Huawei is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunication equipment and the second largest producer of smartphones in the world. Its production of high quality and reliable products has partly contributed to this success and made the company a household brand in the telecommunications industry. Additionally, in the last decade, investments made in fifth generation (5G) technology have increased Huawei’s profile in the global telecommunications industry as a market leader in the development of 5G-enabled products (Yi, 2020). It has secured this dominant position by collaborating with like-mined companies to provide 5G-based technological solutions for retail and private customers in different fields, including media, healthcare and education (Huawei Ltd, 2020b).
The company’s leadership in the provision of 5G technologies is a product of a project spearheaded by the company’s management to invest the company’s resources in 5G research and development. Particularly, it has made significant strides in the smartphone industry where 5G technologies have been integrated into the company’s smartphone functionalities, thereby giving them an “edge” over the competition, based on their superior performance capabilities, relative to 4G-enabled mobile phones. This project was formulated from the company’s overall strategic focus on 5G research and development as the main company’s growth driver for the year 2020 and beyond (Huawei Ltd, 2020b). In 2019 alone, Huawei spent close to €1.2 billion in research and development activities associated with 5G technologies (Huawei Ltd, 2020a). These investments have enabled the Chinese-based telecommunication giant to develop some of the most sophisticated 5G capabilities in the market, thereby positioning it as a leader in the provision of fifth-generation technologies in the mobile phone market. These capabilities have made Huawei the envy of other players in the industry mostly because the milestones it has made in its 5G research and development project have given it extensive access to the high-end lucrative market of the smartphone industry.
Huawei’s 5G platform has seen the company launch multiple products across varied product ranges. For example, its mobile base band is verifiable through the launch of the 5G wireless router and mobile Wi-Fi products. Some items launched within this product line include Huawei’s 5G CPE Pro, which offers 5G connectivity full-time, unless in areas where such connectivity cannot be attained and 4G linkage is established (Huawei Ltd, 2020c); Huawei’s 5G CPE, which is another product developed as a mobile router that would solve most connectivity issues experienced by customers. These products are appropriate for businesspersons who wish to have a high connectivity to their business files and data. In the smartphone industry, Huawei Mate and P-series are the most popular products from Huawei based on their international market success (Huawei Ltd, 2020a). Their appeal is based on their stylish designs and extraordinary quality and functionality features, which are supported by 5G technology. Most of these products are slowly gaining market traction in different parts of the world (Huawei Ltd, 2020b). Consequently, today, Huawei ships more than 200 million units of 5G-enabled smartphones worldwide (Huawei Ltd, 2020a).
Huawei’s 5G mobile phones are different from others in the market because they have unique performance capabilities supported by 5G’s fast speeds and data transfer rates. To exploit these capabilities, Huawei is committed to building some of the most sophisticated 5G end-to-end solutions for business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) relationships (Fitch and O’Keeffe, 2020). These capabilities will see the firm achieve the highest level of performance integration across multiple operational areas. The launch of these 5G products in the market mean that service providers will have a new frontier of competition in the market – network optimization (Kaulio, 2018). In this area of development, Huawei also enjoys a leadership position compared to its peers in the industry, such as Apple and Samsung (Bicheno, 2020) because it has a vast network of operators, which is spread across more than 170 countries, while its peers are still domiciled in their traditional markets (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). Through this network, Huawei has established several base stations around the world where it conducts its research and development programs. The presence of these networks also mean that Huawei has made vast investments in 5G technology better than any other company in the industry has done (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). Therefore, the Chinese company has more capabilities, in terms of mass production of 5G-enabled smartphones, relative to its peers in the industry.
The competition for 5G technology in the global smartphone market is already fierce even before people are fully ready for it (Udin, 2020). In today’s global and technologically powered age, companies and individuals are finding it increasingly important to develop or internal 5G capabilities to improve their competitiveness, while paying attention to market developments as well. In the global smartphone market, the competition for 5G technology has mostly been focused on marketing and advertising. In 2018, Huawei successfully completed a project to launch the 5G smartphone; however, it was not the only one in the market because other mobile phone companies, such as OPPO, VIVO and Samsung were also engaged in similar projects (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). The synchrony of project activities mean that companies have recognized the importance of developing their internal 5G capabilities but differences in commitment have led to the emergence of varying strengths and capabilities. Although Huawei has made significant progress in improving its 5G capabilities, quality concerns threaten the project’s success. This paper explores the application of quality management techniques in the company’s 5G smartphone project.
