Project Management Institute

Information systems and construction project management – similarities and differences


Common wisdom suggests that projects are not all equal. They differ in size, complexity, by technology, industry, and a myriad of other ways. We felt that one of the key possible differences is the industry in which the project is conducted. To determine whether this made a difference, we decided to compare the available literature between construction and information systems projects. These two industries were chosen because of perceptions that project management might be quite different between them. We looked at all of the project management research published in the English language, regarding construction projects and compared it to all of the project management research concerning information systems projects. We developed databases of all of the published project management research in the two fields and performed many queries to determine similarities and differences.

This research should interest project management researchers since it is a detailed comparison of over 1,600 research articles, papers, and dissertations on the two fields.

Methodology Followed

For the Database

We performed a thorough literature review of English language periodicals, doctorate dissertations, and publicly available government reports from 1960 to 2000. We also included PMI conference proceeding papers and easily available master's theses. Books were specifically excluded from the material reviewed. All together we discovered over 100,000 documents. We utilized various commercial databases. We also manually researched selected journals by either paper or microfilm both to ensure we covered the time period before the electronic databases started and to include specific journals that we felt were important but were not included in the electronic databases. We also initiated contacts with various government agencies to locate publicly accessible government documents.

We developed a definition of project management research. A document must satisfy all of the following conditions to qualify as project management research.

1. It must be published (in public distribution or through readily available government sources).

2. It must be based upon data (either primary or secondary).

3. There must be generalizable conclusion(s) drawn from the data.

4. The data and conclusions must be focused on either the project management context (the environment in which projects operate) or the management activities (the processes used to manage the nine project management knowledge areas as described in the PMBOK® Guide or other information dealing with project management knowledge, skills, and attitudes).

The next major task was to apply the research definition to all of the citations and eliminate those that did not meet the criteria. Due to the volume of citations, that was a very substantial task. The first step in this was to remove duplicates from the imported records. We noticed certain publications were not research-oriented and, as such, we deleted them en masse electronically. Other items were deleted because of a readily identifiable indication that they were not research.

Finally, the primary method of deleting unneeded records was to manually look at the abstract of every remaining entry and decide if it met the definition of project management research stated above and whether it was really on topic. Many, many articles, papers, and government reports were deleted because they did not qualify as research. The most common reason was that the entry was based on opinion instead of data. More than half of the identified dissertations failed the test of being on topic. Most of these included the term project management in their abstract to describe the efforts of their dissertation as a project such as “this anthropology project.” While they are research, they are certainly not project management. The final project management research database includes 3554 entries.

We then decided our database should include full citation, abstract, and keyword fields for each citation. We kept any keywords that were already included as part of the entry from the commercial or government database. We identified the following additional three sets of keywords to use. Multiple keywords were assigned to fully describe some of the entries.

• The first set of keywords relates to the Nine Knowledge Areas of Project Management as defined in the PMBOK® Guide.

• The second set of keywords relates to the Application of Project Management to different industries.

• The third set of keywords relates to the Process Aspect of Project Management. We established fifteen process areas including project life cycle stages such as plan and execute, as well as management processes, such as organize and control.

Exhibit 1. Distribution of Citations by Decade

Distribution of Citations by Decade

Exhibit 2. Citations Distributed by PMBOK® Knowledge Areas

Citations Distributed by PMBOK<sup>®</sup> Knowledge Areas

For a more complete description of the database construction see Kloppenborg et al. (2000).

For the Paper

From the original database, articles relating to Information Systems (IS) and Construction were identified and separated into two databases. The Keywords used to search for information systems articles were “information system, information technology, computer, and database.” The keywords used for the Construction Database were “construct, building, and design.”

To compare and contrast both industries independently, we deleted any entry that included both construction and IS keywords. As a result, we identified 716 entries that used the word construction or a surrogate in the title, abstract, or keyword field. We identified 951 entries that used IS or IT. We then performed the first set of queries to identify how many citations each database included in each decade. The results are displayed in Exhibit 1.

