Do not ignore human element of IT companies told

Businesses focus too much on the technical and mechanical aspects of IT errors, rather than also examining the human element of IT and environmental aspects of the errors, says a team of researchers that carried out a study.

The researchers, from the United States and Canada, explained in the Information Systems Journal (citation below) that mood and personality play a major role in how businesses should manage their IT systems.

Human Element of ITWhen investigating errors, look also at the human element of IT, and not just the technical and mechanical aspects. The researchers found a difference in self-committed IT error reporting, depending on whether individuals were in a negative or positive mood.

Co-author Sumantra Sarkar, Assistant Professor at Binghamton University’s School of Management, part of The State University of New York, said:

“Organizations focus too much on the technical and mechanical aspects of IT errors, rather than the human and environmental aspects of the errors. Our study suggests the mood and personality traits of the software development team affect how they report on self-committed errors in IT projects.”

“A minor glitch in design or programming can have devastating consequences. For example, even a small error in software design could result in a NASA capsule disaster in outer space.”

Human element of IT

The study examined how the human element of IT also influences mistakes and decision-making. It also established a theoretical framework aimed at explaining some of the decision-making processes associated with reporting self-committed errors.

Since the researchers suggest that IT errors are caused by a combination of several factors, they said it is vital to adopt a number of different procedures to identify inefficiencies, preventable errors, and ineffective care to make improvements within the IT systems.

Companies tend to forget how important it is to look at individuals working on information technology teams.

The authors explain that research on IT error reporting today mainly explores problems related to resources and technology, such as hardware malfunctions, labor shortages and budget constraints.

Mood affects error reporting

Prof. Sarkar said:

“We found a difference in the self-committed IT error reporting process of developers depending on if they were in a positive or negative mood. When IT workers were in a positive mood, they were less likely to report on self-committed errors. This can be explained by how being in a positively elevated state can impede one’s cognitive processing.”

“Practitioners often perceive software development as dependent on machines, as opposed to humans, which is not a sustainable mindset. Managers should establish a good rapport with team members to foster an environment that will allow employees to speak up when they feel their mood could affect their reporting decisions.”

IT managers need to emphasize to their employees the benefits of reporting self-committed errors, because ultimately IT errors that go unreported have the potential to harm the company more in the long run.

According to Prof. Sarkar, employees should aware of how their mood might impact their reporting decisions.

Regarding an employee’s mood, Prof. Sarkar said:

“Before IT workers make decisions regarding self-committed errors, they should assess their mood and determine if they should wait until they are in a more neutral state to make reporting decisions.”

The authors said they identified conscientiousness as one of the most important personality features related to IT error-reporting decisions. Conscientious workers have a strong sense of selflessness and duty, they are generally more willing to report errors they have made.

Conscientious people less affected by mood

Team leaders need to be aware that conscientious workers are less likely to let their mood influence their decision making.

Prof. Sarkar added:

“Organizations of the Information Age need to be reminded that software development is still reliant on humans. The mood and personality characteristics of IT workers influence decision making and should be considered as a contributor to the reliability of information systems.”

“Even a small bug in software systems can have severe consequences and put lives at risk,” Sarkar added. “Exploring the human elements of IT could solve and prevent problems.”

In an Abstract that describes the main paper, the authors wrote:

“Based on the results from a controlled laboratory experiment, we find that individuals in a negative mood are more willing to report their errors compared to individuals in a positive mood. Conscientiousness also positively influences individuals’ willingness to report errors, and it also has an indirect effect through cost–benefit differential (i.e. one’s perceptions of benefits relative to costs).”

“Additionally, mood is found to moderate the relationship between conscientiousness and willingness to report. We discuss the implication of our findings and directions for future research and for practice.”

Citation: The roles of mood and conscientiousness in reporting of self-committed errors on IT projects,” Hyung Koo Lee, Mark Keil, H. Jeff Smith and Sumantra Sarkar. Information Systems Journal. July 2016. DOI: 10.1111/isj.12111.