Research Question and Objectives
The main research issue that will be explored in this study is the application of quality management techniques in practical projects. This aspect of project management is associated with quality concerns and is aimed at improving tools and techniques available to Huawei’s managers to seamlessly integrate quality management safeguards in their project management plans. The Huawei case study is a practical example of how project quality management is applicable to practical projects. It provides a good example of how to identify the main issues affecting projects and identify practical strategies, tools and techniques that could be used to solve them. To this end, the objectives of this study are outlined below.
- To identify the main management issues affecting the project
- To critically discuss how Huawei has addressed the aforementioned issues by applying appropriate project management concepts, methods and tools
- To address the issues mentioned by applying appropriate project management concepts, methods and tools
Structure of the Report
The research study is categorized into five key sections. The first one is the introductory part, which provides a background to the research topic, explains the main research issues to be discussed and highlights what should be done to address them. The second section is the literature view chapter, which highlights the conceptual framework of the study and highlights what other researchers have said about the topic. At the end of this chapter, the main literature gap informing this study will be highlighted and the methodology used to fill it explained in the subsequent chapter – methodology. In this section of the dissertation, the techniques, tools, systems and procedures used to accomplish the research objectives will be highlighted and their contribution to the research process explained. The findings of the study will be presented in the fourth chapter, which involves the interpretation and evaluation of data. The last section of this dissertation will contain a summary of the research findings and proposals for undertaking future research.
As explained in the first chapter of this dissertation, the focus of the research investigation is on understanding the application of quality management techniques in a practical project. From this focus of investigation, it is important to understand the main factors involved in implementing project quality management. Current literature suggests three main areas of application: quality planning, quality assurance, and quality control (Sergi, Crevani and Aubry, 2020). They form the conceptual framework for this study as described in figure 1 below.
The first step (quality planning) of the conceptual framework involves the identification of customer specifications or project deliverables that have to be met at the end of the project plan. The quality checklist is often developed at this point of the planning process after all stakeholders agree on the appropriate metrics and scale to use in evaluation (Kalsy et al., 2020). The second step in implementing the project quality management plan is quality assurance. It refers to the setup of systems, and procedures for making sure that the aforementioned project specifications are met (Sergi, Crevani and Aubry, 2020). Process checklists and audits are common tools used by project managers to undertake quality assurance tasks.
The last stage of the quality implementation phase is quality control. It refers to monitoring project activities to make sure they adhere to predetermined project specifications. In this context of evaluation, some project managers use peer reviews and testing to make sure that rules are followed and the expected quality is being met throughout the project lifecycle (Huemann, Ringhofer and Keegan, 2019). The deliverables can be adjusted if quality specifications are fulfilled but it is better to do this before initiating the project, as opposed to when it has already commenced (Huemann, Ringhofer and Keegan, 2019). In this regard, project planning is an important aspect of management.
Importance of Project Planning
Project management is an important aspect of business performance. It is associated with increased business value and the realization of improved benefits for firms (Martinsuo, 2020). Nonetheless, effective project management skills are needed for the completion of successful projects. Several researchers have affirmed the value of prudent project management and most of them have categorized its benefits as being either being tangible or intangible (Tereso et al., 2019; Nijhuis, Vrijhoef and Kessels, 2018). Tangible benefits associated with project management include improved returns on investments and better financial ratios. Intangible benefits associated with project management include an improved corporate culture, better organizational efficiency and heightened levels of customer satisfaction (Shin, Park and Kim, 2020; Tursunbayeva, Bunduchi and Pagliari, 2020). Although researchers define the concept of project management generically, it is notably structural because it is designed to align with industry and organizational structures (Tereso et al., 2019). For example, the size of an organization and the environment it operates in are pertinent issues to consider during project management. According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), although there are important pieces of information generated from decades of research on project management, they should not be applied uniformly across different organizations and sectors (Nijhuis, Vrijhoef and Kessels, 2018). This is because contextual factors influencing project performance need to be evaluated first before adopting recommendations. This aspect of project planning gives way to the adoption of appropriate quality management techniques in enterprise development.
