Canadian experts study IT project approaches

Canadian researchers are interviewing IT professionals in the hopes of coming up with a common frame of reference that can be used to improve communication among technology and business executives who are working together on joint projects.

The research, which is being conducted by Toronto-based consultant Miles Faulkner and Debbie Compeau, professor of IT at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ont., will result in a report that identifies the “disconnects” that happen when IT and business users collaborate. The report will also weigh the responses against common frameworks for managing projects and explore others that might be more appropriate.

Faulkner, who was previously a lead consultant at two Canadian banks, said that for all the project management certifications and technology certifications that enterprise users possess, there isn’t a really useful approach to ensuring that various lines of businesses can convey their needs and concerns with technology departments, and vice-versa.

“It’s commonly believed in large, complicated IT environments and projects that everybody’s on the same page. I think you’d be surprised how not true that is and how different frames of references of different groups can cause biases,” he said. “If you look at scope statements in project documents, they don’t capture the richness of what’s going on there.”

Some frameworks and tools already exist, such as Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (COBIT), and the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), but Compeau says they look at specific elements of projects and don’t address the dialogue between IT and business as a whole. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used alongside whatever common reference model she and Faulkner develop, she added.

“I think what we’re doing is consistent with the sorts of ideas and assumptions that underlies both of those models,” she said. “I think it would be compatible with them.”

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The two researchers did not disclose the specifics of the model they would adapt, but Faulkner said one possibility might be the business process modelling notation (BPMN), a standard for companies to better understand their procedures in graphical form.

“It can be used for use [case scenarios], but it can also be used as a way of talking about system processes,” he said. “It’s one of these emerging things that is a candidate.”

Within eight to 12 weeks Faulkner and Compeau hope to have completed their interviews. Some early findings have already been presented to a small group of about 20 IT and businesses managers to get their reaction, which will be used to fine-tune the report, Compeau said.

“I think there are elements in all of the IT development tools that play a role. On their own, they’re not capturing that need to communicate across perspectives,” she said. “The problem is you have these highly specialized workers from different fields – different areas of the business, IT. These people have different values, priorities, goals, education and training, and different ways of viewing the world.”

Faulkner and Compeau said they hope to produce their report later this year.

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