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PAPERS

Six Sigma and Information Systems


Project Management: A Revised
Theoretical Model
Weiyong Zhang, Department of Management, School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth
University, Richmond, VA, USA
Xiaobo Xu, Department of Management Information Systems, School of Business and
Management, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

ABSTRACT
Previous information systems (IS) research has
significantly improved the success rate of IS
projects, but the result is still far from satisfying. The effort to advance IS project management theories continues. One notable effort is
Ravichandran and Rai (2000). Based on quality
management principles, they developed a
model (the R&R model) describing a qualityoriented organizational system that leads to
software development quality performance.
This study analyzed Six Sigma to propose major
revisions to the R&R model. Six Sigma is a
recent approach to quality management with
proven effectiveness. The analysis of Six Sigma
suggested that several constructs in the R&R
model need to be respecified, leading to the definition of a new quality-oriented organizational
system. More importantly, the revised model
posits that the new organizational system leads
to IS project success that can be measured by
organizational performance improvement. This
study contributes to the literature and provides
practical guidance to IS project managers.
KEYWORDS: information systems; project
management; Six Sigma

Project Management Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3, 5974


2008 by the Project Management Institute
Published online in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com)
DOI: 10.1002/pmj.20066

INTRODUCTION
nformation systems (IS) project management has been an important
and exciting topic in both academic research and trade magazines. For
the past two decades, the trend of globalization and the rapid diffusion
of Internet technology have led companies to critically rely on various
information systems to achieve competitive advantage (Igbaria, Zinatelli, &
Cavaye, 1998; Ives & Learmonth, 1984; T. Powell & Micallef, 1997; Shuit,
2004). IS projects enable companies to provide better products or services.
Often the survival and growth of a company is dependent on the success of
critical IS projects (Haapaniemi, 1996; Nash, 2003). In addition, most IS projects require a substantial amount of investment and resources. To make it
even more challenging, the inherent uncertainty of IS projects is high due to
the technological complexities involved. All these make IS project management an interesting but challenging research topic.
Over the past two decades, research in IS project management has
helped dramatically increase the success rate of projects, but the results are
still far from satisfying. The CHAOS Report (The Standish Group, 1994, 2004)
showed that the IS project success rate was 34% in 2004, a significant
increase from 16% just ten years ago. Such an improvement is largely associated with the extensive research effort that spans across various areas,
including system development life cycle, project office management, project
risk management, and supplier management. However, it is worth
noting that still two-thirds of the IS projects were classified as failed or
challenged. The information systems application area actually had the
lowest project management maturity (Ibbs & Kwak, 2000). Clearly,
researchers need to conduct more studies to search for new theories or
revise existing theories for successful IS project management.
Six Sigma, a process improvement program that gained wide popularity
during the past two decades, provides an opportunity to advance theory
development for IS project management (Kwak & Anbari, 2006). Six Sigma
was developed by Motorola and has been shown to effectively improve performance within many companies (Pande, Neuman, & Cavanagh, 2000). The
success of Six Sigma at General Electric even led the company to claim that
Six Sigma is its business culture and strategy. Studies have shown that Six
Sigma can effectively improve the success rate of improvement projects
(Linderman, Schroeder, & Choo, 2006; Linderman, Schroeder, Zaheer, &
Choo, 2003). However, the IS project management literature has largely
ignored the advancement of project management practices brought by Six
Sigma. Therefore, this study tries to bridge an important gap in the IS project

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

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Six Sigma and Information Systems Project Management


management literature: What can IS
project management learn from Six
Sigma?
This study adopted the theory
development approach. A good IS project management theory can reveal the
relationship between project management effort and project success. It can
also provide useful guidance to practicing managers. This study conducted a
critical assessment of Six Sigma to
understand whether Six Sigma can help
improve IS project success. Such a theoretical understanding contributes to
further theory development. In contrast, a study simply presenting Six
Sigma best practices will not be as
valuable and can easily commit the
common mistake of a one-size-fits-all
approach (Donaldson, 2001).
Specifically, this study revised the
Ravichandran and Rai (2000) theoretical model (referred to as the R&R
model hereafter) vis--vis Six Sigma.
Ravichandran and Rai (2000) applied
quality management principles to propose a quality-oriented organizational
system model for software development quality performance. Since Six
Sigma is a recent successful approach to
quality management, this study revisited three aspects of the R&R model in
light of Six Sigma: domain, constructs,
and relationships between constructs.
The revised model describes a new
quality-oriented organizational system.
More importantly, the revised model
shows how such a new organizational
system leads to IS project success that
can be measured by organizational performance improvement.
This article is organized as follows.
First, the theory development research
approach used in this study is described.
Then, the current IS project management theories are reviewed and the gaps
in the literature are identified. Then we
present a critical examination of the
principles and practices of Six Sigma.
The next section analyzes the R&R
model vis--vis Six Sigma to propose a
revised theoretical model. The relationship between the constructs is presented
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in the form of testable propositions. The


article concludes with a summary of the
key insights as well as contributions
from this study. The limitations and
future research directions are also
addressed in this section.

Theory Development Approach


The theory development approach is
adopted in this study. Theory development effort for IS project management is
needed for several reasons. First, development of new theories symbolizes
advancement of a field. Theories reveal
the internal but usually invisible relationships (Bacharach, 1989) and guide
scientific research (Van de Ven, 1989). In
fact, many IS studies have adopted the
theory development approach (e.g.,
DeLone & McLean, 1992; Seddon, 1997).
Second, refining existing theories is a
necessary and vital step toward improving the IS project success rate. Finally,
theories are needed to guide the adoption of Six Sigma practices for IS project
management. Although Six Sigma has
demonstrated its effectiveness in many
places, simple emulation without thorough understanding will likely lead to IS
projects failure.
This study followed the standard
principles and processes of theory
development (Dubin, 1978). The first
step was to gain an in-depth understanding of the subject matter through
an extensive literature review. The
review included both IS project management literature and quality management/process improvement literature.
The review identified the R&R model as
Theory A. The next step was to conduct a critical examination of Six Sigma
principles and practices in comparison
to total quality management (TQM).
The purpose of the comparison was to
examine whether any new practices
are actually old wine in a new bottle.
The R&R model was then revisited for
any inconsistencies: (1) the applicable
domain of the R&R model was examined for possible expansion; (2) the
original constructs defined in the R&R
model were carefully assessed for the

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

necessity of redefinition; and (3) the


relationships between the revised constructs were respecified. The result was
a revised Theory B for IS project management that incorporated the new
development in quality management,
hence contributing to the literature
(Whetten, 1989).