Overview of Project Quality Management
Project quality management is an important tool for completing tasks because it describes how quality is maintained throughout the lifecycle of a project. The generic meaning of the term “quality” is perfection, but in the context of this discussion, it refers to maintaining a set of quality standards throughout the life of a project. This definition is borrowed from the works of Global Knowledge (2020), which also suggests that the concept of quality is amorphous because it could refer to customer or stakeholder expectations in the product management plan. The underlying premise for performing rigorous quality management activities is that it leads to customer satisfaction and increased sales. However, from a project management perspective, it refers to the accomplishment of set goals.
According to Brorström and Styhre (2020), project quality management is a multifaceted process that involves key three steps: quality planning, quality assurance, and quality control as described in table 1 below.
Table 1. An overview of project quality management (Source: Developed by Author)
|Project Quality Management|
|Quality Planning||Perform Quality Assurance||Perform Quality Control|
|Tools and Techniques||Tools and Techniques||Tools and Techniques|
As highlighted in table 1 above, the “planning” aspect of project quality management is one of the most important dimensions of project management because it helps to define quality metrics, checklists, baselines and management plans that will be used to undertake the quality analysis. To get the best results, enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets, project scope statements and project management plans are often used as inputs in the planning process (Brorström and Styhre, 2020). Tools and techniques that could be used to analyze data relevant to the planning process include cost-benefit analysis, benchmarking, experiments, design and cost of quality. The outputs generated from this process could be used to perform the quality assurance process as well. In this framework of implementation, the main objective of quality assurance planning is to recommend corrective actions for the project plan, process assets and update the project management plan (Micheli and Cagno, 2016). To accomplish these objectives, the quality management plan, quality metrics, progress improvement plans and work performance records become possible sources of data for review.
Project Management Lifecycle
Managing projects can be a daunting task because of the need to address multiple factors involved in project planning. Therefore, seasoned project managers identify important details relating to the planning process and then situate them in a series of important steps to follow in the project management plan (Brorström and Styhre, 2020). These stages are outlined in the project management lifecycle, which outlines five aspects of project control: project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring/control and project closure as described in figure 2 below.
Project managers use the project management lifecycle identified in figure 2 above to complete their tasks because it gives structure to their activities. In other words, it helps them to simplify complex project tasks into a series of logical steps that are simple to follow. These steps include project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring, and project closure. They are described below.
Project Initiation: The project initiation phase is the first stage of the project management lifecycle and it involves knowing the value of a project and understanding its feasibility. At this stage of the project lifecycle, the decision regarding whether to pursue a project, or not, is often made. Two tools are commonly usually used to undertake such an evaluation: business case documents and feasibility analyses (Brorström and Styhre, 2020). Business case documents make a case for pursuing a specific project objective and provide financial estimates of doing so. Comparatively, feasibility analyses are associated with identifying key objectives of a project and estimating the time and cost involved in completing them (Mahmood, 2017).
A key objective for project managers to achieve at this point of the project lifecycle is to balance project requirements with available resources. Most projects that proceed to the next stage of the project lifecycle usually get approved at this stage of development based on the feasibility of the project plan (Heldman, 2015; Nijhuis, Vrijhoef and Kessels, 2018). Others are terminated at this point of engagement, especially if it is determined that they would be unprofitable or impossible to feasibly carry it out (Brorström and Styhre, 2020). Nonetheless, projects that receive the “green-light” to proceed transition to the project-planning phase.
Project Planning: Approved projects are assigned a project team and office at the project-planning phase of the project lifecycle. Thereafter, a plan is often developed to make sure the team operates within specific time and resources constraints (Carter, 2019; Usadolo and Caldwel, 2016). A well-developed project plan should include a detailed assessment of where to procure financing, how resources should be used and a detailed plan for procuring required materials (Heldman, 2015). Based on such details, project managers can develop a team direction for producing quality products or handle the risks involved in the project execution phase by themselves (Kwon and Kang, 2019). These issues are first communicated to project stakeholders for deliberation. Nonetheless, the project plan allows managers to address some of the challenges they will experience by executing broader project management strategies.
Project Execution: The execution phase of the project management plan is regarded as the most detailed part of the project lifecycle. This stage of development involves building capabilities that would meet the needs and requirements of stakeholders involved. To achieve the best outcomes, team managers are often encouraged to keep members focused on their tasks and secure adequate resources to complete the project plan (Rispens, Jehn and Steinel, 2020). This stage of the project lifecycle is closely related to the project planning phase because its quality determines the output of the execution process. Stated differently, the success of efforts made in the execution phase of the project lifecycle depends on the robustness of project planning activities.
