Researcher: Dr Krishnan Mysore
Affiliation: University of South Australia
Primary supervisor: A/Prof. Konstantinos Kirytopoulos
Thesis language: English
The aim of this research is to extend the existing knowledge regardng stakeholders' engagement in the context of globally distributed ICT projects.
Engagement of multi-stakeholders in globally distributed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) projects is significant and challenging from an ICT vendor's perspective. These multi-stakeholders from the ICT vendor, client and ICT vendor-partner organizations can be from diverse multicultural backgrounds, with varied interests and collaborating across remote geographical locations using different technologies. ICT vendor firms have been going through many adversarial challenges during stakeholder engagement in globally distributed project environments and in a way managing and coping with such difficulties. As vendors are in the center of these projects, it is important to explore any adversarial nature of multi-stakeholder engagement in the context of globally distributed ICT projects through their lenses. Adversarial challenges or negative situations in global ICT projects can manifest in the form of misunderstandings, dilemmas, resistance, and conflicts that can impact the multi-stakeholder engagement. These difficulties faced during stakeholder engagement can have a cascading and detrimental impact on the sustainable stakeholder relationships, mental well-being of the project actors, the triple constraint of the projects, project performance and eventual lead to project failures. Adverse situations can be influenced by factors such as power play, politics, trust, attitude and commitment of the engaged project stakeholders. An awareness and understanding of the impact of adverse situations and the underlying interplay of factors that can adversely affect stakeholder engagement can pave the way towards implementing best practices and strategies for effective stakeholder engagement that can increase the probability of successful project outcomes. Prior research highlights the significance and challenges of stakeholder engagement but is limited in focus and thorough empirical research on investigating the adverse situations and the underlying interplay of factors that can adversely affect stakeholder engagement, especially from the context of globally distributed ICT projects. To address this knowledge gap, this research aims to investigate and construe the adversarial nature of multi-stakeholder engagement in the context of globally distributed ICT projects. The research seeks to address the research questions of 1) Which are the key influencing factors that interact to form "themes of interplay" which can adversely influence different aspects of multi-stakeholder engagement in globally distributed ICT projects? 2) Which are the groups of impactful adverse situations faced by multi-stakeholders during engagement in a globally distributed ICT project and which are the effective antidotes?
The empirical research followed a sequential mixed-methods approach. The sequential mixed methods approach included a multi-case study that preceded the questionnaire survey which was followed up with a focus group study to address specific research objectives that aim to address the research questions. A multi-case study approach was chosen as a starting point of empirical research to explore the interplay of influencing factors that can adversely influence stakeholder engagement. The multi-case study design involved five globally distributed ICT projects executed by various ICT vendor firms. The five case studies involved the participation of twenty-six professionals engaged in those globally distributed ICT projects. The findings from the thematic content analysis and the market basket analysis of the multi-case study data revealed the 21 influencing factors (e.g. trust, culture, power, politics, virtual communications) and their association that form the top 10 key 'themes of interplay' (e.g. trust – culture – virtual communications) that can create several adverse situations (e.g. conflict, misunderstandings, fear, dilemma) which, in turn, can adversely affect different aspects of stakeholder engagement (e.g. decision making, knowledge sharing). The multi-case method was followed by a questionnaire survey. The questionnaire survey was designed to address the objective of identifying the impactful adverse situations and effective antidotes in the form of mitigation strategies and best practices. The inputs to the survey questionnaire design leveraged from the literature review, as well as the multi-case study findings on the informed indicative dimensions of adverse situations in the way stakeholder think, act or behave and the possible antidotes to address adverse situations. The questionnaire survey administered using survey monkey® yielded a worldwide response from 144 participants. These globally distributed participants had prior experience in stakeholder engagement in global ICT Projects. Exploratory factor analysis was employed to examine the questionnaire survey data and identify the meaningful groups of adverse situations. The study examined the salience of the adverse situations using the Relative Importance Index. The findings from this empirical study revealed the 8 groups that include 26 adverse situations that can negatively impact stakeholder engagement. For example, lack of information clarity (miscommunication, information misuse, misunderstanding), the dark side of anticipation (intolerance, low morale, anger, fear, mental strain) or undesirable reactive expressions (relationship abuse, frustration, distress, dilemma). The questionnaire survey also revealed the 20 effective antidotes (for example resilience, emotional intelligence, trust building, conflict resolution, stakeholder networking, single point of contact, cultural intelligence). These antidotes were earlier found to be indicative from the literature study, as well as the multi-case study findings. The effective antidotes were further mapped to the groups of impactful adverse situations identified from the questionnaire survey using the experience of a focus group involving 7 experts from the ICT Industry. These ICT professionals were having prior experience in project stakeholder engagement from various ICT vendor organizations. The overall findings are summarized in the form of an empirical framework. The focus group of ICT experts validated the empirical framework developed from this mixed methods research. The focus group participants, overall discussed and agreed upon the structure, context, contents, and directionality of the empirical framework towards visualizing, predicting and mitigating the adverse nature of stakeholder engagement in the context of global ICT projects.
The empirical framework constitutes a contribution to project management practice and stakeholder management research community. It is a descriptive and high-level process framework that aims to describe and outline the process of how the underlying influencing factors form themes of interplay to create adverse situations that affect several aspects of stakeholder engagement in the form of interaction points and means of stakeholder engagement and the effective mitigation strategies and best practices that can help in addressing the adverse nature of stakeholder engagement. Overall, this research contributes towards building a new theory that describes the adversarial multi-stakeholder engagement in project management and provides new insights to the benefit of the profession. The outcome of this research enables ICT project managers and stakeholder analysts to get an understanding of the key factors that can interplay to influence stakeholder engagement and the importance of different dimensions and groups of adverse situations that can impact stakeholder engagement. Awareness on the adversarial nature of stakeholder engagement and the appropriate antidotes that can address adverse situations helps in effectively managing the mental well-being of project actors, sustainable stakeholder relationships, project performance, and, finally, contributes to successful project outcomes.