case highlights limits on organizational intelligence as the primary barrier. This includes bringing together extremely talented individuals who have minimal understanding of the organization. Individually, these persons are faced by information overload from peers, which limits their understanding of basics. Additionally, there is too much experimentation since there are no conclusive theories on the subject. The second barrier is disincentives for learning. While many ISD organizations reward success, little incentive is directed to failure. This leaves no room for failure, which sometimes is inevitable in order to achieve success. Hence, the situation propels the teams into a defensible position, which looks at successful past methodologies.
Organizational design is the third barrier. It reduces access to sensitive information and particular departments. Where an organization is structured in a manner that it does not allow team autonomy, ISD’s are likely to fail. Lastly, education barriers hinder broad thinking. ISD is comprised of technology leaning individuals who have little interest in business. Realignment of thinking to allow understanding of business problems to cater for them suitably becomes a major problem that further dissociates managers from ISD organizations.
Learning To Fail: Myths In-Use
Failure to learn results in generalized processes where a company fails to look at alternatives and merely resorts to standardizations. Copying previous works renders projects inappropriate to solve a problem and hence a failure. A company blames this on external causes rather than their processes. This leads to institutionalization of failure. The case indentifies three beliefs that disable learning in organization. First are organizational myths such as Business Process Reengineering, Outsourcing and Virtualization, which hinder new thinking. The second myth is technological fix. This blinds developers into a common belief that ‘more is better’ in technology. This leads to confusion in ISD organization since everyone furthers a different agenda. Lastly, it is the belief that hasty and forceful application of solutions can instigate an ISD failure. This myth is called silver bullet.
Overcoming learning failure: Learning to learn
This can be inferred from ‘barriers to learning’ indentified above. It is a four-pronged approach that addresses knowledge management, organizational restructuring, IS education reforms and offering incentives to learning. Knowledge management refers to the need to have moderation of the expertise in an ISD organization. Additionally projects should be viewed as learning forums rather than a knowledge showbiz arena or a success-only endeavor.
Organizational redesign will allow autonomous departments to share information and have common goals rather than act as each other’s hindrances towards success and learning in ISD projects. ISD projects should not be customized to an organizational setting. Rather, an organization should be customized to fit a particular project with the consent of users and other stakeholders.
The IS education should be overhauled to allow suitability of application in various environments. This will also allow differing technical abilities to conform to business strategies. Lastly, offering incentives to learning includes reward for success and failure. This is because failure offers a platform for learning and success comes from past failures. This will allow members to experiment and not resort to standardizations in an effort to succeed.