Project Monitoring and Control: Project monitoring and control processes are often synonymous with the execution phase of the project lifecycle because both of them occur at the same time (Jawad, Ledwith and Panahifar, 2018). In other words, when project managers are implementing their plans, they have to monitor their progress at the same time. The extent and intensity of monitoring depends on the nature of the expected project deliverables but most of them are focused on controlling cost and time, which are the two biggest resources in project management. Some researchers suggest that key performance indicators could be used to measure progress as well (Dow, 2017; Denicol, Davies and Krystallis, 2020) but their evidences are anecdotal and lack sufficient scientific rigour.
Project Closure: The last phase of the project lifecycle is the completion phase whereby the project manager communicates to relevant stakeholders about the delivery of expected project objectives. Thereafter, they release their resources for the completion of other activities (Whyte, 2019). During this stage of the project lifecycle, team members may reflect on the progress they have made so far and their experiences managing past projects to improve their future approaches (Tabassi, Abdullah and Bryde, 2019). The completion of this activity, coupled with the other four phases of the project lifecycle (project monitoring and control, project execution, project planning and project initiation) outline the five phases of the project lifecycle. This framework allows managers to breakdown complex tasks relating to project management for faster implementation and completion of stipulated objectives.
Navigating Project Management Complexities
One of the biggest deterrent to the application of quality management techniques in practical projects is the complexity associated with the project management. The subjectivity of decisions made by policymakers who oversee the process also add to the complexity because it is difficult to find consensus when managing the views of people who come from different backgrounds and share different perceptions about project planning (Hussain, Xuetong and Hussain, 2020; Amidkhonova, 2019). In an article aimed at understanding how project management is undertaken in private organisations, Rumeser and Emsley (2019) suggests that one of the main reasons why projects fail is poor decision-making. Errors can be made at different phases of the project lifecycle, including how and when to choose project teams and their leaders, how to evaluate potential bids and how to identify the right vendors (Benítez-Ávila, Hartmann and Dewulf, 2019). Tough decisions are often made in such circumstances and the common trade-off made by actors in this field involves time, cost and quality considerations (Hussain, Xuetong and Hussain, 2020; Amidkhonova, 2019).
The role of philosophy in decision-making emerges in this review because of the unpredictable nature of the global business environment. For example, the wavering influence of regional political bodies, such as the European Union (EU) and the exit of Britain from the economic bloc have created business uncertainties in Europe (Müller, 2016). The refugee crisis in the Middle East has also birthed new concerns regarding the future of social organization in some European states. Additionally, the slowdown in China’s economic growth rate and changing power balances on the global political stage have further created uncertainties in the business world, which have forced some businesses and entrepreneurs to seek a philosophical view of project management (Zhang, 2020; Nijhuis, Vrijhoef and Kessels, 2018).
The role of philosophy in project quality management stems from the view that all aspects of the process are interdisciplinary and consequently related. This statement means that quality management is a product of a broader ecosystem of operational activities. Therefore, different aspects of management define the context through which all quality management decisions are made. Overall, these philosophical nuances in project management decision-making are caused by varying levels of inequality in the society, including social, economic and political differences (Nijhuis, Vrijhoef and Kessels, 2018). Research studies also suggest that the main reason why project leaders fail to achieve their goals is their unwillingness to communicate problems affecting their performance and equally failing to perform project tasks within the stipulated cultural environment (Hartono, Wijaya and Arini, 2019). In line with this observation, it is established that project managers with the most experience undertaking project tasks report the highest levels of success in completing them (Browning, 2019). Therefore, a project manager’s experience in carrying out project activities is directly proportional to their performance. However, many project managers still struggle to make the right decisions in their project management tasks, thereby creating an impediment to the realization of project tasks.
Project Quality Management Process
There is no consensus regarding the main steps to follow in executing project quality management tasks. However, based on an overview of findings generated from reviewing the works of several authors, such as Deshpande (2019), Al Khamisi, Khan and Munive-Hernandez (2018), the following sequence of project quality management planning should be followed.