IS Project Management
Literature
Three Views of IS Project
Management
An extensive review of the IS project
management literature was first conducted. The effort identified three
views of IS project management in the
literature: the technical view, the social
and organizational view, and the integrated view. The technical view considers IS development as a technical task
and emphasizes the technology-driven
process of IS development, which
includes development methods, tools,
hardware, and software (Cooprider &
Henderson, 1991). Under the technical
view, technical factors are critical to IS
project success. Different studies have
identified different technical factors.
For example, Saarinen (1990) developed
a situational approach for choosing appropriate system development methods
and tools that contribute to IS project
success. Deephouse, Mukhopadhyay,
Goldenson, and Kellner (1996) studied
the effect of software processes on
project performance. Subramanian,
Jiang, and Klein (2007) found that prototyping, as an IS implementation
strategy, significantly affects both software quality and project performance.
In short, the technical view suggests
that the key to IS project success is the
careful selection and management of
technical factors.
The social and organizational view
considers social and organizational factors to be more important, and they
deserve more attention than the technical factors in IS development (Doherty &
King, 1998a, 1998b). Robey, Smith, and
Vijayasarathy (1993) found that participation, influence, conflict, and conflict

resolution are critical to project success.


Along the same line of thinking, Barki
and Hartwick (2001) demonstrated the
impact of interpersonal conflict and
conflict management on IS project outcomes. Others studied the effect of management commitment and control on IS
project performance (Barki & Hartwick,
1994; Marble, 2003; Wang, Shih, Jiang, &
Klein, 2006). Thompson, Smith, and
Iacovou (2007) showed that the relationship between project performance and
the quality of IS project reporting usually represents a sequential chain of
communication up the organization
(p. 197). In short, this view suggests that
IS project success is the result of effective management of both social and
organizational factors.
Recognizing that IS projects often
involve different stakeholders, a variety
of resources, and complicated activities
throughout the development process,
the integrated view considers the key to
success as the interaction between
technical and social and organizational
factors. For instance, Aladwani (2002b)
developed an integrated performance
model to provide some guidelines
for managing IS projects effectively. In
addition, Aladwani (2002a) investigated the antecedents and consequences
of social integration in IS development
projects. Mitchell (2006) examined the
relationships between managements
integrative capability and IT project
performance. The integrative view is
holistic in that it considers both the
technical characteristics of IS projects
and the organizational environment
that supports IS projects. Hence, the
integrative view represents a fruitful
research path. The next section
describes one important approach to IS
project management under this view:
the quality-oriented organizational
system approach.
The Quality-Oriented Organizational
System Approach to IS Project
Management
Comparing different approaches, the
quality-oriented organizational system

approach emerged as a promising one


to boost IS project success. Total quality
management (TQM) has proven its
effectiveness in various organizations
since its inception (Buzzell & Gale,
1987; Hendricks & Singhal, 2001). The
central theme of TQM is that continuous improvement of quality, as defined
by customers, will lead to sustained
competitive advantage and financial
performance (Deming, 1982; T. C.
Powell, 1995). The key to successful
TQM is to build up a quality-oriented
organizational system that supports
the continuous improvement of quality
(Ahire, Landeros, & Golhar, 1995; Dean &
Bowen, 1994). At the same time, TQM
emphasizes the importance of appropriate tools and techniques such as the
well-known Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle
(Deming, 2000). The tight integration of
both technical and organizational factors makes it an effective approach to IS
project success.
Multiple studies have adopted this
approach to yield insightful results. For
instance, Chow and Lui (2003) studied the
impact of eight TQM factors on IS function performance to find that three factors (top management support, product/
service design, and quality information
reporting) have a significant positive
effect. In a similar study, Ravichandran
and Rai (1999) examined the relationship
between 11 quality management constructs and quality performance in IS
development. They identified process

control and process efficiency as key


constructs. Another study found that
environmental, organizational, and taskrelated factors affect swiftness and intensity of TQM adoption in IS development
(Ravichandran, 2000). Green, Hevner,
and Collins (2005) showed that perceptions of quality and productivity have a
significant impact on the use of software
process improvement innovations.
All these studies clearly showed that a
quality-oriented organizational system
approach could significantly benefit IS
project management.
Among multiple studies, the
Ravichandran and Rai (2000) study is
notable in that it developed and tested
a comprehensive model for software
quality performance. They analyzed
quality management principles and
practices from the macro-organization
design perspective (Melcher, 1976;
Robey & Sales, 1994). They defined
multiple constructs following the leadership-structure-process framework
and related them to software development quality performance (see Figure 1;
the dotted arrows were not supported
by their empirical study). At the leadership level, they defined a construct
named top management leadership as
the extent to which senior IS managers
initiate and support IS quality improvement. At the structure level, the R&R
model defined management infrastructure sophistication as the creation
of a quality-oriented organizational

Leadership

Structure

Process

Outcome

Top
Management
Leadership

Management
Infrastructure
Sophistication

Process
Management
Efficacy

Software
Development
Quality Performance

Stakeholder
Participation

Figure 1: The R&R model.