Note that the numbers do not quite add up since there are a few citations that lack pieces of data. For example, four of the 716 construction entries are missing the year of publication. In both cases, vastly more research was published in more recent years reflecting the explosive growth of project management as a discipline.

The next set of queries performed was by each knowledge area. These results are displayed in Exhibit 2. For ease of comparison we have displayed both the number and the percentage of citations. For example, of the entire construction database of 716 citations, 164 (23%) address the topic of time. Some citations address multiple PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas so the numbers do not add up.


Several interesting comparisons can be made by looking at the percentage columns of Exhibit 2. Time and cost are the biggest research areas in both industries, but there is more emphasis on time in information systems. There is very little identified research concerning human resources in constructions. There was considerably more research on integration in information systems. Due to space limitations and the enormous size of our database (1667 citations), we have to limit our description to the results found in the Life Cycle Application Area and the PMBOK® Knowledge area of Risk. However, as a continuation of this study, but beyond the scope of this paper, we will look at additional comparisons

Life-Cycle Findings

The results of the life-cycle application area queries are shown in Exhibit 3. We have briefly compared some of the major themes discussed in the various citations below.

Life Cycle Scope Issues in Construction Projects

Scope issues included very traditional techniques such as identifying characteristics necessary for completion of construction projects both by studying differences in projects according to the level of success achieved (Miller & Hobbs 1999) and by creation of scope definition checklists (Dumont et al. 1997). Other authors have suggested using less traditional techniques such as using game theory to reduce conflict in the scope identification process (Ragade & Handa 1976) and treating strategic issues as work packages (Cleland 1989).

Exhibit 3. Life-Cycle Comparisons

Life-Cycle Comparisons

Exhibit 4. Risk Comparisons

Risk Comparisons
Life-Cycle Scope Issues in IS Projects

Some of the IS literature focuses on using best IS-specific practices to improve scope definition and control (Bergerson 1990; Thamhain 1995; Raybould 1996). Not surprisingly, some of the success predictors include understanding and acceptance of project mission, top manager's personal involvement, and user participation. A wide variety of methods have been proposed to help identify and control scope on IS projects. Some of these methods are: using a project prospectus (Cleland et al. 1989), configuration management and systems engineering (Lang 1997), and cycle-time reduction (Wiener 1999).

Life-Cycle Integration Issues in Construction Projects

Integration issues on construction projects often used a case study approach to test project management concepts and theories (Badiru et al. 1993). There was also an emphasis on managing a portfolio of projects (Kurion 1999). Finally there was research published comparing successful and unsuccessful construction projects (Miller & Hobbs 1999).

Life-Cycle Integration Issues in IS Projects

There were quite a few more citations in the database on life cycle integration in IS projects (38) than on life cycle integration in construction projects (9). The range of topics discussed was also broader. There were several studies aimed at specific IS issues such as better systems analysis methods and development of expert systems to help IS project managers. There were various approaches advanced on how to better integrate across the systems development life cycle, such as using the project manager as an integrator (Stuckenbruck 1976), using simulations (Brown et al. 1990), and creating system documentation (McDaniel et al. 1992). There was a large amount of effort spent trying to reduce project completion time by reducing time lost at interfaces, developing better monitoring methods, and understanding how various project management dimensions are related.

Life-Cycle Human Resource Issues in Construction Projects

Human resource issues reported in construction project research include determining how leadership styles, conflict management, decision-making, team building, the interaction of organizational design and project manager authority, relationships of the project with outside entities, and appraising workers change during the construction life cycle. Major findings reported are there is no silver bullet and human resource decisions and organizational designs need to be tailored to the specific situation (Baker & Wilemon 1976; Ragade & Handa 1976; Lopes & Flavell 1998).

