Project Management Institute

Influence of Communication on Client Satisfaction in Information System Projects

A Quantitative Field Study

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Phil Diegmann | Dirk Basten | Oleg Pankratz
University of Cologne, Germany

img   ABSTRACT

KEY WORDS

Information systems
Project success
Stakeholder management
Client-vendor communication

Traditionally, the success or failure of information system (IS) projects is measured by observing the adherence to budget and schedule as well as conformance with requirements. This article highlights the role of client-vendor communication (CVC) as a success factor in relation to project performance and client satisfaction in IS projects. The research shows that process and product performance positively influence the confirmation of expectations, and CVC wields an important influence on client satisfaction.

img   THE PROBLEM

“Empirical research provides extensive evidence for projects failing to meet the traditional criteria and nevertheless being considered successful, or satisfying the traditional criteria but being perceived as failures.”

The unsettled question of how to assess information system (IS) project success is reflected in research and might require new theory. Companies continue to assess the success of IS projects in terms of adherence to planning, that is, adherence to budget, schedule, and conformance with requirements.

The adherence-to-planning approach as a rather objective assessment is opposed to assessing success in terms of stakeholder satisfaction, which is substantiated by projects that are perceived as failures despite satisfying the adherence-to-planning criteria and vice versa.

It is required to differentiate between two types of success—adherence to planning and perceived success—denoting the former as project performance and the latter as client satisfaction.

Empirical research provides extensive evidence for projects failing to meet the traditional criteria and nevertheless being considered successful, or satisfying the traditional criteria but being perceived as failures.

“Client satisfaction is crucial for a vendor's reputation and the decisions about follow-up projects. (…) Therefore, the authors distinguish between project performance measured in terms of adherence to planning and satisfaction of the client organization measured in terms of a client's subjective performance perceptions.”

Client satisfaction is crucial for a vendor's reputation and the decisions about follow-up projects. This criterion can only be met if the client perceives the course of a project to be frictionless. Therefore, the authors distinguish between project performance measured in terms of adherence to planning and satisfaction of the client organization measured in terms of a client's subjective performance perceptions.

Unmet expectations or disconfirmation of expectations lead to a higher amount of discomfort, which is similar to lower satisfaction. While they focus on expectations regarding one's own performance rather than the performance of others, subsequent research applied the expectation–confirmation theory to consumer satisfaction.

img   THE METHOD

The research involved 74 German project managers or executives in charge of IS projects on the client's side. The roles of the participants were: project managers (78%); steering committee members (11%); and various contact persons within the business department (11%).

The study has limitations due to the sample size and the focus on German organizations. Larger and global samples should increment the validity of this research. However, the findings are aligned with previous research. Table 1 presents the hypotheses tested by statistical analysis.

Table 1. Hypotheses and their confirmation

Hypothesis Confirmed?
Process expectations are negatively associated with confirmation of these expectations. No
Product expectations are negatively associated with confirmation of these expectations. Yes
Process performance is positively associated with confirmation of client expectations. Yes
Product performance is positively associated with confirmation of client expectations. Yes
Confirmation of process expectations is positively associated with process satisfaction. Yes
Confirmation of product expectations is positively associated with product satisfaction. Yes
CVC is positively associated with process performance. Yes
CVC is positively associated with product performance. Yes
CVC is positively associated with process satisfaction. Yes
CVC is positively associated with product satisfaction. Yes

img   FINDINGS

First, the research found that perceived client-vendor communication (CVC) quality has an influence on the client's perceptions of process and product performance. CVC is positively associated with satisfaction concerning the process and the product. The relevance of CVC for satisfaction concerning the process seems to be more important. Improved CVC is likely to result in objectively improved process and product performance due to fewer misunderstandings and clearer definitions.

Second, client satisfaction in IS projects can be largely explained by confirmation of expectations. The effect of project performance in the product model is stronger than the effect of project performance in the process model. Long-term objectives, such as achieving business goals, seem to be considered more important than adherence to budget and schedule as short-term goals. The perceived process performance has shown to have a positive effect on the confirmation of expectations, therefore still contributing to client satisfaction.

Third, expectations of the process do not affect the confirmation of expectations. A plausible explanation is the large degree of budget and schedule overruns typically reported in IS projects. Since overruns are common, expectations might be rather low, thus not affecting the confirmation of expectations in general.

img   PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

“The results indicate strong correlations between client satisfaction and client performance perceptions regarding both the process and the product.”

The results indicate strong correlations between client satisfaction and client performance perceptions regarding both the process and the product. Studies concerning success/failure of IS projects commonly refer to budget and schedule overruns. However, the results suggest that process expectations (i.e., time and budget) are less influential than product expectations.

The research questions the validity of considering projects with poor process performance as failures. Even projects that do not meet process performance expectations can be successful if clients are satisfied with product performance.

CVC quality is seen as an important part of collaboration, especially for long-term relationships. The results indicate that trust in the vendor influences clients' overall satisfaction

“Even projects not meeting process performance expectations can be successful if they satisfy the client due to high product performance.”

img   FULL CITATION

Phil Diegmann, Dirk Basten, and Oleg Pankratz,. Influence of Communication on Client Satisfaction in Information System Projects. A Quantitative Field Study. Project Management Journal, February/March 2017. Volume 48, Number 1.

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From Academia: Summaries of Research for the Reflective Practitioner | April 2017

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