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Six Sigma and Information Systems Project Management


environment for managing core
processes. At the process level, the R&R
model defined both process management efficacy and stakeholder participation that refer to the systematic
development process and the establishment of contributions from all participants, respectively. The R&R model
then illustrated how the constructs
are related to the outcome variable,
software development quality performance. The unique combination of quality management and organizational
design perspectives leads to the selection of the R&R model as Theory A in
this study.
Evolution of quality management
practices suggests that the R&R model
needs revision. The R&R model defined
its constructs based on the traditional
TQM principles and practices. However,
Six Sigma emerged as a new approach
to quality management and gained
wide popularity since the 1990s (Goh,
2002). The track record of Six Sigma was
impressive at many companies such as
GE (Pande et al., 2000). While some view
Six Sigma as a repackaged version of
TQM (Beer, 2003), a more common view
is that Six Sigma has brought new practices and principles to quality management (Schroeder, Linderman, Liedtke, &
Choo, in press; Zhang, Hill, Schroeder, &
Linderman, in press). The R&R model in
its current form has not sufficiently
considered the new quality management practices and principles. The R&R
model needs to be revised, and the
revision effort is based on a critical
examination of Six Sigma presented in
the following.

Six Sigma
Overview
The term Six Sigma was first used at
Motorola in the 1980s (Barney, 2002).
Like many other companies, Motorola
found that the cost of poor quality was
as high as 15% to 20% of the sales revenue (Crosby, 1979). This is because
production processes have low capability. A large portion of the products do
not meet the customers requirement
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so they have to be scrapped, reworked,


or field serviced if they have already
been delivered to the customers. The
cost of poor quality can be greatly
reduced and will directly contribute to
a companys bottom line if very few
defective products are produced
(Pande et al., 2000). Motorola engineers
therefore proposed the concept of Six
Sigma, a defect rate measure that
means less than 3.4 defects per million
opportunities. This is a very high standard when compared to the then
industry standard of about 35,000
defects per million opportunities
(Bothe, 2002).
Following the success at Motorola,
Six Sigma gradually evolved into a comprehensive process improvement program. Many companies have used Six
Sigma to achieve significant results.
The list includes well-known companies
such as AlliedSignal (now Honeywell),
General Electric (GE), and 3M. Particularly, GE enhanced Six Sigma with many
new practices and achieved impressive
results. GE later even claimed that Six
Sigma is an integral part of its business
culture and strategy (Barney, 2002).
Correspondingly, research interest in
Six Sigma has grown dramatically in the
past several years (Goh, 2002). Two
decades since its inception, Six Sigma is
no longer just a defect rate measure. It
is a process improvement program that
has a statistics core, a rigorous improvement method, and a unique set
of practices (Breyfogle, Cupello, &
Meadows, 2001; Harry & Schroeder,
2000; Pande et al., 2000).
Relevance to IS Project Management
Six Sigma is relevant to IS project management. The implementation of Six
Sigma is project-based (Breyfogle et al.,
2001; Pande et al., 2000); hence, project
management is of critical importance
to Six Sigma. Six Sigma has a wellknown project management method
named define, measure, analyze,
improve, and control (DMAIC). The
method is supported by a variety of
tools and techniques. The DMAIC

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

method has been proven to be very


effective for almost all process improvement projects. It is possible to apply
the DMAIC method to IS projects that
deal with improving or streamlining
business processes. In fact, several
companies such as Lockheed Martin
have already used Six Sigma for software development (Heinz, 2004).
However, it is necessary to recognize
the special characteristics of IS projects
so that the appropriate way to apply the
DMAIC method can be identified.
Six Sigma is more than a project
management method for individual
projects. More importantly, it emphasizes creating a quality-oriented
organizational system for project management. Supported by such an organizational system, project efforts can
easily translate into organizational
performance improvement. The R&R
model was developed based on the
same fundamental premises. However,
Six Sigma moves one step further in
that it adopts several unique principles
and practices toward building such an
organizational system (Schroeder et al.,
in press). These principles and practices are prescriptive in nature. They
are believed to lead to much greater
improvement project success (Pande et
al., 2000). Therefore, studying Six Sigma
has promising potential to advance
both theory development and practices
of IS project management.
A Critical Analysis of Six Sigma
In comparison to TQM, Six Sigma has
introduced several new principles and
associated practices. These new principles have contributed to the success
and wide diffusion of Six Sigma
(Schroeder et al., in press). Table 1 presents five principles derived from an
extensive literature review of Six Sigma.

A Revised Theoretical Model


for IS Project Success
The above analysis of Six Sigma reveals
that the macro-organizational design
perspective upon which the R&R model
was developed remains valid. Six Sigma

Principle

Descriptions

Customer orientation

In Six Sigma, the importance of the customer has been emphasized to an unprecedented degree.
Customer orientation means actively seeking to understand and satisfy customer requirements.
Customer orientation is not new in quality management (Flynn, Schroeder, & Sakakibara, 1994) and IS
project management (Mathieson & Wharton, 1993). However, systematically supporting the principle
is unique in Six Sigma. For example, all Six Sigma improvement projects must make a business case
demonstrating the value to customers before they can be approved. In addition, the project benefits
must be clearly visible from the customers perspective. The business process owner, usually the internal customer of the project, is an indispensible member of the project team. Project selection committees use customer orientation as a principle to select and prioritize improvement projects (Eckes,
2000; Harry & Schroeder, 2000; Pande et al., 2000).

Resource dedication

Six Sigma mandates that organizations must use full-time improvement project leaders (called Black
Belts) as well as set up a formal organizational structure for project selection and management. Black
Belts are well-trained improvement experts. They are relieved from their daily duties and charged with
full responsibilities for improvement projects. The formal organizational structure includes other roles
such as Green Belt, Master Black Belt, and Champion. In short, Six Sigma requires organizations to
make substantial commitment and dedicate their best people to the most important projects (Eckes,
2000; Harry & Schroeder, 2000; Pande et al., 2000). In addition, many companies even use Six Sigma
as a leadership development program (Welch & Byrne, 2001). Success in managing a Six Sigma project
is believed to be a good predictor of success for any good manager (Schroeder et al., in press).

Common language

Six Sigma emphasizes the importance of having a common language and is built upon the principle
of process management. The basic premise for process management is that, aside from the diversity
demonstrated by different businesses, the underlying processes remain surprisingly similar. By using
the same language of process improvement, it is possible to share the learning both inside and across
organizational units. In other words, Six Sigma enables knowledge creation and dissemination (Choo,
Linderman, & Schroeder, 2007a, 2007b).