Life-Cycle Human Resource Issues in IS Projects

Human resource issues reported in IS project research include the use of simulations to determine staffing decisions at different stages in the software development life cycle and to determine the impact various management decisions have on project performance (Abdel-Hamid 1989). Motivation changes have been assessed over the project life cycle using both system dynamics and qualitative research methods (Jessen 1990). Development of project manager skills (Thamhain 1989) and work environment and other requirements needed for successful technology transfer have been reported (Skelton & Thamhain 1992).


The results of the Risk PMBOK ® Knowledge Area queries are shown in Exhibit 4. We briefly compare some of the major themes discussed in the various citations below.

Risk Management Issues in Construction Projects

One issue that has been considered for risk management in construction projects is the benefits of risk management along with barriers, and recommendations to overcome the barriers to risk management (Tummala et al. 1997; Shen 1997). A large number of citations in construction projects dealt with the methods, tools, and techniques of risk management. Personal and corporate experience, and engineering judgments were found to be the most successful qualitative techniques, while scenario analyses, EMV, ENPV, and break-even analysis were the main quantitative analysis (Baker et al. 1998; Woodward 1995).

Risk Management Issues in IS Projects

Risk Management has been described as a formal process by which risk factors are systematically identified and assessed through out the life of the project and in the best interests of its objectives (Wideman 1986). There were several more articles about risk management in IS projects (31) than in construction (17). The key difference between IS and construction, however, was the journal sources of the citations. One-third of the citations in IS are from government sources. However, even in the case of IS, several articles concentrated on the techniques of risk management. Various authors have described models of risk management (Benjamin et al. 1995; Schooff 1996).

Risk Contract Issues in Construction Projects

Construction projects had many more contract risk issues (37) than IS projects (19). The issues included articles on the impact of contracts on risk. Subcontractors have been considered as one of the situational factors that affect riskiness of a project (Laufer et al. 1997). Other factors include the type of contract, the owner, the bidding environment, and the contractual obligations (Sanders and Moore 92). Several authors have conducted studies on contract bids and contractual liability. Specifically, empirical studies have been conducted on the effect of need-to-work and project risk on contractor bid mark-up (de Neufville & King 1991). Another key issue discussed is the contract dispute (Hartman 1994; Jahren & Dammier 1990).

Risk Contract Issues in IS Projects

Not surprisingly, and once again, government literature dominated the issues in IS contracts. There is some literature about contract risk management programs and practices (Miedzinski 1993). An interesting issue discussed is the application of the principal-agent theory in the context of contracting practices (Floricel & Lampel 1998). On another spectrum are the issues that deal with the hidden cost of contracting software projects (Haddad 1999). The author's research has shown that these hidden costs are generally not managed well by contracting companies.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Based on preliminary analysis, we recommend further research to be conducted on a number of questions raised in this paper. We think that a detailed look at the similarities and differences in the published work in any of the PMBOK® knowledge areas would be quite interesting. For example, 31% of the articles and papers in each area concern some aspect of the cost but other questions such as: are they different aspects of cost, do they use different techniques, and do they have similar or different findings, need to be asked. A researcher would perform detailed queries on cost with many different keywords, compare abstracts, and/or look in detail at the various findings to get a more complete picture.

We have just scratched the surface on risk, but there is much more to be learned in all the PMBOK® knowledge areas. Other PMBOK® knowledge areas also pose enticing questions. For example, why was human resources identified as only one percent of construction project management research? Would other keywords such as leadership, decision-making, improvement, training, etc., show that there is really an interest in the human side of managing projects in the construction industry or is there really very little research?

Our comparisons in life cycle show that a curious researcher could use any keywords to look for similarities and differences between construction and information systems project management. Finally, researchers can use the entire Project Management Research database of 3,554 citations to discover what has been published on any facet of project management (as long as it is research based). This should enable scholars to be able to answer many diverse questions. It can be a great starting place for many research efforts.


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Badiru A.B., Foote, B.L., Leemis, L., Ravindran, A. 1993. Recovering from a crisis at Tinker Air Force Base. PM Network.

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Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA



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