Failure at the Speed of Light: Project Escalation and De-Escalation in the Software Industry
Hickerson, Thomas B.
- Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Abstract: This thesis is about failure -- more specifically, failure in the software industry. Failure is an attractive subject because everyone experiences it, allowing people to understand on a personal level what will work in business -- and what won't. Failure is also ... read morea concept that is difficult to define, as there are many different academic opinions on the subject. The aim of this thesis is to take a look at notable failures in the software sector, and draw lessons from them in the context of organizational failure, looking at the internal and external factors that caused the projects to fail. It will look at three cases where software projects failed. Two of the cases were very public, involving not only corporations but also governmental bodies, including the City of Denver's Computerized Baggage Handling System project and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Virtual Case File project. The third case deals with failure within a private company, the ArsDigita Corporation; while the company was still privately held, the information around the company's problems was made public by dissatisfied leaders and employees within the company. We shall look at the three cases through the framework of project escalation, which is defined as an escalating commitment to the project even after signs of failure are evident. We also discuss how each project de-escalated, and what kind of effect this had on the firms involved. In taking a look at each project, we will see that software had little or nothing to do with the failure at all. Instead, the internal and external factors surrounding each project contributed to its problems. Escalation and de-escalation are very important tools used to prove this, as they categorize the internal faults that each firm experienced while trying to execute their goals. However, external shocks to each project also played their part in the project failure. Following the three studies are short descriptions of systems that have been created in response to the problems project managers have encountered, showing us that companies realize that escalation is a problem, and they are proposing new strategies to identify and deal with it.read less