Conclusions and Discussion
The present study illustrates that for most high-tech projects, both attitudinal and conditioning factors remain a challenge, no less so for large and complex IT projects.
Both schedule and cost optimism are well known phenomena yet continue to be neglected. The issue results partly from failure to forecast project costs accurately (especially software) and partly through competitive funding environments where underestimates in time and/or cost have traditionally been tacitly accepted or even encouraged. Anecdotally, current global economic conditions indicate reducing tolerance to this approach in the face of stricter funding priorities.
Use of lessons learned has been historically weak and remains patchy. High-tech mega-projects especially should formally plan for at least a degree of up-front research to inform the major challenges and decisions ahead. Early ambiguity in projects can frustrate project groups used to a more industrial model yet are overcome through trust building itself dependent on effective and frequent project team communication.
Regarding launch conditions, the benefits of defining the project mission and success definitions early are strongly evident, as are clear and consistent structures for reporting and decision-making. The concept of a Project Information Office (PIO) is advanced with a remit covering not only information, documents and data, but also the broader responsibility for convening conferences, meetings, telecoms, and managing / recording their "traffic" flows. As such, the PIO would be the central coordinator of project community information needs, including project templates, branding, IP, and single point management media interfaces.
Risk management is typically dealt with programmatically and tends to see projects as a deterministic process, but this approach fails to fully consider unknown unknowns. To address this epistemic uncertainty in high-tech projects, a two-pronged approach is suggested:
- Estimating and establishing an identified contingency reserve, ideally integrated to dynamic risk "burn", and
- The early appointment of one or more "proto" task force panels kept in dormant readiness to offer expert advice in the event of unanticipated circumstances.
The execution of large infrastructure projects carries compliance obligations involving national authorities. Even with State blessing, these external negotiations are rarely simple, and need careful and dedicated stewardship at (or before) project start-up.
Lastly, this study supports the formation of a mission assurance function working alongside project management, supporting the project teams, and reporting at Director level. Integrated at the conceptual phase, the mission assurance specialist(s) brings experiential capability and intellectual rigor to project definition.
Management of the conceptualization and planning phases is shown to have a pivotal effect on the ultimate success of projects. For international high-tech projects especially, the alignment of key activities with key players is crucial. It is people, with their talents, attitudes and experience, that ultimately deliver the initiatives (and thus the performance objectives) outlined in this study and sponsors should strive to hire the best staff available. This underpinning aspect of projects is advanced by Cook-Davies (2002 p189) as:
"people perform every process, and it is the people who ultimately determine the adequacy".
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