Situational Incompetence: The Failure of Governance in the Management of Large Scale IT Projects

  • Darryl CarltonEmail author
  • Konrad Peszynski
Conference paper
Part of the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology book series (IFIPAICT, volume 533)


Information technology (IT) projects in the government (public) sector experience significant challenges. Despite decades of research, the adoption of formal methods, the use of external suppliers and packaged software, these remediation attempts have not appeared to have reduced nor mitigated the problems faced when the public sector undertakes large IT projects. Previous studies have examined the causes of IT project failure, in particular these have focused on factor analysis. A relatively limited number of studies have investigated the contribution of IT competence, and even fewer have considered the role and contribution of non-IT executives in IT project outcomes. This study sought a deeper understanding of what drives the behaviour of large scale IT projects. Of particular note was the finding by Kruger and Dunning (2009) that ‘the skills required to do the job are the same skills needed to identify competence in others’. It was this finding which was found to most influence the observed behaviours of executive leadership leading to IT project failure.

This research reports on a qualitative study that investigated 181 interviews and 5,000 pages of project data drawn from a large-scale public sector IT project which resulted in a cost overrun that exceeded AUD$1 Billion. The interview transcripts and project data were analysed using an inductive case study methodology and the research process was influenced by aspects of Grounded Theory.

A new Theory of Situational Incompetence has been developed as a result of the analysis. The research culminates in a proposed measurement instrument intended to gauge leadership competence in the context of increasing project size and complexity.


IT project failure Public sector waste Failed projects Governance Project management Critical success factors Situational incompetence 


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Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swinburne Business SchoolMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.RMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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