Standard method

Each Six Sigma project must follow the standard project management method. Using a standard
method is nothing new in the quality management literature, for example, the Plan-Do-Check-Act
(PDCA) (Shewhart, 1931, 1939) and Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) (Deming, 2000) methods are well
known. However, Six Sigma has emphasized the importance of adhering to the standard method
to an unprecedented degree.

Benefits tracking

In Six Sigma, all projects must have clearly defined goals (Linderman et al., 2003). Each project must
be carefully audited on its intended and realized benefits. In most cases, benefits must be quantifiable
and linked to financial metrics. The measures must be certified by the organizations finance department or even the chief financial officer (Eckes, 2000; Pande et al., 2000; Schroeder et al., in press).

Table 1: Six Sigma principles.

inherits the quality management philosophy. It emphasizes strong leadership, demands the creation of a dedicated organizational structure, and
mandates the adoption of disciplined
process management tools and techniques. Therefore, it is possible to revise
the R&R model to reflect the new development in quality management.
The analysis of Six Sigma also suggests what changes should be made to
the R&R model. First, the applicable
domain of the R&R model is restricted

to software development quality performance. This study contends that


such a restriction is not necessary and
it actually conceals the full potential of
a quality-oriented organizational system. This study proposes expanding
the applicable domain to IS project
success in general. Second, constructs
in the R&R model need to be redefined
vis--vis Six Sigma principles. Third,
following the redefinition of the constructs, the relationship between the
constructs needs to be respecified.

These changes lead to a revised Theory


B that has a wider applicable domain
and more pertinent constructs, and
hence more relevance to IS project
managers. These proposed changes are
described in detail in the following sections and summarized in Table 2.
Applicable Domain
This study proposes that the revised
model is applicable to improve IS project success measured by organizational
performance improvement. The impact

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R & R model

Revised model

Not explicitly specified but can be inferred


that the model applies to software development
and the performance outcome is limited to
software development quality performance.

A theory that articulates the relationship


between a quality-oriented organizational
system and IS project success measured
by the impact to organizational performance,
with the nature of IS projects restricted to
business processes management.

Construct

Top management leadership

Definition

Extent to which senior IS management is


committed to quality improvement and
envisions quality initiatives for their
system development organization
IS Support for Quality

Customer-oriented top management


leadership
In addition to quality focus, top management
sets customer orientation as a priority and
actively guides the whole organization to be
more customer-focused.
Emphasize:
Customer orientation
The whole organization

Domain

Leadership

Property

Structure

Process

Construct
Definition

Management infrastructure sophistication


A structural property of the IS organization
that creates a quality-oriented organizational
environment for core processes and work
practices

Property

Quality policy and goals


Commitment to skill development
Quality orientation of reward schemes

Construct
Definition

Process management efficacy


The degree to which core design and
development processes are defined,
controlled, and improved in a systematic
manner
Formalization of analysis and design
Formalization of reusability
Process control
Fact-based management

Disciplined process management


Follows a disciplined approach to ensure the
use of standard analysis and design methods,
rigorous tracking of project benefits, and
extensive sharing of project knowledge
Add:
Project benefits tracking
Project knowledge sharing

Stakeholder Participation
The degree to which work practices are
established so that a constituent group
contributes its knowledge base and
complements the knowledge resources of
other constituent groups involved in system
development
Programmers/analysts
Users
Vendors

Stakeholder Participation
The same as the R&R model but external
users are explicitly considered as stakeholders

Software Development Quality Performance


The degree to which objectives of product
quality and process efficiency are met by
the systems development organization
Product quality
Process efficiency

IS Project Success
The organizational impact of the IS project,
measured in either financial terms or
value-add to customers
Emphasize:
Financial impact
Customer value-add

Property

Construct
Definition

Property

Outcome

Construct
Definition
Property

Table 2: A comparison of the R&R model and the revised model.

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Dedicated management infrastructure


An embedded quality-oriented organizational
structure that is composed of clearly defined
roles and is dedicated to IS project selection,
prioritization, and management based on
customer needs
Add:
Dedicated organizational structure
Dedicated project management roles

Add:
External users

of a quality-oriented organizational
system is not and should not be limited
to quality performance only. In fact, the
literature has clearly documented
the impact of quality management
practices on various organizational performance outcomes (e.g., Hendricks &
Singhal, 1997, 2001; T. C. Powell, 1995).
Therefore, extending the R&R model to
consider the impact on a wider set of IS
project success measures is both necessary and worthwhile.
This study proposes to restrict the
applicable domain of the revised theoretical model to the type of IS projects
that aim to improve business processes
through the use of information technology. This restriction eliminates other
types of projects that are inherently
differentfor example, projects such as
developing an operating system. This
restriction is proposed based on the fact
that the Six Sigma principles analyzed in
this study apply mostly to process
improvement projects (Schroeder et al.,
in press). Broadly speaking, Six Sigma
also includes Design for Six Sigma
(DFSS) and the associated define, measure, analyze, design, and validate
(DMADV) method, which is appropriate
for process/product development projects. However, research and practices
related to DFSS are still in their infancy.
It is conceivable that the five Six Sigma
principles in Table 1 may still be applicable to process/product development
projects. But a revised theory without
any restriction bears the risk of making
unsubstantiated conclusions. Therefore,
this study describes the applicable
domain of the revised model as: a theoretical model that articulates the relationship between a quality-oriented
organizational system and IS project
success measured by the organizational
performance improvement, with the
nature of IS projects restricted to business processes improvement type.
Outcome: IS Project Success
The expansion of the applicable
domain of the revised theory is closely
related to the issue of measuring IS

