Coping with IS/IT Risk Management

Tony Moynihan, Springer-Verlag London 2002

ISBN 1-85233055-6 Practitioner book series.


Candid interviews with twenty experienced project managers are the central feature of this book from Prof. Tony Moynihan of the School of Computer Applications at Dublin City University. His method of interviewing and simulating situations extracted key insights from these veteran solution providers as to how they really cope with messy reality.


Project managers can read this book as if it were like their informal networking, swapping stories over the bar with their peers. Students can see how real life situations arise and what coping mechanisms are brought to bear to manage the chaos of real life. The professional researcher will home in on the chapters where the methodology is revealed, that of eliciting personal constructs.


The examples chosen come from the small-scale 2-month to 2-year projects that most commercial implementations focus on. Read and enjoy this refreshing set of candid-camera snapshots!


Tony Moynihan’s aim was to tackle the problem of finding out the basis for people’s actions when they are better at doing the work than describing how they work. Intuitive knowledge is always richer in information than any external description of it. So, in part 1 he interviewed 14 experienced systems consultants, implementers and developers, to identify the factors that matter to them.


The key question was “What makes different projects different?” He gives five interviews verbatim, showing how he repeated combinations of questions to arrive at the scale of weighting that the interviewees applied to each factor, and in what way combining them created new threats or opportunities.


He gives a table of 113 constructs obtained from this analysis. This showed the importance of non-technical, more “political” constructs such as commitment, control, support, and stability. He then compares these to risk factors identified in the Information Systems project management literature.


In part 2, he explored with twenty more project managers (PMs) some situations which featured the most frequently mentioned concepts in more or less risky combinations, and provides the actual transcripts of the conversations. These are quite revealing – I should know, I was one of them!


This is the best part of the book. Many times, they say “I’ll give you an example” and then relate some horrendous yarn that explains why they are so touchy about that point. To illustrate the “hidden agenda” concept that they all dig for like sniffer dogs after contraband, one tells the story of an airport that deliberately bought less efficient gate allocation software because they wanted to use the tool to justify buying a new terminal.


In part 3, he explains his method and reflects back on the research material provided to provide common coping strategies or recipes. Quotations are collected under each heading to show how they are talked about. Students embarking on their first industrial project assignment would be well advised to read these for some vicarious experience of the issues of ownership and control, the problems of change and learning; ending with the “Doomsday scenario”, projects you should walk away from!


In part 4, he presents the material from other points of view … interorganizational trust; agency theory; planned organizational change; capability; action, rationality and control; requirements uncertainty. The researcher will be interested in the chapter “What’s the book really been about”, on knowledge elicitation.


Finally, the appendices included a detailed listing of the “recipes for success” (or at least avoiding disaster), with the evidence for each shown backed up by the interview notes.  For example “If the client … hasn’t the needed time or skill, … try to get him/her support or training. If this doesn’t work, ask for an alternative contact, or try to work around him/her”. These are thirty-seven gems of hard-won wisdom and insight that belong in every project manager’s head.


Patrick O’Beirne

Systems Modelling Ltd


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