Narratives of Success and Failure in Systems Development

14 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2002

See all articles by Robin Fincham

Robin Fincham

University of Stirling - Department of Management and Organization


This paper explores a narrative perspective on "success" and "failure" in computer systems development. Organizational narratives can be seen as sense-making devices and as having a purposive aspect in the ways in which they evolve and change and influence behaviour. Narratives like success and failure in particular can be seen as persuasive rhetorics used in legitimizing particular courses of action. The narrative approach challenges more accepted notions, particularly rationalist views that see computer success/failure as outcomes brought about by simple causation. It also reveals the limitations of process models of IT success/failure, though these stress a more complex form of decision making around IT. In the paper, these issues are explored in contrasting projects in financial services firms. In two case studies, computer success and failure emerge not as discrete conditions, but as interacting themes employed by organizational members in response to the circumstances they confront. The corporate capacity to build success out of failure, and to distance the new from the old, discriminated between successful and unsuccessful projects.

Suggested Citation

Fincham, Robin, Narratives of Success and Failure in Systems Development. British Journal of Management, Vol. 13, pp. 1-14, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Robin Fincham (Contact Author)

University of Stirling - Department of Management and Organization ( email )

Stirling, Scotland FK9 4LA
United Kingdom

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