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HOI research | Navigating uncertainty: how senior IS managers control information systems projects

In the complex and often uncertain landscape of Information Systems (IS) projects, senior IS managers face the daunting task of maintaining control and ensuring successful outcomes. A recent academic paper investigates how project uncertainty influences these managers' control-style choices and how these choices impact the performance of IS projects.

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Introduction: the challenge of controlling IS projects

Information Systems (IS) projects are notoriously difficult to control, especially under conditions of uncertainty. This difficulty is particularly pronounced for senior IS managers, such as CIOs and IT Vice Presidents, who are ultimately held accountable for IS project performance. The study, "Control-style choices and performance impacts: How should senior IS managers enact control over uncertain IS projects?" provides new insights into the enactment of controls by exploring how IS project uncertainty affects senior IS managers' control-style choices, as well as how it moderates the impact of such choices on process and product performance.

Control styles and project performance

The study reveals that high levels of IS project uncertainty prompt senior IS managers to use an authoritative control style, while not significantly affecting their use of an enabling control style. Further, under high uncertainty, an authoritative control style is positively associated with process performance (time, budget), whereas an enabling control style is positively associated with product performance (quality, functionality). 

Interestingly, using both control styles simultaneously in uncertain IS projects delivers no discernible benefits, suggesting a decision-related control dilemma for senior IS managers.

About the researchers

The research team comprises:

  • Martin Wiener, TU Dresden, Chair of Business Information Systems, esp. Business Engineering, Dresden, Germany
  • W. Alec Cram, University of Waterloo, School of Accounting and Finance, Waterloo, Canada
  • Ulrich Remus, University of Innsbruck, Department of Information Systems, Production and Logistics Management, Innsbruck, Austria
  • Magnus Mähring, Stockholm School of Economics, House of Innovation, Stockholm, Sweden
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