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Ethics and Professional Codes of Conduct

Ethics and Professional Codes of Conduct

Codes of behavior or the principles expected from an individual by groups, profession, nation, or a particular company to which the person belongs describes ethics and professional codes of conduct. These rules and principles articulate the way people are ought to conduct them and, hence, influence the societal moral codes. Different people have varying experiences when it comes to complying with such policies, depending on the kind of reinforcement they received during the formative years. People whose formative years were spent with parents, social groups and families with a sound moral value system typically find it relatively easier to comply with the organization’s code of conduct. However, that does not mean they do not experience dilemmas when making decisions regarding certain actions. Individuals require different amounts of time to refine these values on maturity, depending on the values system developed during the initial stages of growth, which form the foundation for decisions making. Such values are of particular interest because they act as controls in the decision-making process. In the IT field, ethics represent evaluations of the social effects and nature of IT technology and, therefore, the formulation and validation of fundamental principles for the ethical implementation of such technologies. The given paper purposes to address the potential ethical dilemmas that project managers are likely to encounter in the process of IT project implementation and suggest how the codes of ethics can aid in making complex decisions on the appropriate courses of action. The author hopes that the content of the study findings will increase awareness of the significance of ethics in IT profession, in general, and project management, in particular.

In essence, ethics in project management is paramount primarily because project often carries high risk, high rewards, and high visibility ventures, hence significantly contributing towards the success of an organization. Interestingly, the pressure to cut corners through cheating increase significantly when the stakes are high, and the rewards are enormous (McLean, 2011). Any project usually goes through long lifecycle, which means unethical decisions made by the manager may remain unnoticed for years. In fact, a survey conducted in New Zealand indicates that majority of project managers regularly encounter ethical dilemmas with varying degrees of frequency (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). The same report estimated that well over 80% of the interviewed project managers reported the incidences of ethical dilemmas in the course of project implementation (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). IT project managers reported the incidences, where their superiors pressured them to manipulate the project progress reports, backdate signatures, leave out some parts of the project to cut on costs, and sometimes exaggerate the payoffs (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). Unfortunately, some personnel in the IT management field lacked consciousness of ethical problems in their line of work even where their everyday operation was full of ethical issues (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). Such realities emphasize on the relevance of the study, particularly in situations where employees find it difficult to determine if an action is right or wrong.

Evidentially, people make ethical decisions through judgment and justify the chosen course of action by rational application of the various set principles (Alahmad, 2011). However, an ethical decision, in most cases, transcends a choice between two courses of action. In such cases, the most important thing in making ethical decision involves identification of the ethical issues (Walker & Lloyd-Walker, 2014). Although, it may sound straightforward, identification of a moral issue, people affected, and the adverse effects of each decision is not always easy even when an individual is conscious of the issues. This particularly applies to IT management of software, where an application can be used in more ways than the ones intended (Giacalone, 2003). Regardless of such complexity, ethical decision only results from objective, rational examination of all the available options and picking the correct option among the different alternatives (Giacalone, 2003). It is worth noting that not everyone will agree with such decisions but rationalization of the various points of view creates confidence in the most considerate decision arrived at. Aware of the complexity of multidimensional decision, organizations enact codes of ethics that facilitate the employees in making such decisions, which work particularly well in the determination of ordinary situations’ course of action (Lundin, 2011). Moreover, the set principles guide IT managers’ decisions in cases where black and white moral judgments prove to be inapplicable.

According to Hydari (2013), IT project management involves the creation and updating of computer programs tasked with carrying out the majority of the daily computerized tasks today. Each decision made by the computer system in the process of performing automated tasks normally has a moral consequence with impactful effects on human interests (Hydari, 2013). As a result, IT project managers need to be guided by a professional code of ethics to be able to make ethical programs. Therefore, IT professionals should be careful to adhere to international, national, organizational, and sometimes personal codes of ethics in the process of the developing software. A complete ethics and professional codes of conduct document must cover all of the responsibilities assigned to a project manager and the various IT projects stakeholders (Liao, 2013). Also, elaborate codes of ethics ensure that system administrators do not argue as ordinarily moral agents, but exercise professionalism in the course of making critical decisions. For instance, such principles place public interest above sectional interests, and personal business ambitions and, in the process, help managers in drawing the line of separation between business ethics and companies’ interests which are closely connected (Liao, 2013). This has seen the organization develop better and more robust understanding of the importance of inculcating ethics in organizational culture. Although ethics in organizations get a lot of attention, the same cannot be said about IT project management.

