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Survey Shows Unethical Behavior Rampant Inside IT Development Teams

We Have Better Options

The good news is that all IT projects aren't the wretched hives of villainy that I've made them out to be. Many teams are in fact following some respectable practices to help keep them on the straight and narrow. These practices include:

  • Implementing functionality in priority order (followed by 64% of teams)
  • Evolving the schedule throughout the project (51%)
  • Evolving requirements throughout the project (50%)
  • Taking a flexible approach to scope from the start (38%)
  • Regularly produce shippable solutions (35%)
  • Adopting a flexible approach to the schedule from the start (30%)
  • Having a flexible budget from the start (21%)
  • Presenting stakeholders with a ranged schedule (18%)
  • Presenting stakeholders with a ranged estimate (18%)
  • Updating the budget throughout the project (17%)
  • Taking a stage-gate approach to funding (8%)

Getting Off This Treadmill

I believe that we can do better; and that if we're ever to be considered true professionals, we need to change our behavior. This is a choice that we need to make as individuals first, as project teams second, and finally as organizations. To do this, we will need to:

  1. Recognize that we have a problem. I hope that this article has helped to illuminate our bad behavior.
  2. Choose to work in a trustworthy manner. We need a trust-based relationship with the business, and we clearly don't have that. We will never be considered true partners with the rest of our organizations if we're not trustworthy.
  3. Educate the business. I believe many of the bad behaviors stem from ill-informed requests from business stakeholders. They often don't understand the implications of what they're asking for, and that's because we haven't taken the time to educate them as to their choices and the trade-offs associated with them. We need to deal with the root cause of the problem.
  4. Recognize that we have choices. There are ethical strategies to allow scope, cost, schedule, and quality to vary which we could choose to follow. As this survey shows, many teams choose to adopt them.
  5. Recognize this will be hard. It's really easy to point out a problem, it's a lot harder to actually deal with it. Many of these ethically challenged practices are touted as project management best practices, indicating that we have a significant cultural challenge to overcome.
  6. Recognize this is a risky career decision. For many IT departments adopting ethical project management policies will be a significant shift in strategy. The people and teams who are at the forefront of this shift risk being the messengers of bad news who end up being punished for doing so. Make the changes that you are comfortable with making.

I believe that we've gained some significant insights from the analysis of the survey results. I run these surveys to discover what is actually going on out there and the results are always interesting. Whenever you see a request from me to fill out a survey, I hope you will take a few minutes of your valuable time to share your experiences with the rest of the community. [See next survey below. — Ed.]

April 2011 State of The IT Union

You are invited you to fill out the April 2011 State of the IT Union Survey. The goal of this ongoing survey series is to find out what IT professionals are actually doing in practice. The survey should take you about 5 to 7 minutes to complete, and your privacy will be completely protected.

At the end of the survey, you will be given the chance to be entered into a drawing for one of ten copies of Leadership, Teamwork, and Trust: Building a Competitive Software Capability by Watts Humphrey and James Over, published by Pearson/Addison-Wesley Professional in December 2010.

The results of this survey will be summarized in a forthcoming article. Furthermore, this is an open survey, so the source data (without identifying information to protect your privacy), a summary slide deck, and the original source questions will be posted at so that others may analyze the data for their own purposes. Data from previous surveys have been used by university students and professors for their research papers, and hopefully the same will be true of the data from this survey. The results from several other surveys are already posted there, so please feel free to take advantage of this resource.

Further Reference

Results from the December 2010 State of the IT Union Survey are posted here.

The July 2009 State of the IT Union Survey explored IT governance and project management issues. It found that many project teams exhibited ethically questionable behavior, behavior which was examined again in the December 2010 survey.

My July 2009 Dr. Dobb's Update: Lies, Great Lies, and Software Development Plans discusses results from the July 2009 State of the IT Union survey.

The change prevention process anti-pattern is described here.

The perils of big requirements up front (BRUF) are explored in detail here.

My paper Scaling Agile: An Executive Guide (PDF) explores the issues surrounding agility at scale and can be downloaded here.

The Surveys Exploring the Current State of Information Technology Practices page links to the results of all the DDJ surveys which I've run over the years.

My [email protected] blog discusses strategies for adopting and applying agile strategies in the complex environments.

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