Teams are an integral part of organizational life (Gersick, 1988). Recent trends in globalization and advances in telecommunications technologies have enabled the use of distributed teams, especially those involved in Information Systems Development (ISD). These "virtual teams" consist of geographically dispersed team-members who interact using information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as email, groupware, video, and computer-based conferencing systems. Briggs, Nunamaker, and Sprague (1998) have observed that while the demand for virtual teams grow, "little is known on how to actually conduct team telework" (p. 11). This case study provides some insights into virtual teamwork, specifically in the context of ISD.

Virtual Project Teams

Work teams described in this comparative case study were asked to identify the business problem associated with their project, develop a plan for addressing the problem using an information system to enable the solution, analyze design alternatives, define system requirements, and develop a working solution to address the business problem. Four project teams were observed as they worked to identify, initiate, plan, design, develop and implement information systems using formal system development methodologies. Project teams included some members that were co-located and some members that lived and worked halfway across the globe.

Teams coordinated their efforts in a virtual environment using WebCT a product designed to provide support for virtual collaborative computing environments by enabling synchronous and asynchronous communication between local and remote users. WebCT includes mechanisms for online discussion forums, synchronous chat, file transfer, and shared calendaring. The application was the primary tool used to support the communication, collaboration, and coordination among team members in each virtual team. Each team was given training to familiarize team members with tool specific functions. Project team members were experienced information technology users and proved quite proficient in their use of the tools. Individual team members posted discussion topics to a local team folder or to a global area accessible to the entire team. Discussion pages provided an environment for team members to read and reply to discussion topics asynchronously. Chat sessions provided synchronous communication in which multiple participants exchanged thoughts using typed dialog. Participants in chat sessions could view messages sent by other participants in "real-time." With file sharing, team members posted project documents to a shared space. Documents placed in the common project directory were reviewed, updated, and re-posted as necessary. The calendar tool gave teams the ability to schedule events to a master team calendar for all members to see. Facilitators observed development efforts, provided guidance and arbitrated team conflicts. Table 1 shows the extent to which each team used the tools available in WebCT over the period of the projects. Team A held the most chat sessions (16), Team B scheduled far more events than other groups (26), Team C had a greater propensity for sharing files (68), and all of the groups contributed several discussion messages.

Table 1: Use of WebCT Tools in Virtual Teams


Chat Sessions

Calendar Events

Files Shared

Discussion Messages





















Project A

Aerial Painters Incorporated (API) is a private company located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The company employs approximately 65 workers. API's business is painting medium to large-sized commercial airplanes. The primary contact for this project was Bruce Drago, API's business manager. Mr. Drago wanted to develop a Web presence incorporating the marketing goals of API. The plan for the project included developing a system that provided file-sharing capabilities, networked security cameras, an e-commerce Web site and a redesigned user interface. Bruce wanted the new system to integrate the companies existing marketing plan and an employee-tracking database. He requested changes that would convey corporate purpose, competitive position and industry presence. Bruce contacted Team A to discuss his project. The team was composed of five members from Norway and five from the U.S.

API has made a significant investment in building the image of the company. They wanted their Web presence to reflect an image of high quality and high customer satisfaction. Mr. Drago wanted a Web site to offer information about API's mission, goals, and products and services. In addition, the site was to include a Web-enabled video clip providing an introduction to API's operations. Mr. Drago wanted employees to have access to updated information, company news and announcements real time. Potential employees could use the pages to investigate employment opportunities and apply for positions within the company. An e-commerce element would allow API to offer stenciling services to its customers.

Bruce wanted a portion of the Web site to be dedicated to an Intranet allowing API management access to networked cameras and private employee information. The ability to include networked cameras was an important design feature for API managers. Past accidents in API's hangers resulted in injuries to workers as well as damage to customer planes. Network cameras would allow managers to review accidents and stored video footage to help in accident analysis and implementation of new quality controls. The system would give managers the ability to monitor work areas from anywhere.

API's information systems have historically been paper-based. Physical artifacts created high overhead costs due to the expense of long distance phone services, faxed messages and Federal Express shipping charges. Work orders followed an interactive development process using surface based snail mail to pass designs and modifications between clients and the company. The new system was to provide a document transfer capability between engineers and clients. Online chat and discussion forums were to facilitate communication and shorten product design and development cycles.

Team A was asked to design and build a Web presence based on the guidelines formulated by Bruce Drago. Beyond creating functional pages, the team had to address issues of security and liability, increased communication with business partners, dynamic marketing initiatives and interfaces with the companies human resources department. An iterative development process was initiated between API and project team members. Throughout these early stages of the project, Team A successfully utilized communication tools to develop a strong social connection among team members. In part, this social connection helped the team deliver quality products to their client.

Project B

The sports and recreation division at State U. provides recreational activities in an organized and safe manner for a community of 21,000 people. Historically, the division used an informal, paper-based information system. Data collected from various typed and handwritten forms was used to track event information, employee data and work shift assignments. File cabinets were used to store information related to workers, activities and assigned tasks. For example, referees and umpires were regularly scheduled to officiate recreational sports activities. Using a paper system, division administrators sorted through hundreds of forms to determine the availability of officials and create weekly officiating schedules. The mechanism was complicated by the fact that multiple activities—requiring different officiating experience and background—occurred at multiple venues simultaneously. It was often necessary to modify schedules to reflect substitutions and rescheduling when officials were unable to attend an event.

A paper-based system limited the ability of administrative personnel to schedule officials in an efficient and effective manner. A centralized data store (file cabinet) did not allow multiple users to access the information concurrently. The time and effort required to maintain the systems was a source of frustration for division personnel. System administrators requested a new, automated information system to manage event scheduling. The purpose of the system was to coordinate sporting events, recreational activities and scheduling of required workers. Users requested the system be built using Microsoft Access as a backend database with a Web-style browser interface. The system was to be accessed anywhere an Internet connection and Web browser were available. Remote access would provide relevant information to individuals in the community looking up event information. Online access would allow officials to check schedules, update records and trade work shifts online. Finally, a Web-based system would allow administrators to query the database for relevant event and personnel information.

