Information systems development (ISD) projects continue to struggle with high rates of failure and escalation, despite years of research and practice. To provide an alternative exploration of this concern, this paper examines the development of another industry, which has similarities to ISD, and has transformed itself from a poor performer in an uncertain environment to a strong performer in a certain environment. Insight from another industry could be valuable for revealing a new direction for research. In this paper, the study is a 45- year historical case of the market leader in the Australian construction industry from 1951 to 1996. The starting point for investigation is project management control mechanisms. Currently, one of the guiding principles of ISD project management is that to improve performance, firms should adopt a standard toolkit of control mechanisms, which is assumed to be appropriate for all situations. This paper finds that, in contrast to this standard set, the use of controls is context contingent. Organizations in high uncertainty environments should adopt input controls, while those in low uncertainty environments should adopt behavior and output controls. The implications for ISD are substantial.
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