project success. In the IS literature,


project success has been measured at
different levels (DeLone & McLean,
1992). At the technical level, an information system can be measured by
how accurately and efficiently the system produces information. At the
semantic level, an information system
can be measured by how successfully
the produced information conveys the
intended meaning. At the effectiveness
level, an information system can be
measured by the effect of the information on the receiver (Shannon &
Weaver, 1949). The effect can be further
classified into the use of information,
user satisfaction, impact on individual
decision making, and, ultimately, the
impact on organizational performance.
Therefore, a total of six success measures can be established (DeLone &
McLean, 1992).
Among all six success measures, the
impact on organizational performance
is of particular importance. To any
organization, an IS project is ultimately
a business investment decision. Most
IS projects require a substantial
amount of investment and human
resources. Justification of such decisions requires a thorough analysis of
the cost/benefit of the proposed IS
projects in terms of impact on organizational performance.
Despite its importance, linking IS
projects to organizational performance
is not an easy task (Ibbs & Kwak, 2000).
IS researchers have examined the ISfirm performance relationship from
different perspectives, including competitive advantages derived from IS
projects (Bakos & Treacy, 1986; Porter,
1985; Saunders & Jones, 1992) and the
resource-based model (Ravichandran
& Lertwongsatien, 2005). The results,
unfortunately, were mixed. This is
probably because of the difficulty of
isolating the effect of IS projects from
other factors influencing organizational performance (DeLone & McLean,
1992). Consequently, many IS managers tend to emphasize the technical
nature of IS projects to justify the use of

measures other than organizational


performance. A new approach linking
IS projects and organizational performance is therefore needed.
TQM and Six Sigma provide an
interesting contrast for a possible new
approach. TQM programs faced the
similar challenge of showing organizational impact in the 1990s. Many
improvement projects were implemented in good faith, but their impact
on organizational performance was
either simply unknown or not clearly
visible. Over time, this led to decreased
management support and employee
morale. Eventually many organizations
abandoned TQM programs and
claimed that TQM is a management fad
that cannot really help organizational
performance improvement (Kaynak,
2003). In contrast, Six Sigma addresses
the issue by emphasizing the importance of setting quantifiable goals
for the projects. The project goals are
usually specified as the impact to the
organizations bottom line (Pande et al.,
2000). Instead of trying to isolate the
effect of a project on organizational
performance from other factors, Six
Sigma simply focuses on assessing
whether projects attain the predetermined goals (Schroeder et al., in press).
Such an approach reduces performance measurement complexity and
makes the impact of projects clearly
visible to the whole organization.
The Six Sigma approach makes it
possible and easy to establish a solid
link from IS projects to organizational
performance. Clearly, research in
administration must ultimately address
the question of effectiveness . . . the
research is of limited prescriptive value
until a link with performance is forged
(White & Hamermesh, 1981, p. 221).
Therefore, this study proposes to use
organizational performance to measure IS project success. Specifically, IS
project success can be measured by
goal attainment. A solid link from IS
projects to organizational performance
helps bridge an important gap in the IS
literature.

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Construct Respecification
The next step is to respecify the constructs in the R&R model. Construct
respecification is a vital step in revising
any theoretical model because the
meaning, scope, and level of abstraction for the old construct may have
changed in the new context. It is thus
necessary to carefully examine whether
the old constructs are still valid, and if
not, how they should be revised
(Bacharach, 1989). The subsequent sections analyze old constructs in the R&R
model to propose new specifications, if
necessary.
Leadership: Customer-Oriented Top
Management Leadership
The first important construct in the
R&R model is top management leadership. The R&R model defined it as the
extent to which senior IS management
is committed to quality improvement
and envisions quality initiatives for
their system development organization (Ravichandran & Rai, 2000,
p. 387). Top management leadership
has been widely recognized as the driver for successful implementation of any
change program. Strong leadership
can change an unfavorable organizational culture and guide the resource
allocation decisions to realize the organizations mission (Schein, 1992).
One issue with constructs like top
management leadership is that they
tend to be vague and abstract, leading
to reduced usefulness. For the same
construct, different studies have used
different names such as top management support, leadership, and top
management commitment. This vagueness makes empirical testing of the
construct unnecessarily hard. Most
studies do not distinguish the characteristics of leadership (e.g., transformational or transactional) but simply
define the construct at a highly abstract
level. The usefulness of highly abstract
definitions tends to be low. For example, many studies cannot convincingly
answer the question regarding what
constitutes strong leadership.
66

Six Sigma addresses the issue by


incorporating the principle of customer
orientation into leadership. Customer
orientation is a cornerstone principle of
quality management. Dean and Bowen
(1994, p. 394) said, The goal of satisfying customers is fundamental to T[otal]
Q[uality] and is expressed by the organizations attempt to design and deliver
product and services that fulfill customer needs. Customer satisfaction is
critical to long-term organizational success (Griffin & Hauser, 1993). Hence, the
name of the original construct in the
R&R model is changed to customeroriented top management leadership in
the revised model, reflecting the idea
that top management sets customer
orientation as a priority and actively
guides the whole organization to be
customer-oriented.
The importance of customer orientation has been constantly resonated by
IS researchers. Due to the special characteristics of IS projects, researchers
generally use the term users instead of
customers, but the idea remains the
same. For example, Standing, Guilfoyle,
Lin, and Love (2006) found that insufficient user involvement is one major
reason for IS project failure. Wallace,
Keil, and Rai (2004a) showed that use
risk greatly affects project performance.
In short, being customer-oriented is a
critical success factor for IS projects.
Unfortunately, most IS studies
focused on internal users other than
external users. Despite the effort by
Ives and Olson (1984) to define user
involvement comprehensively as participation in the system development
process by representatives of the target
user group (p. 587), most studies only
focused on users from different organizational units (i.e., internal users or
partial users) instead of external users
or whole users. The term user has
largely ignored external users that an
information system truly serves. Many
studies simply equate users to internal users (e.g., Kirsch, 1997; Wang et al.,
2006). While the quality management
literature has noted the distinction