Establishing Quality Monitoring: One of the most important aspects of quality management planning is the need to understand what needs to be measured and by using what scale? This aspect of quality management has been rarely discussed in extant literature because researchers use measuring criteria that are only relevant to their contexts of discussion (Al Khamisi, Khan and Munive-Hernandez, 2018; Wang and Wu, 2020). Nonetheless, it is important to understand what needs to be measured and the appropriate level of quality performance that should be used as a benchmark to understand the progress made thus far. Most project managers have monitoring systems that manage time and cost dimensions of quality performance (Al Khamisi, Khan and Munive-Hernandez, 2018). Therefore, in assessing quality concerns, it is important to understand what aspects of the concept need to be measured and the kind of data that should be gathered to complete the assessment. Relative to this view, Wilson (2015) says that the first step to developing a quality measurement metric is to review customer specific actions and existing legal policies guiding the quality management process. The goal is to strike a careful balance between what the customer wants and what could be feasibly delivered. Additionally, project managers are required to identify the right tools or techniques that have to be used to measure the project’s progress (Wilson, 2015). It is also important for the project manager to identify team members that would oversee the monitoring process. They should be equipped with tools to record and document important information relating to the project management plan.
Establishing Quality Metrics: After establishing quality monitoring procedures, as described above, it is important for project managers to determine the methodology used in coming up with assessment data. In this stage of the project lifecycle, appropriate quality specifications have to be determined to establish the preconditions that would grant a “pass” or “fail” score. The views of professionals or specialists may be sought at this stage of evaluation, as suggested by Wilson (2015). However, the right quality metric for evaluation has to be approved by a company’s internal departments or through customer validation for it to gain acceptance by all parties. Research studies suggest that the best quality outcomes are often realized when quality considerations are made in advance of the project execution phase (Al Khamisi, Khan and Munive-Hernandez, 2018). Studies also suggest that customer retention numbers are expected to be high as companies express confidence in meeting project deliverables (Al Khamisi, Khan and Munive-Hernandez, 2018; Wilson (2015). Stated differently, they can guarantee their customers that they will provide better products or services. To achieve this goal, they identify a set of quality metrics to be met always.
Integrate Change Control Processes: It is important to formulate change control processes in project management plans to manage changes that occur in the quality management process. As highlighted in this literature review chapter, quality considerations can simply be measured using a “pass” or “fail” test, but the methods adopted by organizations to manage changes associated with these developments could impact quality outcomes (Rosenbaum, More and Steane, 2016). Studies also suggest that change management is a “double-edged sword” in the sense that it can solve as many problems as it can create (Wilson, 2015). Therefore, it is recommended that project managers include aspects of change management in their project quality management processes to account for the impact that the accomplishment of project goals would have on quality (van Marrewijk, 2018). In this regard, there is better insulation of the project deliverables.
Determining Quality Controls: Much as project managers are required to develop time, cost and quality schedules, they are also expected to determine quality controls that would safeguard the integrity of the project lifecycle (Wilson, 2015). As highlighted in this paper, the process of determining quality controls involves the effective management of monitoring and change processes. This activity could be undertaken across several levels of a company’s operational divisions because the goal is to remind project team members to control quality issues throughout the lifecycle of the project plan (Wilson, 2015) – an exercise applicable to all departments. The kind of control processes that have to be undertaken in this analysis are either proactive or reactive but the choice depends on the kind of project involved (Rumane, 2016).
Project Management in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Industry
The development of 5G technology in the smartphone industry draws attention to project management in the information, communications and technology (ICT) sector. This industry is unique from most economic sectors because of its dynamism and ability to power most of the innovations witnessed in the 21st century, regardless of sector involved (Pérez-Aróstegui, Bustinza-Sánchez and Barrales-Molina, 2015; Tereso et al., 2019; Davies, MacAulay and Brady, 2019). Based on its expansive influence, few studies have explored how project quality management is applied in this sector. However, unlike other industries, the rate of success of project quality management within the ICT industry is 29% (Tereso et al., 2019). This statistic means that about 71% of the projects undertaken in the sector fail to meet their stakeholder’s specifications, in terms of time and resources. A further 19% of the total sample of failed projects have either never been used or cancelled before starting (Tereso et al., 2019). These figures suggest that there is a low success rate, which should be managed through the adoption of better project management techniques.
The development of 5G-powered smartphones also draws attention to the need to adapt today’s turbulent technology industry to ongoing developments in the sector. Most of the projects undertaken in this industry are characterized by complexity and unpredictability (Marchewka, 2016), which necessitates project managers to make flexible decisions and rely on high quality information to make decisions regarding the impact of their project management plans. The burden of making bad decisions in the technology industry is increasingly overwhelming companies because of similarity in products and services, which has lowered customer-switching costs (Kock and Aubry, 2019). Therefore, in an industry where there is little product differentiation, it has become more important for project managers to understand the nature of decisions that have to be made in such an environment (Iyiola and Rjoub, 2020). This is why Alami, Bouksour and Beidouri (2015) say that most companies operating in the ICT sector are increasingly being urged to re-examine how they make decisions.