A project team comprised of five members each from the United States and Norway were asked to analyze the needs of the sports and recreation division. Their task was to design and implement an information system that would address the needs of the division. The team successfully completed the project and provided a working system to the sports and recreation division, but the team did not forge the social interactions necessary to bind members of the team. At the midway point of the project, a crisis in the relationship among the U.S. members and the Norwegian members was narrowly averted. The lack of social glue in the group nearly caused the project to breakdown. The team faced many challenges that were not directly related to project tasks. Lack of any real social interaction created several obstacles that the group had to overcome in addition to completing the technical requirements for the project.

Project C

Envision is a small innovation company in Norway. The company was established in February 2000. Sixteen employees develop products for use on the World Wide Web. Rolph Lyndgren is president and CEO of the company. Mr. Lyndgren requested an information system that would serve as a knowledge base in support of Envision's primary business function: the development of innovative products to enable e-business solutions. Employees of the company conduct market research via the Internet. Information from relevant Web sites is stored using tools and features found in most Web browser software (e.g., Favorites folders). Web browsers used by Envision employees provide the ability to bookmark URL addresses for later reference. However, bookmark information and Web page content was not available outside individual client computers unless users actively posted the URL's to a company server or e-mailed the information to interested co-workers. Mr. Lyndgren envi-sioned a "global bookmarks" folder that would serve as a knowledge base within the company. As employees identified relevant links on the Web, they could store the links in a centralized bookmarks file. Such a system would allow the company to stay abreast of co-workers efforts while also improving efficiency and reducing overlap. Ultimately, Mr. Lyndgren wanted centralized storage and access for all company documents.

Because Envision is an innovation company, they are quite concerned with security. Any centralized information system would require mechanisms for physical security as well as user login and authentication measures. In addition, files stored on centralized servers would require safeguards against outside intrusion. The system would also require a configuration management component that would notify employees of file updates and establish access privileges for company employees.

As with the other projects, Team C was comprised of ten team-members, five each from the United States and Norway. The team's objective was to develop a knowledge base to share URLs and track useful Web content. The team was successful in creating a functioning system that met the specifications of the client. Team members established strong social bonds throughout the project. In large part, this social cohesion was a driving factor behind the project. Team C consistently utilized all communication and collaboration tools made available. However, the most prevalent form of communication was virtual chats. Sessions were held at least once each week and very often two or three times a week. Almost every team member attended each chat session. Frequent communication created a strong social bond and allowed the team-members to grow quite close. As the project developed, the team relied heavily on the social relationship to overcome difficulties with system development.

Project D

Nembus is an independent Norwegian company established in 1933. The company has offices in Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the United States, Korea, China, and Taiwan. Offices worldwide employ more than 400 workers in 11 countries. Engineers comprise the majority of the workforce. Nembus's primary business function is to provide testing, inspection and certification services for electrical equipment, machinery and systems. Certification is necessary for electrical products to be released to the market. Manufactures would like certification to take place quickly and efficiently so that they can gain access to their markets as quickly as possible. Engineers utilize technologically advanced testing laboratories throughout the world to test electrical components and products. There are six testing laboratories in Europe, two in the United States and three in the Far East.

Nembus planned to replace its current information systems with Internet enabled applications to create broader access and synchronization for their employees across the globe. The information system in use required engineers to complete a variety of paper forms to report test results. Initially, corporate secretaries transcribed over 1,000 different forms and reports into digital format using Microsoft Word. Eventually, supervisors encouraged engineers to complete the certification forms themselves thereby circumventing the need for the army of corporate secretaries. However, the goal to reduce overhead and increase efficiency had some unintended consequences.

Test engineers at Nembus work autonomously in test labs around the world. As such, they are required to work with different criteria and generate different reports depending on local, cultural and political regulations. Inconsistencies in forms and reports occurred due to differences in language, terminology, and legal statutes in addition to individual differences in proficiency with the application software. Over time many of the documents were created and modified in an ad hoc fashion. The nature of the process produced an environment in which forms and reports were often incorrect, incomplete, and/or redundant. Engineers spent considerable time creating document templates in addition to filling them in. The net effect was a dramatic decrease in the efficiency of the testing labs (not to mention potentially perilous certifications). Managers at Nembus recognized they had a problem. They resolved to create a new information system that would reestablish a consistent look and feel to the certification documents and allow users to input, store, and search electronics testing forms and reports.

The new system was to be Internet-enabled and provide a repository of previously completed forms that could be retrieved and modified as appropriate for product certifications. Engineers would be afforded the ability to retrieve previously used reports and update only relevant information. The new system would increase consistency and efficiency across the organization by serving as a knowledge base to disseminate testing guidelines and results across the organizations where previously the information was held in the local testing facility. Test report forms (TRF) and a fourth generation relational database (SMOKK) were integrated to provide information about the products Nembus tested and the customers who used Nembus's services.

Team D was comprised of four members from the Unites States and five members from Norway. The team's objective was to develop a prototype for Nembus engineers. While team D completed the project and provided a system to the client, they also demonstrated many characteristics of an unsuccessful team. To call the completion of the project and delivery of the prototype a success was to stretch the truth. The final deliverable was mediocre at best. The system may not have been delivered at all if not for the major efforts of a single U.S. team member. The team lacked a strong presence of both social communication and task-related communication.

Annals of Cases on Information Technology
SQL Tips & Techniques (Miscellaneous)
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 367 © 2008-2017.
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