Abstract for: Building on Shifting Sands: The Structure of Repetitive IT Project Escalation, Crisis, and De-escalation

This research examines a case of extended failure to complete a critical and complex IT modernization effort in a US government organization. The project has been revamped, stopped and restarted several times, and as of the writing of this paper has not completed. From the system dynamics perspective, the problem appears to be related to a dynamic and repeating decision and management process with an embedded project management model. We hypothesize that the cyclical project escalation and abandonment is due to the continuous introduction of new requirements during the project lifecycle. A simulation model is developed to test the hypothesis and the results support the proposition that scope creep resulting from the introduction of new requirements may be a causal factor in the cycles of project escalation and de-escalation. The model is then used to test a series of policy options that are aimed at mitigating these cycles. Conclusions, recommendations, and limitations are discussed.