The need to make project management decisions based on the quality of information obtained and the prudent implementation of knowledge management decisions is becoming more poignant in the technology industry because of its volatile nature (Sayyadi, 2019; Rumeser and Emsley, 2019). Consequently, several companies have invested resources in making decision-making tools that would insulate them from the biases associated with traditional decision-making techniques which have led to project failure in the past (Rouyre and Fernandez, 2019). Relative to this discussion, Geraldi, Söderlund and Marrewijk (2020) say that most management decisions should reinforce the overall organizational strategic alignment to create the desired impact on the market.
An overview of the research articles analyzed in this literature review show that there has been an increased interest in the methodologies used to develop insights regarding project management. This interest emanates from the heightened visibility that the project management discipline is getting in many organizations around the world. Nonetheless, project quality management remains a relatively problematic area in project management because of differences in measurement criteria adopted by multiple organizations and their varying relevance to various industries and sectors. This is why, in this paper, the application of quality management techniques is undertaken from a telecommunications perspective. Gaps in implementation are discussed in subsequent chapters of this dissertation.
Case Study and Research Methods
As highlighted in the first chapter of this document, the aim of this study has been to investigate the application of project quality management in practical projects. The Huawei 5G-smartphone project was used as a case study. The use of the case study approach in data collection is justified by the vastness of experiences documented by researchers in the adoption of quality management techniques. Therefore, there was need to have an industry-specific understanding of the research issue by using Huawei’s 5G project as a case study. Alternatively, the case study approach was adopted in this review because it was not feasible to perform the research without a context of analysis. Therefore, the framework of discussion was the telecommunications industry and the details presented in this discussion related to project quality management in the sector. The case study approach helped to provide rich and quality information relating to the application of quality management techniques in Huawei because it was not possible to practically investigate the research phenomenon without this context of analysis. This advantage aligns with the views of Coe et al. (2017) who say that the case study research design can provide rich data about a research issue.
The type of approach used to conduct a research investigation determines the techniques that will be used in subsequent sections of the investigation. Therefore, as Müller and Klein (2019) proposed, it is important to think critically about the most appropriate technique to use in carrying out an analysis. Two main research approaches are commonly used in academic investigations – qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative method is often associated with research investigations that explore subjective elements of data collection, while the quantitative method is used to measure quantifiable aspects of research outcomes (Klein and Müller, 2019). The researcher used a mixed research approach to conduct the investigation by integrating aspects of qualitative and quantitative reasoning when answering the research questions. The mixed methods research approach is appropriate for this study because of its multifaceted nature and its ability to accommodate varying type of research information during analysis. The technique was selected for use in this study because it gave the researcher an opportunity to collect rich data with both qualitative and quantitative nuances added to the discussions. The mixed methods research approach was also used to understand existing contradictions between qualitative and quantitative findings that may affect the research investigations (McNabb, 2015). Broadly, the model was appropriate for the analysis because of its multifaceted nature.
Several types of research designs support the mixed research approach. They include the sequential explanatory, sequential exploratory, sequential transformative, concurrent triangulation, concurrent nested and concurrent transformative techniques (Research Rundown, 2020). The main difference between these research designs is their treatment of qualitative and quantitative data because, depending on the research design selected, either qualitative or quantitative data collection is prioritized one data collection method over the other because the research questions were exploratory (Research Rundown, 2020). Consequently, qualitative and quantitative data were obtained for review. Additionally, the concurrent triangulation research design was selected as the main technique because it allows for the concurrent gathering of both qualitative and quantitative information without any bias on either of the data types available for review. In other words, no one type of data is deemed superior to the other. Therefore, the prioritization of one type of data over another is the basis for the existence of most differences in research designs within the mixed methods research framework.
The data gathered for this study will be obtained through a review of published sources (secondary information). This approach to data collection is adopted in the dissertation because past research studies on project management have failed to inculcate project quality management concepts from current literature when examining contemporary issues in project management (Klein and Müller, 2020). Therefore, there is a significant knowledge gap between what is known and what is being done. Secondary data was gathered in the analysis because of the scope and vast nature of the research investigation performed. Furthermore, it was problematic to undertake a primary research of the research topic because of the difficulty in obtaining primary research information from Huawei’s managers. In other words, the company’s managers were not available to give information relating to their 5G project. Consequently, the only way to obtain this information was through secondary research.