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

between internal and external users


(Mathieson & Wharton, 1993), the
issues have not received sufficient
attention in IS research. Focusing only
on internal users leaves the success of
IS projects at the mercy of whether
internal users correctly understand the
requirement of external users. Such a
biased definition of user also partially
explains why most studies did not
examine IS project success in terms of
organizational impact, because the
external customers ultimately determine whether the system is successful
or not. Internally efficient information
systems are not necessarily effective
externally.
Redefining the leadership construct
has profound implications in the study
of IS project success. First, the new construct clearly states that the whole
organization, not just the IS organization, needs to be customer-oriented.
This is in line with the principle of
total quality (Dean & Bowen, 1994).
Strong leadership within the IS organization only is insufficient for organizationwide IS project success. Second,
the new definition explicitly addresses
the issue of lack of attention to external
users. The risk of project failure due to
inconsistency between internal and
external users is greatly reduced. Third,
the new definition emphasizes that an
organization is explicitly seeking a customer-oriented culture and organizational system. This helps reduce the
resistance to change. Fourth, this redefinition will lead to better IS project
selection. The principle of customer
orientation requires each project to
clearly demonstrate that it can add
value to customers, effectively reducing
the possibility of selecting projects out
of convenience. Finally, this redefinition makes measuring project success
in customer terms an easy task. Since
projects are selected to add value for
customers, project success can be easily measured as whether the goal is
achieved or not. Naturally, successful
projects contribute to organizational
performance improvement.

Structure: Dedicated Management


Infrastructure
Following strong leadership is an effective organizational structure. The earlier
analysis of Six Sigma shows that the
R&R definition needs expansion. The
R&R model defined management infrastructure sophistication as representing a structural property of the IS
organization that creates a qualityoriented organizational environment
for core processes and work practices
(Ravichandran & Rai, 2000, p. 387).
They gave three important properties
for the construct: quality policy and
goals, commitment to skill development, and quality orientation of reward
schemes. The R&R model then presented a convincing argument as to why
these properties contribute to software
quality performance. These three properties are retained in the revised model.
However, the analysis of Six Sigma
shows that two new properties are critical to an effective organizational structure and need to be added: dedicated
organizational structure and dedicated
project management roles. This study
subsequently proposes to rename the
new construct to dedicated management infrastructure.
The missing properties in the original construct are indeed the differences
between Six Sigma and TQM.
Schroeder et al. (in press) pointed out
that Six Sigma and TQM share the same
philosophy but differ mostly in how the
quality management practices should
be implemented. While both emphasize the principle of customer orientation, Six Sigma is more prescriptive in
that it mandates establishing a dedicated organizational structure for the
principle. Organizations must commit
substantial resources to establish roles
including Champion, Master Black
Belt, Black Belt, and Green Belt. These
roles form an organizational structure
that takes responsibility for project
selection and management according
to customer needs (Pande et al., 2000).
Particularly, Black Belt is a full-time project manager who is solely responsible

for project results but not the original


daily operations.
Dedicated organizational structure
refers to an embedded organizational
structure newly created within an
organization. It does not equate to a
separate IS unit. A separate IS unit is
a common organizational design following the traditional principle of integration and differentiation (Lawrence &
Lorsch, 1967a, 1967b). The separate IS
unit handles technically complicated
tasks. Business units and the IS unit are
loosely coupled. In contrast, Six Sigma
tries to build a parallel structure within
the business unit for project selection
and management (Schroeder et al., in
press). The essence of the idea is somewhat similar to the focused factory
approach advocated by Skinner (1974).
Related to the dedicated organizational structure are dedicated project
management roles. This means that
organizations select certain employees
to be solely responsible for project
management. At the surface, this
sounds exactly the same as the common IS project management practice.
Due to the technical nature of IS projects, organizations have always used
dedicated IS professionals to lead them
(Doll, 1985). However, Six Sigma
emphasizes the involvement of process
owners who are familiar with the issues
and are inherently motivated to solve
them. Therefore, project managers are
selected within the business unit. This
is significantly different from assigning
an IS professional from the IS unit to be
the project manager. A dedicated IS
project manager selected within the
business unit represents strong
involvement and commitment of the
business unit, which greatly helps IS
projects succeed.
Dedicated organizational structure
and project management roles have
significant impact on project success.
Dedicated organizational structure and
roles send a clear message to the whole
organization that the selected projects
are so critical that the organization
is willing to commit substantial

resources to ensure their success.


Further, the dedicated organizational
structure is charged with the responsibility to select and manage projects
that fulfill customer needs. It is wellknown that wise project selection is the
vital first step toward project success
(Project Management Institute [PMI],
2004). Meanwhile, dedicated project
managers exhibit more commitment
and loyalty, which helps problem solving (Stamper & Van Dyne, 2001). Using
dedicated project managers also
reduces the complexity of matching job
responsibilities to rewards because
these project managers will be held
solely accountable for the project
results. As a result, dedicated organizational structure and project management roles lead to project success.
In summary, dedicated management infrastructure is an embedded
quality-oriented organizational structure that is composed of clearly defined
roles and is dedicated to IS project
selection, prioritization, and management based on customer needs. It
includes not only the properties that
the R&R model defined, but also the
new properties discussed previously.
Dedicated management infrastructure
substantiates strong leadership and
represents strong organizational commitment. While it is neither necessary
nor wise to use exactly the same structure and roles as defined by Six Sigma
for IS project management, the establishment of dedicated management
infrastructure can significantly improve
IS project success.
Process: Disciplined Process
Management
Following leadership and structure is
process. With strong leadership and
dedicated organizational structure,
organizations still need to develop and
manage processes to execute the decisions made. The R&R model defined two
constructs at the process level. It defined
process management efficacy for core
operational processes as the degree to
which core design and development

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processes are defined, controlled, and
improved in a systematic manner
(Ravichandran & Rai, 2000, p. 387). They
defined four properties for the construct: formalization of analysis and
design, formalization of reusability in
systems development, process control,
and fact-based management. The analysis of Six Sigma showed that new practices have emerged and, consequently,
two new properties should be added:
project benefits tracking and knowledge
sharing. This study thus proposes to
rename the construct as disciplined
process management. Disciplined
process management means an organization follows a disciplined approach to
ensure the use of standard analysis and
design methods, rigorous tracking of
project benefits, and extensive sharing
of knowledge.
Project benefits tracking refers to
the practice of actively tracking the
benefits of a project against its predetermined goals. Project benefits tracking starts with goal setting. In general,
the goals of Six Sigma projects are
quantitative in nature and are translated into financial terms whenever possible. During a projects life cycle, the
benefits are continuously tracked.
Once the project is completed, the realized benefits are carefully audited and
usually certified by the organizations
financial controller or even the chief
financial officer (Linderman et al.,
2003, 2006).
Rigorous project benefits tracking
has significant implications. Since
customer-oriented top management
leadership and dedicated management infrastructure effectively ensure
that projects have the goal of fulfilling
customer needs, any benefit tracked
from such projects will truly add value
to customers, hence directly improving
the organizations bottom line. Through
rigorous tracking, a link from IS projects to organizational performance
improvement can be easily established.
As discussed earlier, the link to organizational performance is crucial to the
healthy development of the IS field.
68

