IT Project Management. Virtual Teams

Introduction

Due to increased competition, companies are compelled to take advantage of technological advancements to outmaneuver competitors. Technology has made it possible for organizations to increase their market share by establishing a global presence. This geographical distribution, the changing work culture, and the desire to work closely with customers have led to increased use of virtual teams as a replacement to the traditional approach to work. A characteristic of earlier working ways was to have fixed teams that needed constant face-to-face encounters as project work progressed.

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A virtual team also referred to as a geographically dispersed team is one comprising of members placed at different locations and using the benefits of technology to work on a project jointly. This greatly reduces the need for team members to have frequent physical meetings to chat the way forward (Marchewka, 2009). A good number of technologies exist to support these endeavors. Some of these are; blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and email services, to name but a few. All these can be used to make working in a virtual team a reality. Central to the use of virtual teams, however, is the need to have stipulated rules of engagement that must be adhered to by all the team members. The success of these teams will require a very high level of discipline.

Using virtual teams, organizations can provide a flexible work environment, a developing work culture that allows employers to attract and retain a competitive workforce. With virtual teams, it is possible to significantly reduce operational costs and also, to provide opportunities for team members to share knowledge and experience.

Using Social Software

By using social software, project teams are presented with numerous opportunities to effectively manage projects.

Top on the list of such software is Blogs and wikis which are swiftly transforming how information is shared among members of a team. The use of these tools has completely changed the dynamics of work. Team members can be stationed at different geographical locations and still be able to access and share information in a very speedy way. In the past, they will all have to be together for any meaningful work to be done. Using these tools, project team members are able to quickly reach a consensus on deliberations (Marcus & Murphy, 2010).

A part from being useful to the team members, blogs can also be used by businesses to reach a huge public market.

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Considerations before Implementing a Blog or a Wiki

Admiration for blogs and wikis as a means of communicating is fast growing as organizations realize that there is so much to gain and besides, they are cheap and easy to set up. A blog or weblog as it was originally called gives focus to a specific topic and allows people to post articles. Recent articles once posted, will usually be seen at the top as the older ones are slowly pushed down. The most popular blog technologies are TypePad, WordPress, and Blogger. These are considered to be reasonably priced and quite reliable. Without any specialized skills, one can quickly create or update a website using a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) text window. As can be deduced from the name, this is a window that permits a user to see the text exactly the way it will appear when posted to the Web. Using a web browser, all collaborators on a particular project are able to access and update the blog (Marcus & Murphy, 2010). With blogs, team members get a chance to easily make changes to their postings as they wish.

Typically, a blog is viewable to the public. The project team can, however, decide to restrict access to the blog authorizing only team members. This can help the team to keep important communication only among them without disclosing it to the larger public.

Blogs act as better alternatives to sending out blocks of emails to the project team. It leads to timely communication among members and its use is fast replacing the use of traditional websites by small businesses. Blogs also promote interactivity, a critical component for building a business community.

Wikis are software environments designed to be used by multiple authors. The authors may be project team members, customers, or some other stakeholders. The group members are presented with a simple way to quickly post information for others to see, without special web development tools. Collaborators get an opportunity to exchange and refine ideas. Anyone wishing to contribute only needs to upload their thoughts to the wiki. Like blogs, wikis can be public or private and can also be accessed through a web browser. When a wiki is made private, it can only be accessed through a mandatory login for security reasons.

Besides providing such an excellent way to work on documents, wikis also allow the project team to track the activities of the project. Where members are supposed to update documents, for example, the use of wikis ensures that critical documents are not lost and that updates are not made to the wrong version of a document, a major drawback of using traditional email communication. With attachments that soon become very difficult to trace resulting in precious time and resources being lost in the process.

With the workspace environment provided by wikis, project teams can deliberate and make decisions in a much faster way increasing the output of the team.

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Again, wikis provide a central location to accommodate project materials that can then be accessed by everyone. There is usually no cause to worry when a member accidentally makes changes wrongfully since the changes can be reversed quite easily.

Promoting the use of Social Software by Project Teams

More often than not, change always meets resistance. The reluctance by the team members to try the new way of working can be a big hindrance as one seeks to convince team members to move from the traditional email system to using social software.