Methods

Based on the nature of the topic, the study will take a qualitative approach in meeting its primary goal of illustrating how ethics and professional codes of conducts an help IT professionals in making the most ethical decisions. A phenomenological methodology was employed in the analysis of the available research literature on ethical issues, particularly in the IT project management. The study did not conduct any empirical data analysis and, therefore, it does not contribute to the development of any new theories relating to ethics and professional codes of conduct.

Literature Review

As observed above, ethical principles play a critical role in a person’s private and professional life. Trust and respect of an organization or an individual manager resonate with their ability to make ethical decisions. According to Lundin (2011), ethics in IT project management focus on the social impact and nature of information technology that influences the formulation and validation of ethical principles, applied in technology projects implementation. Numerous studies have been conducted highlighting the various dilemmas that IT project managers are likely to encounter. It has been observed that ethical challenges in IT project management start in the planning stage well before the implementation commences (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). This is particularly the case because poor project planning leads to a wastage of company and public money and resources, leading to serious ethical issues.

Studies conducted within the United States reveal that white collar crimes, related to unethical behaviors, cost the private sector well over one hundred billion dollars every year (McLean, 2011). Similar devastating monetary losses have also been recorded as a result of faulty IT projects, such as the Denver Airport automated luggage handling system. This program ended up costing the airport far over one million dollars in interest only within a day (Liao, 2013). Such a failure is considered unethical, especially when other more complex programs with over a hundred times lines of codes work significantly well in their trial version. The success of one complex and the failure of another less complicated project can only be attributed to poor planning instead of the meticulous ethical planning that every project demands. Alahmad (2011) attributes such failures to poor user technical and management requirements that are coupled with little care in the planning process. Ethical issues creep in whenever planning attention and user specification are below standard. In addition, ethics and professional codes of conduct play a primary role in dealing with such issues by making it mandatory for IT professionals to demonstrate to the community best interest and dignity from planning to execution of projects.

As indicated in the introduction section, an individual’s values system is hugely influenced by the formative stages of their lives. In some rare cases, the values system of the manager contradicts with the value system policies adhered to in some organization (Walker & Lloyd-Walker, 2014). Regardless of such realities, IT project managers are expected to carry out a systematic examination of all the alternatives in a project that they are entirely opposed to and come up with the best course of action. McLean (2011) argues that the ethical theory of consequentialism can help IT managers when they are confronted with such decisions. Consequentialism theory requires the managers to objectively assess the moral worth of each option based on its contribution to the welfare of the parties involved and the general public (McLean, 2011). Comprehensive ethics and professional codes of conduct provide a source of authority, especially where personal and organizational values system disagrees. For instance, development of clandestine spy software or military security weapon might be considered unethical from one perspective, but consideration of the impact of such project might have in saving lives will convince the project managers to implement the program dedicatedly.

Ethical issues affecting project managers have been known to originate from unfair or unethical organization’s policies aimed at addressing the implications of the manager’s failure to anticipate the outcome of an IT project (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). Consider a situation where the software development manager skips some assurance testing to meet the deadline. Consequently, the quality control stages fail to identify the significant errors in the project or ignore some errors due to the time constraints. In such situations, the project manager will be held accountable for any losses incurred by the organization, both financial and in terms of brand. Such conditions give a rise to ethical issues, especially if the same company policies rigidly restrict the project manager to complete the planning and execution of the program within the allocated time (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). This illustrates the need to equip IT project managers with the necessary knowledge about ethics and value system that will help them deal with such situations in a professional manner. In any case, ethics and, in particular, the possible outcomes of major decisions must be majorly based on the interest of the public and not on compliance with the set time limits. This should, however, not be taken to mean that it is okay to fail to complete IT projects within the specified period.

The last area capable of raising IT project ethical issues that the paper seeks to focus on is related to privacy violation. For example, IT managers are confronted with ethical issues when some employees repeatedly misuse company’s software systems during official hours (Lundin, 2011). Such conducts happen if the systems involved are expensive, hence unreachable past the office hours. In the process IT managers find themselves in a dilemma either to obey the organization policies that require the management to monitor the way the employees utilize the company resources and in the process violate the right to privacy or adhere to the personal right to privacy policy and in the process fail in executing one of the duties. This is particularly the case in the management of how company’s internet and communication systems are used which might lead to violation of privacy (Lundin, 2011). Similar, such privacy related ethical issues occur when the IT managers have unlimited access to company’s confidential files from the server database (Lundin, 2011). The pressure to violate ethics and professional codes of conducts significantly increase in such situations, especially because of the value attached to knowing such clients’ inside seccrets. Ethical policies help in addressing such issues, especially when the IT managers must view confidential files in the course of their work.