Rigorous project benefits tracking


makes the impact of IS projects clearly
visible to all the employees. This high visibility helps both project selection and
employee motivation. With high impact
visibility, project investment decisions
can be justified easily. Companies can
easily select IS projects based on criteria
such as return on investment. Managers
can also make wise prioritization decisions based on the benefits tracked from
various IS projects. Meanwhile, human
resource development studies have
shown that high visibility leads to high
employee motivation (e.g., Swanson &
Gradous, 1986), which is crucial to IS
project success.
The other important new property
of disciplined process management is
knowledge sharing. IS researchers have
repeatedly emphasized the importance
of reusable software components
(Banker & Kauffman, 1991; Lemley &
OBrien, 1997; Nidumolu & Knotts,
1998). This is undoubtedly an important form of knowledge sharing.
However, the analysis of Six Sigma suggests that the scope of knowledge sharing can and should be much wider. The
fundamental premise of process management is that many seemingly different tasks have strikingly similar process
characteristics. Six Sigma actually capitalizes on this thinking to develop the
standard
process
improvement
method (DMAIC) for projects. This
common language makes sharing
knowledge learned in different projects
much easier (Choo et al., 2007a, 2007b).
In practice, a storyboard is prepared for
each Six Sigma project to share the
learning within and across organizations. Despite the technical complexities inherently involved in IS projects,
many project management tasks
remain the same. Knowledge sharing
can effectively help reduce the complexity of IS projects and improve
project success.
Process: Stakeholder Participation
The R&R model also defined another
important
process
management

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

construct on the behavioral aspect:


stakeholder participation. It represents
the degree to which work practices are
established so that a constituent group
contributes its knowledge base and
complements the knowledge resources
of other constituent groups involved in
system development (Ravichandran &
Rai, 2000, p. 387). The conceptual definition was later operationalized as
three constituent groups: programmers/analysts, users, and vendors.
Although users can be broadly interpreted as including both internal and
external users, it can be inferred from
their study that the R&R model did not
consider external users. As discussed
earlier, external users usually are the
true customers to an information system, and they ultimately determine
whether an information system is successful or not. Examination of the organizational impact of an information
system should not ignore its external
users. The omission of external users
is probably the reason why the empirical test in Ravichandran and Rai (2000)
did not find a significant relationship
between stakeholder participation
and software quality performance.
Therefore, this study proposes to
explicitly include external users in the
operationalized definition of stakeholders.
The Revised Model
This section specifies the relationships
between the redefined constructs. All
four constructs contribute to IS project
success, but it is also important to
answer the question of how these constructs are related with each other to
form a quality-oriented organizational
system. The relationships between constructs are presented using the form of
testable propositions. The revised
model is illustrated in Figure 2.
First of all, the general form of the
R&R model is preserved in the revised
model. As described earlier, Six Sigma
is a recent successful approach to quality management and it strongly supports the macro-organizational design

Leadership

Structure

Process

Outcome

P1b

P2a
Customer-Oriented
Top Management
Leadership

Dedicated
Management
Infrastructure

P1a

Disciplined
Process
Management

P3
Information
Systems Project
Success

P5
P2b
Stakeholder
Participation

P4

P1c

Figure 2: The revised model.

perspective. In fact, Six Sigma even


provides specific instructions on how
an effective organizational system for
performance improvement should be
constructed. The revised model, therefore, preserved the sequential relationship from leadership to structure,
process, and outcome. This leads to the
self-explanatory propositions below.
Proposition 1a. Strong customer-oriented
top management leadership enables the
creation of dedicated management infrastructure.
Proposition 2a. Dedicated management infrastructure promotes disciplined process management.
Proposition 2b. Dedicated management infrastructure improves stakeholder participation.
Proposition 3. Disciplined process
management leads to IS project success.
Proposition 4. High stakeholder participation leads to IS project success.
The interesting issue is the relationship between leadership and process.
As Ravichandran and Rai (2000) pointed
out, the quality management literature
diverged on how changes happen.
Scholars have proposed two alternative
views: directed-change versus empowerment. The directed-change view empha-

sizes that leadership not only enables


the creation of supporting organizational structure, but also is directly
involved in process improvement. In
contrast, the empowerment view advocates that top management empowers
employees for change; hence, there is
no direct, but only a mediated effect
from leadership to process. The empirical result in Ravichandran and Rai
(2000) supported the empowerment
view. The direct links from top management leadership to process management efficacy and stakeholder
participation in the R&R model were
not supported by the empirical data.
However, Six Sigma emphasizes the
direct involvement of top management,
hence supporting the directed-change
view. Six Sigma requires top management to be directly involved in activities
such as project selection, monitoring,
and training. Likewise, employees are
also constantly encouraged to participate in project selection and implementation. The customer-orientation
principle embedded in leadership also
requires key stakeholders to be directly
involved in the project, which increases
stakeholder participation. The two
insignificant links in the R&R model are
expected to be supported in the revised
model. This is stated as the following
two propositions.

