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How the Cultural Composition of Your IT Project Team Affects its Approach to Technical Risk

My colleagues–Dr. Viswanath Venkatesh, Dr. James Thong, and Dr. Xiaojun Zhang–published our research article on the role of cultural values in shaping how IT project teams address technical risk. As you likely know, I have been fascinated with learning more about how IT project teams handle technical risk and what IT project managers can do about it. In previous blog posts discussed what I learned about the role of empowering leadership and process control. In the current research, my colleagues and I wanted to understand whether certainly cultural values inclined IT project teams to task steps to mitigate the effects of technical risk.

Loosely speaking, think of cultural values as the mental programming that shapes how people interpret and react to events in the world. We are all inclined to follow particular scripts that reflect our mental programming. We asked the question: if certain cultural values were highly represented in an IT project team, how would that affect their approach to handling technical risk? Here is what were learned:

There are generally three types of activities that help IT project teams mitigate the effects of technical risk:

  1. Proactively planning and scheduling key milestones and a roadmap for achieving them,
  2. Coordinating team member tasks and deliverables and monitoring progress toward key milestones, and
  3. Communicating and working with clients and end-users to understand if needs are being properly understood and met.

Which IT project teams are more inclined to enact risk mitigation activities?

  1. Not surprisingly IT project teams in which collectivistic values are well represented tend to engage in all three of these activities. Collectivistic values elevate the benefit of the team over that of the individual. Team members with such values are more inclined to work together to achieve higher quality outcomes.
  2. IT project teams that value achievement and task performance are more likely to engage in planning and scheduling but not in the other two activities. This gives them a target against which their performance can be gauged. Interestingly, such IT project teams were less likely to engage in coordination and monitoring activities.
  3. IT project teams that valued power distance (that is, a recognition of social status different and a reverence for higher authority) were more likely to engage in coordination and monitoring activities but not in the other two activities. Such teams likely view coordination and monitoring as a means to ensure that they are delivering on their client’s demands.
  4. Not surprisingly, IT project teams that value long-term orientation (that is, taking a long term view and valuing long term relationships) are more likely to engage in planning and scheduling activities and client interaction activities, but not in coordination and monitoring.

While IT project teams are typically not composed with cultural values in mind, it is useful for project managers to be aware that such values will shape how their project teams approach technical risk. A hands-on approach maybe necessary for IT project teams that are less culturally inclined toward mitigating technical risk. The research article appears in the first 2019 issue of Journal of Management Information Systems.