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Risk in web-development projects delivered by distributed development teams


This study was conducted for the final part of an MSc in Technology Management and was concerned with risk in web-development projects delivered by distributed development teams. It asks whether, and if so how, the use of geographically distributed teams affects the risk profile of projects when compared with those delivered by co-located teams. The practical output of this work is a risk framework for web-development Project Managers working with distributed teams that can act as a check-list to help them identify potential issues, plan risk-handling activities, and support them through the project lifecycle. A further goal of this work is to understand how this specific risk framework compares with frameworks developed for non-distributed teams in the web industry, and frameworks in the wider IT field.

Organisational background

To understand the scope of existing risk frameworks, an initial literature survey was conducted across research covering both the ‘traditional’ IT sector and web industry. Additionally, two questions were asked; does risk indeed change when teams are distributed; and secondly are web projects simply a subset of the ‘IT projects domain’ or are they unique? Research showed that authors such as Sudhakar (2013) and Betz (2007) propose that risk profiles in IT projects change when teams are distributed; affecting communication and development tools which are also core to the delivery of web projects implying likely change. Al-Rousan et al. (2009) and Steele & Carter (2001) have argued that whilst there are similarities between traditional IT development and web there are also significant differences, to the degree that web projects should be considered as unique. As part of a wider study Keshlaf and Riddle (2010) note that risks in web development are increased when distributed teams are used, however outside this reference no prior research has been identified that focuses purely on risks caused by distributed web development teams.

To investigate this further, and to gather data to build the proposed Risk Framework, research interviews were held with delivery team members working for a digital agency. This agency develops enterprise level content-managed websites for major corporate clients across many industries. The agency’s delivery and development teams are spilt across London, New York and Poland which makes the majority of their projects ‘distributed’.

Face-to-face and video interviews were held and recorded with eleven Project and Programme Managers based in the UK, Poland and New York to identify risks that they had encountered, or anticipated, on projects delivered using distributed teams. The recordings were analysed and the individual risks extracted and grouped into similar themes.