According to Alahmad (2011), codes of ethics primarily originate from an underlying value system, but the code itself eventually underpins the entire IT project management profession. Alahmad (2011) also asserts that the number one fundamental role of the professional codes of conduct is to assure the public that the IT profession will always place the public interest ahead of other organizational and financial considerations. Similarly, the workplace decisions and actions taken by IT technical and project professionals are majorly within the context of the IT firm which they are a part of. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the core values, goals, and the internal environment of a company have a direct influence on ethical decision making (Alahmad, 2011). Consequently, the purpose of organizational leadership should be to create a work environment where the IT professionals can exercise rational decision making. Moreover, most of the crucial decisions made by the agencies are not made by one person but by a team of experts. Ethical professional codes of conduct provide the frameworks within which the professionals must exercise practical rationality.

Discussion

As illustrated in the literature review section, IT personnel will always encounter ethical issues in the course of doing their job. Some of the ethical issues lead to dilemmas, especially when either choice amounts to violation of one of the company policies. However, adherence to the international, national, organizational, and IT body’s membership codes of conducts minimize the impacts of such dilemmas to the IT workers (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). In fact, professional ethics and codes of conduct are a commitment representation by the members to exercise professionalism at all times when executing their duties, regardless of what is at stake. Codes of conduct act as the guiding principles towards the most ethical decisions (Holm & Severinsson, 2013). In Addition, such standards help IT employees to address the inborn issues raised in the process of developing new application challenges or resolving errors identified after completion of a project (McLean, 2011). In the absence of elaborate ethics and professional codes of conduct, it would be practically impossible to ensure accountability in project management. This would mean that IT firms can unrestrictedly violate privacy ethics, as long as such actions increase revenue return in an utmost disregard to both society and public interests. The existence of ethical standards, however, holds all IT professionals responsible for all of the decisions they make.

Evidentially, codes of ethics can play a significant role in addressing the ethical dilemmas when thoughtfully considered. These ethical standards ensure that IT workers consider the impact of their decisions and examine if they respectfully factor in the interest of all stakeholders in the process of implementing IT projects (Liao, 2013). Moreover, IT personnel get a framework to analyze their judgments and, hence, determine which action or behavior is worthy of the IT profession. Ethics and professional codes of conduct also ensure that the safety and interest of the majority of the public are placed first when dealing with sensitive matters, like security projects (Liao, 2013). Therefore, organizations and IT professional bodies must endeavor to continually review and update the existing codes of conduct, relating to information technology, especially because of the rapid development that continues to be experienced in this industry. Besides, new innovative advancement in technology, especially in communication, presents new dynamics in ethical privacy issues.

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Nevertheless, addressing ethical issues does not stop at publishing a list of code of conduct. Business integrity requires a formal adoption of the codes of conduct (Hydari, 2013). Experts emphasize that realization of ethical practices in project environment demands more than a mere listing of codes and frameworks (Hydari, 2013). In most instances, the successes in such endeavor depend on openness, principled leadership, and the ability to come up with a win-win strategy in dilemma situations. Available data indicate that most of the IT project managers end up relying on their “internal compass”, that is otherwise known as the personal sense of right and wrong (Hydari, 2013). Exercise of this personal sense of right or wrong comes with its rewards of personal fulfillment and admirable reputation. Therefore, organization should seek to make the key decision makers possess the various ethical principles, rather than merely publicize ethical issues in a window practice manner (Hydari, 2013). In any case, management team behaviors play a primary role in shaping the subordinate worker’s beliefs of what is wrong and right, meaning that the value-based approach is the best strategy to ensure the ethical compliance in decision making. Towards that end, leaders must not only be heard talking about ethics but should lead the rest of the team by demonstrating ethics even when making the simplest decisions.

Conclusion

Unethical behaviors remain among the top reasons which lead to massive losses of taxpayers’ money every year. Consequently, ethical project management professionals have the responsibility of upholding the highest standards of ethical practice at the workplace. In any case, the ethical decisions remain essential to private and professional lives, as they generate respect and trust from employers, co-workers, and clients. Although, IT professionals will regularly encounter ethical dilemmas, the impact of every complex decision significantly decreases when an individual considers all of the available ethics and professional codes of conduct. In this way, codes of conduct act as a reminder of their collective responsibilities to themselves and to the people they serve. Codes of ethics help professionals to stay determined to follow the right course of action. The same standards guide professionals in making decisions when black and white judgment rule is inapplicable.

The insights highlighted in the paper should stimulate further discussions on the topic, leading to sharing of more professional views and experiences. Besides, any issue capable of causing losses of billions of money should concern the public, the government, and the private organizations.

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