Incomplete Projects essay

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Theory Z Management Style on IT Project Completion

Incomplete projects in the IT industry are responsible for significant losses in time, money and creative energy (Boehne, 2000; Mokhtari, et al., 2010). This is very often a result of inadequate project management (Glaser, 2005; Humphrey, 2005; Kimball, 2000). One well-accepted approach to project management that has received considerable attention in the scholarly literature is the contingency management concept known as "theory Z," devised by William Ouchi in 1981.

Theory Z is a management philosophy based on goal setting and achievement. It utilizes a structural motivational strategy based on employee participation combined with an authoritative process of motivation to achieve specific objectives. It was developed as a means of integrating Japanese management philosophies into Western managerial strategies (England, 1983). Essentially, theory Z posits that the structure of the decision making hierarchy must be in alignment with the level of employee participation. Thus when decision making occurs within a work team, a participatory structure is reasonable; however as the decision making processes rises through the ranks of the organizational hierarchy, more authoritative decision making strategies are generally more effective. According to Houser (1995) Theory Z "literally means management-by-objectives combined with a team-oriented, participation approach" (p. 236)

The literature is replete with studies that have examined different project management strategies for a wide variety of situations. There is also a significant amount of research available specifically related to the applications and feasibility of theory Z However, there is a lack of empirical research examining the applications of theory Z to the improvement of IT project completion. Therefore, this study will seek to fill that gap via a quantitative survey methodology.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to determine whether a significant correlation exists between the use of the Theory Z management style and project completion. The researcher will survey 100 project managers from various types of IT-related businesses in an attempt to compare their project management strategies and their volume of incomplete projects. The characteristics that constitute the Theory Z style management will be specifically addressed throughout the self-designed Likert-style (scale of 1-5 from strongly agree to strongly disagree) survey instrument. The scores will then be cross tabulated with the self-reports of the managers as to how many incomplete projects their department experienced in the past fiscal year.

If project managers with high levels of theory Z management skills also have fewer incomplete projects, then this may indicate that a correlation exists between theory Z management style and project completion. By the same token, if project managers with low levels of theory Z management skills have greater numbers of incomplete projects, then this may indicate that a correlation exists between a lack of theory Z management style and incomplete projects. The benefit of this knowledge can help project managers to better plan their strategies to improve project completion.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is a systems approach, with a specific focus on Theory Z Theory Z arose from the criticisms of its predecessors Theory X and Theory Y, which operate at opposite sides of the project management continuum. William Ouchi created Theory Z in 1981 to provide a 'happy medium' to these two extremes by combining the best practices of both methods, and eliminating the aspects of each method that had not been successful.

Theory X is a term coined by Douglas McGregor that demands complete authoritative management, i.e. little or no employee participation in decision-making. McGregor believes that participatory models overestimate the abilities of workers who rank lower on the corporate hierarchy, and therefore authoritative leadership is the only way to ensure production. Theory Y is the direct opposite of theory X, encouraging a companywide participatory approach that motivates employees by allowing them to all be the 'authority' instead of taking direct orders from higher-ups. Interestingly, this theory was also created by Douglas McGregor, who later changed his stance on employee motivation based on more extensive research (Prottas & Davis, 2008). Theory Z was created by William Ouchi to form a middle ground between these two extremes (Whitsett, 2007).

The reason that theory Z was chosen for this study is that it focuses on motivation resulting in action, and all of the principles that lie in between these two entities. The problem of incomplete projects is largely associated with the elements of theory Z, which include the nature of the hierarchal structure of the company, the decision-making process, management by objectives, and a teamwork approach to problem solving. Therefore, theory Z provides more advantages to this study than other project management theories that were examined.

Other project management theories address some of the issues related to incomplete projects, but are not as comprehensive in their scope as Theory Z For example, the theory of constraints associates performance with the constraints, or obstacles, that prevent certain goals from being achieved. The theory of constraints is designed to promote ongoing systems improvement based on the exploitation of constraints that have been identified as obstacles to high performance. (Blackstone, Cox & Schleier, 2009) While this would appear to be a good choice of theory for understanding unfinished projects, it lacks the attention to the human factors that theory Z possesses.

The theory of constraints, much like fuzzy logic theory (Galinec & Vidovic, 2006), is essentially a mathematical formula that focuses on a series of procedures designed to get an organization from point A to point B. As efficiently as possible. These theories also focus on eliminating negative elements as opposed to enhancing productive ones. Theory Z, on the other hand, takes into account the variations that occur simply due to the unpredictability of human nature, and focuses on ways to enhance what is working, as opposed to merely eliminating what is not working. Since the goal of this study is to determine if theory Z has a positive effect on performance and the completion of projects, this seemed like the most appropriate theory to choose.

In addition, Sodurlund (2004) criticizes "the propensity of project management researchers to focus on the reasons for success and failure of projects. Instead… there are a number of important questions that need to be addressed-questions that might be at the core in order to develop our understanding of project management success" (p. 184). Therefore, this researcher wanted to explore a theory that is not as commonly applied to project management research as other theories; one that seeks to answer new questions and find new solutions.

In regard to general management and leadership theories such as traits theory (Gehring, 2007) and transformational leadership theory (Shao & Webber, 2006), these theories appeared to be too broad to address the specific problem of incomplete projects. For example, as Gehring (2007) points out, "Previous published work on traits theory of leadership primarily deals with organizational leadership, and not specifically with project leadership" (p. 44). Similarly, transformational leadership primarily focuses on the qualities of the leader as opposed to the completion of projects (Shao & Webber, 2006). While each of theories can provide helpful foundations for the present study, the theoretical framework focusing on Theory Z is the primary focal point of this study.

Research Questions

1. Do IT project managers that practice management styles associated with Theory Z experience fewer numbers of incomplete projects than project managers who do not practice management styles associated with Theory Z?

2. Are there specific aspects of the Theory Z management style that contribute more to production than others. If so, what are they?

3. How do project managers assign decision-making power throughout the hierarchy (from participative to authoritative); i.e. On what criteria do they base these assignments?

4. In what ways does the level of decision-making power affect the volume of project completion?

Sample Size

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010), there are currently over 113,000 computer and information systems managers in the United States. Using that figure as the total population, and seeking a 95% confidence level and a confidence interval of 5, the sample population for this study was determined to be 383 (Sample Size Caluculator, 2010)

Assumptions and Limitations

The limitations of this study are that it is limited to 383 IT project managers and a 95% confidence level. There are also some limits regarding reliability and validity due to the fact that no method can predict with total certainty all possible variables; however the researcher will investigate limitations in other, similarly designed studies to account for as many variables as possible. These include bias of the researcher, and variations in the demographics of the managers, type of business or department they run, and any other variables that may influence the results. Therefore, the researcher will rely on the experience of other researchers who have conducted similar studies to ensure that no important factors that might bias the results of the study are ignored.

The assumptions are that the respondents will be open and honest in their responses, that the researcher will be sufficiently…[continue]

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