Information systems development projects are more likely to fail than to succeed. One reason for this failure is a manager’s tendency to maintain commitment to projects despite receiving negative feedback. This phenomenon is known as escalation of commitment to a failing course of action, or simply escalation. This paper examines the case of escalation and de-escalation of commitment in the development of the Veteran’s Service Network (VETSNET) system for the United States Veteran’s Administration (VA). An exploratory content analysis of secondary data sources is performed to identify factors promoting escalation. Consistent with prior literature, support was found for project, organizational, and contextual determinants of escalation. The three relevant project factors were a perceived lock-in effect due to few alternatives, the long-term nature of the project, and ambiguity in the project’s requirements and schedule. Three organizational factors that contributed to escalation were poor software capability of VA, lack of dedicated leadership, and pervasiveness of an institutionalized “One VA” vision. Contextual factors in the form of congressional laws and oversight also impacted the VETSNET case. De-escalation was triggered by publicly committing to a deadline and changing top leadership.
Napier, Nannette P., "VETSNET: A Case Study of Escalation and De-Escalation" (2006). SAIS 2006 Proceedings. 31.