To get users to move to the new way of doing things, first ensure that all the concerned get enlightened about the new technology. A highlight of the drawbacks associated with the use of the old ways should help project teams appreciate the need to move to modern ways of doing work. Members should be made to see how much precious time is wasted using emails and how this can be addressed by adopting the use of social software. Highlighting the obvious disadvantages of email boxes and the advantages of social software will eventually make the project team see a reason to change. The use of email communication, for example, creates a difficulty for team members to closely follow the progress of project documents. It is very possible for crucial communication to be overlooked in the process.

Project team members should also be encouraged to frequently make use of the chosen social software. The frequent use will prompt members to start discovering the strengths of the new approach to work and soon, after seeing the benefits they will accept the new work culture.

Boeing’s Risks and Challenges of Outsourcing

Outsourcing now also being referred to as offshoring, is the act of giving work out to outsiders. Many organizations are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by both technological advancements and globalization to improve effectiveness and increase the level of profitability. Companies are able to subcontract work to low-wage countries and in the process, keep production costs at a minimum.

Through outsourcing to expert providers, a company benefits from the services it may not offer with its meager resources. There is also the benefit of accessing emerging technologies and reducing the risk of using outdated technologies that may tarnish the company’s name. These reasons and others have made outsourcing such a popular phenomenon in today’s business world.

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International outsourcing is, however, not without challenges. A company may compromise its security for example, by offshoring. Overdependence on external service providers may also have negative effects on the company’s functions. This could happen when of a breach of contract (Miriti, 2010). Organizations also have to accommodate working with employees disgruntled by the fact that work they can do is being given to someone else.

It may not necessarily be true that an organization could throw itself out of business by outsourcing. To really determine whether or not the company risks losing on of business, a number of factors have to be considered. Depending on the nature of business being undertaken, the odds could go either way.

From the case study, Boeing is in a serious dilemma. On the other hand, the Boeing 787 project requires the use of advanced technologies that are not readily available to Boeing. The company is, therefore, not fully equipped to complete the task alone. There is thus the need to outsource some of its tasks in order to have access to the essential technologies. Boeing is also in a war with unions and as a way out, it is resorting to outsourcing (Marchewka, 2009). With reduced costs of having the job done in low-wage countries, there is also an obvious financial benefit to Boeing that will come from outsourcing. On the other hand, continued offshoring of important technological secrets will eventually see Boeing lose its technological prowess to the suppliers. For Boeing to benefit from working relationships with China that demands access to technology in return for granting access to it, they might have no choice but to let off technological secrets.

In spite of the above-mentioned obstacles, international procurement and outsourcing are still, without doubt, a necessity both for financial as well as political reasons. Many employees in the U.S. and other Western nations are threatened by the fear of job loss and this is making them push governments to pressure companies outsourcing, to stop doing so. Politicians, however, are going against the wishes of the majority, to encourage outsourcing which to them is a strategy to advance their political careers (The Offshoring Hub, 2010). There have been debates on whether the U.S. and other Western nations should stop outsourcing. With the economic slowdown experienced many Americans are convinced that this movement of jobs to foreign nations must be stopped. This is so as to ensure that jobs will still be available for the local workforce.

The reality though is that outsourcing is seen as an important development helping to hold together the economies of the U.S. and other Western countries. A number of arguments have been fronted in favor of outsourcing. Contrary to popular belief, jobs and companies have been saved through offshoring. This is a view held by most politicians. By outsourcing, low-end jobs can be moved overseas where labor is relatively cheap while companies concentrate on creating higher-end jobs at home using the savings made from outsourcing. Outsourcing also has the effect of creating cheaper products. Considering the fact that production costs are greatly reduced, it is also possible for manufacturers to provide consumers with low-cost goods and services while at the same time, companies increase their sales. It leads to a win-win situation for both the consumer and the producer.

Countries are also presented with growth opportunities that would otherwise not be seen in a closed economy. Coca Cola one of the renowned companies in the U.S. for example is making huge profits from operations overseas than in the U.S. and the proceeds are later used to sustain employees back at home (The Offshoring Hub, 2010).

In the case of Boeing, the apparent concern is exposing technological secrets to its competitors overseas. This notwithstanding, huge benefits are still possible with outsourcing. Companies get an opportunity to establish a global presence and at the same time, they can increase profits by a significant reduction of labor costs.

As mentioned earlier, increased outsourcing will also greatly benefit the local population as the producers offer products and services cheaply. The country is also set to benefit from the fact that there will be increased economic activities creating a very vibrant economy.