Proposition 1b. Strong customeroriented top management leadership


facilitates disciplined process management.
Proposition 1c. Strong customer-oriented top management leadership increases
stakeholder participation.
Another interesting issue is the
interrelationship between disciplined
process management and stakeholder
participation. The R&R model proposed a one-directional link from
stakeholder participation to process
management efficacy. This study
argues that the R&R model has not
given sufficient consideration to the
interaction between the two constructs. The new definition, disciplined
process management, includes effort to
rigorously track the project benefits
and share the knowledge within and
across the whole organization. As
described earlier, this will lead to high
visibility of the impact due to employees effort. Employees hence are more
motivated to be engaged in project
activities (i.e., higher stakeholder participation). This type of relationship is
what Miller (1992) called internal fit. In
this case, the internal fit has the potential to even strengthen the impact from
each construct to IS project success.
This is represented by the bidirectional

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arrow between the two constructs in
Figure 2 and stated as Proposition 5.
Proposition 5. The fit between disciplined process management and stakeholder participation positively impacts
IS project success.

Conclusions
This study revised the Ravichandran
and Rai (2000) theoretical model (the
R&R model) to incorporate the latest
progress of quality management practices (i.e., Six Sigma). The R&R model
presented a quality-oriented organizational system for software development
quality performance. Six Sigma is a
recent successful approach to quality
management and has proven its effectiveness within many companies
(Pande et al., 2000). This study performed a critical assessment of Six
Sigma to propose major revisions to the
R&R model. A revised model was developed following the theory development
approach (Bacharach, 1989; Dubin,
1978). The applicable domain, constructs, and relationships between the
constructs in the original R&R model
were carefully examined and revised.
The revised model redefines the
quality-oriented organizational system
for IS project success. The revised
model emphasizes the importance of
being customer-oriented. It is explicitly
suggested that customer orientation is
an integral part of top management
leadership. The revised model also
specifically points out that the definition of customers has to be comprehensive to include external users. The
revised model then recommends that
organizations establish dedicated management infrastructure for IS project
success. Dedicated management infrastructure includes not only qualityoriented policies, but also dedicated
organizational structure and project
management
roles.
Dedicating
resources for IS project management
creates a supportive environment and
reduces the complexity of performance
measurement. Disciplined process
management then ensures that projects
70

are managed following standard methods, and project benefits are rigorously
tracked. Standard methods enable easy
and effective knowledge sharing.
Highly visible project results increase
employee acceptance to the methods.
As a result, stakeholder participation in
IS project management will be high.
This further enhances disciplined
process management. Successful IS
projects add value to customers and
eventually contribute to organizational
performance improvement.
This study makes three contributions to the literature. First and foremost, this study contributes to the
exploration of what IS project management can learn from Six Sigma. Six
Sigma represents an interesting
advancement in quality management,
but its implications to IS project management are not well understood. This
study is one of the first to bridge the
gap by analyzing Six Sigma principles
and practices from the IS project management perspective. Second, in light
of Six Sigma, this study redefined the
constructs in the original R&R model
for a new quality-oriented organizational system. The revised model also
specified the relationship between constructs in the form of testable propositions. This work contributes to further
theory development as well as lays a
good foundation for future empirical
research. Last but not least, the revised
model demonstrated the possibility to
establish a strong link from IS project
management to organizational performance through rigorous project
benefits tracking. The importance of
such a link has been well recognized in
the literature (Ibbs & Kwak, 2000), but
empirical support for the link was
mixed, probably due to the difficulty of
isolating the impact of IS projects from
other factors. Many IS studies thus
were forced to use other performance
measures such as system quality and
user satisfaction. The possibility of
establishing such a link will contribute
to the healthy development of the IS
field.

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

This study can provide useful guidance for practicing managers. Six Sigma
is an effective process improvement
program with many new practices,
tools, and techniques. Many companies have applied Six Sigma to improve
their business processes. Naturally,
managers may want to apply Six Sigma
to IS projects that have similar goals of
improving or streamlining business
processes. However, IS projects have
special characteristics including technical complexities (Xia & Lee, 2005),
flexibility (Lee & Xia, 2005), and project
risk (Baccarini, Salm, & Love, 2004;
Tiwana & Keil, 2006; Wallace, Keil, &
Rai, 2004b). This study reveals that the
essence of applying Six Sigma to IS
project success is to build a qualityoriented organizational system. The
definition of the constructs and their
relationships can provide practical
guidance to managers on how such a
system can be built.
Two limitations of this study need
to be recognized. First, Six Sigma is a
popular process improvement program, but research on Six Sigma is still
in its early stage. The revised model
hence should be regarded as an initial
attempt to systematically conceptualize Six Sigma for IS project management. The revised model might require
further refinement, but this is a normal
part of theory development and testing
process. Second, the applicable domain
of the revised theoretical model is
restricted to IS projects for business
process improvement. The restriction
is based on the definition of Six Sigma
as a process improvement program.
This study did not consider DFSS, which
is appropriate for process/product
development projects. This restriction
possibly can be released if future studies take DFSS into consideration.
This study can be extended in several ways. A natural extension is an
empirical examination of the revised
model. This requires the development
and validation of a measurement
instrument for the respecified constructs first. Empirical examination

then provides the opportunity to further refine the theoretical model.


Second, the revised model posits that
dedicated management infrastructure
is critical to IS project success and distinguishes it from a dedicated IS
organization. However, how such a
dedicated management infrastructure
can be created has not been fully
explored. Third, the revised model also
posits that the relationship between disciplined process management and
stakeholder participation can be
described as a type of internal fit but
does not discuss the nature of that fit in
detail. These issues can be addressed
by future studies.

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September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

73

PAPERS

Six Sigma and Information Systems Project Management

Weiyong Zhang is an assistant professor of


operations management at the Virginia
Commonwealth University. He received his
BS and MS degrees in management information systems from Fudan University, and his
PhD from the University of Minnesota. Prior
to his PhD program, he spent 4 years
providing consulting services to several

74

Fortune 500 companies. He currently teaches and conducts research in the


areas of Six Sigma, process management,
quality management, and supply chain
management.

Xiaobo (Bob) Xu is an assistant professor of


management information systems at the

September 2008 Project Management Journal DOI: 10.1002/pmj

American University of Sharjah, United Arab


Emirates. He received his BE degree in management engineering from East China University of
Science and Technology, and his PhD in management information systems from the
University of Mississippi. His current research
interests focus on information systems project
management, strategic use of information
systems, and e-commerce adoption.