An investigation into the political, optimism bias and technical causes for issues with the development of realistic Information Technology project schedules

2020 Prater JamesResearcher: Dr James Prater
Year: 2015-2020

Affiliation: University of South Australia
Primary supervisor: A/Prof. Konstantinos Kirytopoulos

Thesis language: English

The aim of this research was to extend the existing knowledge of the scheduling of Information Technology projects to determine causes for poor estimation and mitigation techniques to address these causes.

Unrealistic Information Technology schedule development can be affected by several causes. These causes can be categorized as technical issues, such as not having the skill or knowledge to develop a schedule, psychological issues, such as optimism bias and anchoring and political, where the schedule is designed to meet some potentially arbitrary target. Understanding and identifying these causes and which of them has the largest impact to the development of accurate Information Technology schedules and more importantly, what tools and techniques have been shown to reduce the impact of these causes is key to improving Information Technology project performance.

The aim of this research was to extend the existing knowledge of the scheduling of Information Technology projects to determine causes for poor estimation and mitigation techniques to address these causes. The research then defined and ranked the underlying causes, whilst also evaluating the effectiveness of techniques to reduce the causes' impact. The study culminated with the development of two artifacts, a Framework and a Checklist that links estimation mitigation techniques with causes. Applying both research-based tools would improve the scheduling of Information Technology projects.

The study answered three main questions. Firstly, what are the causes impacting the development of original baseline Information Technology project schedule estimates. Secondly, how do these causes affect the development of original baseline Information Technology project schedule estimates. Thirdly, how can the effect of the causes be alleviated.


This research aim was achieved by addressing the following objectives:
1. Investigate original baseline Information Technology project estimates.
2. Reveal impeding causes for the accurate development of original baseline Information Technology project estimates.
3. Explore mitigation techniques to address the identified impeding causes for original baseline Information Technology project estimates.
4. Assess the impeding causes and the perceived effectiveness of mitigation techniques.
5. Develop a Framework and relevant tools for enhancing realistic estimates to assist with the mitigation of impeding causes.


In undertaking this research, a mixed methods approach was used. Following a classical approach, the research commenced with a literature review which ensured a firm foundation for advancing knowledge. This review also included a quantitative literature approach which was undertaken in a systematic way following the input-processing-output approach. This approach allowed key findings to be discovered within the literature, and based on these findings, a classification scheme was developed. Following the literature review a series of in-depth interviews were completed. This approach allows time to discuss and probe the interviewee to ensure that key concepts and knowledge have been discovered. Building on the previous methods, the research then used an on-line questionnaire to capture data to allow further elaboration on responses from the earlier research methods of literature and semi-structured interviews. The results of this questionnaire were analysed using both descriptive and inferential statistics. The final validation undertaken on the research findings was through the focus group method.
The findings from the quantitative literature review were that political pressure and optimism bias were widely accepted as major causes of unrealistic engineering project scheduling. The major method to mitigate their impacts, was the use of the reference class estimation technique.

The semi-structured interviews highlighted the use of the analogy, questioning, risk-contingency and multiple estimation techniques for Information Technology schedules. It also found little, if any, awareness of either the impacts of optimism bias or the use of the reference class estimation technique. The other finding of note was that when queried as to whether media reports of problems with initial Information Technology estimates reflected their experience, respondents' opinions were split.

Findings from both previous research methods highlighted ten potential causes for issues with Information Technology project schedules and eight estimation techniques that could be used to mitigate these causes. The questionnaire developed, based upon these findings, was then answered by 93 Information Technology project managers with the following findings. Firstly, out of the ten main causes identified, the top three issues with Information Technology project schedules, in terms of importance, were inadequate understanding of requirements when estimates were made, organizational pressure to develop a very aggressive schedule and overly optimistic forecasts from the project team. Secondly, factor analysis revealed four factors underlying the ten causes, namely, the Optimistic Politician, Technical Newbie, Dataless Newbie and Pragmatic Futurist. Thirdly, the AACE estimation approach, Two Estimates and the Reference Class approach were shown to improve estimates in a statistically significant manner. Fourthly, certified experienced project managers had a statistically significant lower optimism score than the general population. Fifthly, answers to the media report were split and very similar to the results from the semi-structured interviews.

Post the analysis of the questionnaire, a Framework (Figure 1) for improving Information Technology project schedules was developed. This Framework is based upon the findings from all research methods undertaken and highlights mitigation approaches that had been validated by this research. In addition to the Framework, a Checklist was also prepared. This Checklist is designed to specifically target less experienced project managers and provide guidance as to what estimation technique should be applied, dependent upon what type of cause need addressing
Both the research Framework and Checklist were then validated by a Focus Group. The use of the Focus Group method to validate both new research outputs, is consistent with other research endeavors that applied this approach. The focus group also re-enforced the impacts of the top two causes with Information Technology project schedules, that of not understanding requirements and political pressure.

When considering how this research has extended the existing body of knowledge on Information Technology project scheduling, it has again confirmed that the use of multiple estimation techniques for Information Technology projects, which are advocated widely in the literature, delivers benefits to scheduling. As is the use of project managers that hold certification(s) and have had many years of experience in the profession. The identification and then ranking of Information Technology project scheduling causes, also extends and enhances the knowledge in this area. As does the use of reference class estimation technique for the creation of Information Technology schedules, which provides a tool to mitigate the two top causes of issues with Information Technology project schedules. These extensions to the body of knowledge (academic contribution) are also reflected in the practical implications of this research. These include allowing the project management communities a voice on such issues as whether media reports reflected their experience and what estimation techniques have been proven statistically to improve estimates. A Checklist developed by the research will allow the project management professional to focus on key causes. Among other contributions, the research has brought a new level of awareness of the psychological impacts of the profession on Information Technology project managers and the potential health impacts based upon this change in psychology by the project manager. This is an area that requires further research, specifically to confirm whether this psychological change relates to all Information Technology project managers or only the ones from within the Austral-Asia region.
The limitations of the study include the need for further validation, other than the focus group of both the Framework and Checklist and potentially the Austral-Asia focus for the research.
In conclusion, the research explores in depth the causes of unrealistic project scheduling in Information Technology projects and through the developed Framework and Checklist guides the project managers in navigating through this complex process..




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