The deal, Herren and Schiffgens’ Views on HealthConnect Implementation

Clearly, Deal is very much disappointed by the way Kaiser is spending huge sums of money trying out different IT projects that do not seem to bring any benefits to the company. He is also dismayed by the fact that the company’s management is forcing on the IT employees without seeking their expert opinions. Though not an IT employee, Deal is in touch with the IT personnel and seems to have a good understanding of Kaiser’s IT needs. He is of the opinion that the management at Kaiser has failed to listen to the IT experts and strongly doubts Citrix’s recognition of how their software is used at Kaiser as he clearly knows that Kaiser uses the software in a unique way and as such the problem should be addressed uniquely. He sees no reason why Kaiser should continue spending on projects doomed to fail and would rather see spending directed to worthwhile IT projects only.

To protect his company, Herren does not see why Citrix should be falsely accused of Kaiser’s failure to implement the Epic system. He considers the problem to be Kaiser’s and not a reason for Citrix to start thinking that they have failed. He does not mince his words when he says that previous implementations of Epic systems have been very successful and Kaiser’s is just one isolated case. In a way, he is hitting back and thinks that Deal got It all wrong for concluding that Citrix’s reliability and scalability are wanting and advice that Citrix needs to be properly designed for a successful implementation of the new health system.

Schiffgens sees no major problem. To him, large projects are bound to have a lot of challenges and it is only a matter of time before the new system becomes what Kaiser wants it to be. He is confident that Kaiser will use the available processes to effectively deal with any resultant challenges and emerge victoriously. Past experience tells him that Kaiser will successfully deal with the present problem facing the new HealthConnect system. He reiterates that dealing with and solving problems is a fundamental practice of running a good business (Marchewka, 2009).

The differing views expressed by the three individuals are expected considering that each one is looking at the problem from a totally different perspective. Apart from Deal, Herren and Schiffgens are key people in their companies and seek to somehow cover the weaknesses of the companies involved so as to safeguard their reputation. Schiffgens and Herren both seek to reassure the public that in the midst of the storm all is well.

Deal is just a concerned employee whose desire is to see that Kaiser performs to the standards expected by the public.

Consequences of Terminating the Project

All projects are bound to end somehow. Unfortunately, some close because they have failed to bring about the expected changes in performance. At times the management may allow projects to fail to incase they do not address the strategic needs of the organization. Any form of termination must be informed by the outcome of rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and control process. There are, however, times when projects have been let to proceed even though they are considered big failures (Cleland & Ireland, 2007).

According to Kaplan & Harris-Salamone (2009), most project failures are a result of poor management. When considering termination, a number of considerations must be taken into account. It is important to recognize that even though Kaiser can go ahead to terminate the project, there are both legal and social issues to be dealt with. The company must determine whether or not jobs will be lost and in the process jeopardize the livelihoods of families. Financial implications to the company are also a worry.

Before a failed project can be terminated, a conscious decision must be made based on the facts surrounding the failure.

For Kaiser, terminating the project could end up being a real disaster. It is a case of a failed project that has to be allowed to continue. Given that Kaiser had to spend so much money to undertake the project, it makes no economic sense to terminate the HealthConnect system project. Terminating the project will certainly lead to unbearable financial losses to the company.

In this situation, it would probably be advisable for Kaiser to give the project implementers to work around the problem and come up with a solution. As Kaiser proceeds with the failed project, it must do this in line with the expected benefits.

Looking at Schiffgens argument, one might as well argue that Kaiser’s current problem is short-term and a necessary occurrence for a project of HealthConnect’s magnitude. This being the case, the project could be let to proceed regardless of its present shortcomings.

Kaiser’s management may also decide to let the project continue to save themselves the embarrassment of exposing weaknesses and ignorance to the public and competitors. The project also seems to support Kaiser’s long-term strategy maybe, terminating it cannot be an option.

References

Cleland, D. I. & Ireland, L. R. (2007). Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation. New York: Macgrow-Hill Companies Inc.

Kaplan, B. & Harris-Salamone, K.D. (2009). Health IT Success and Failure: Recommendations from Literature and an AMIA Workshop. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 16(3): 291–299.

Marcus, A. & Murphy, S. (2010). How Do Blogs and Wikis Help Me Collaborate With My Customers? Web.

Miriti, G. (2010). Strategies to Overcome International Outsourcing Challenges. Web.

Marchewka, J. T. (2009). Information Technology Project Management. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

The Offshoring Hub. (2010). Reality Check: Why it is Wrong for the US Economy to Stop Outsourcing. Web.

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