Published research materials were obtained from reputable databases, including Jstor, Sage Journals, Google Scholar and Google books. These databases were the key sources of books and journals used to carry out this review. The keywords used to obtain the articles included “project management,” “Huawei 5G project” and “quality.” Pieces of information from credible websites were also included in the evaluation process because the progress made by Huawei in the development of 5G smartphones is documented on such platforms first before being published in a book or journal. Therefore, the current nature of the research topic justified the use of secondary research and published information from credible websites. All the materials selected for review in this study were published within the last five years (2015-2020) because the researcher wanted to obtain only the most current and relevant data. Therefore, all articles published outside this five-year publication window were excluded from the analysis.
The information described above was analyzed using the thematic and coding method. This technique helps researcher to categorize information according to common themes, which are often linked to the research questions (Coe et al., 2017). This data analysis method mostly traces its roots to qualitative reasoning, but because this study integrates both aspects of qualitative and quantitative analysis, it will be applicable to the broader context of data review (Coe et al., 2017).
This last section of the methodology chapter details procedures and practices followed by the researcher in carrying out the investigation. Unlike primary research studies that involve human subjects, this secondary investigation was subject to a different set of ethical guidelines relating to the use of information from other authors. To avoid incidences of academic misconduct, all sources used in this study were properly cited, as proposed by Pelikan, Jeffery and Roelcke (2020). Furthermore, no articles requiring permission from the authors were included in the review. Stated differently, all the research data used in this study were obtained from freely available books and journals.
Research Findings, Interpretation and Evaluation
To recap, three research objectives guided this investigation. They aimed to identify the main project management issues affecting Huawei’s 5G smartphone project, discuss how the company has addressed them through the application of appropriate project management concepts and explain how they should be managed in the long-term. The initial data search provided more than 16,500 research articles for review. Only 176 of them remained after excluding those that were not published within the five-year window (2015-2020) from the analysis. In the end, only 80 articles were used for the analysis after the rest were excluded for being “less relevant” to the discussions. The findings are outlined below.
Huawei, being one of the pioneer entrants in the 5G technology market, has demonstrated to its peers and industry observers that it is in the 5G business for the long haul. In fact, the company started investing in the technology as early as 2009 at a time when most companies had not understood its importance (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). In 2013, Huawei contracted more than 300 specialists to spearhead its 5G research and development activities in several locations around the world (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). More than $600 million worth of investments were made in this project (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). Supporting such investments is the company’s belief that 5G is the new frontier of technological advancement and Huawei plans to be a leader in this regard.
The main project management issues affecting Huawei’s 5G project are the failure to understand differences between 4G and 5G capabilities and the difficulty in identifying one measurement criterion to assess project outcomes. However, before explaining the scope and effects of these issues to the company’s quality management record, it is pertinent to understand differences between the existing 4G technology and the 5G technology developed by Huawei. The latter set of technologies have immense capabilities that would make data transfer faster because of its high bandwidth and expanded telecommunication capabilities. This statement means that there is an expanded scope of technological capabilities brought by 5G technology in the smartphone industry (Awwad, 2020).
The 4G technology heralded a period of intense transformation in the technology industry by making it possible to support complex data transfer functions (Kang et al., 2020). The success of international companies, such as Uber and Lyft, which have revolutionised the global transport industry, has been made possible by the use of 4G technologies. Sticking to this example, 5G technology has the ability to eliminate human intervention in these businesses and allow ride-sharing automobiles to navigate themselves (Kang et al., 2020). Therefore, it could lead to the elimination of human drivers in the transport industry. With such capabilities known in the industry and understood by most companies, there is a race to develop 5G capabilities in the smartphone industry because it is deemed the new centre of competition in the technological race (Wang, Zhou and Sha, 2017). More people also understand that 5G technologies will allow entrepreneurs to develop solutions in other industries and want to be leaders in providing advanced technology services. Therefore, unlike 4G, 5G technologies allow customers to enjoy more enriched experiences when using their smartphones because they will have an opportunity to convey their thoughts and feelings like never before. Therefore, the adoption of these technologies create immense value.
Understanding the differences between Huawei’s 5G capabilities and existing 4G capabilities offered by rivals is an important tenet of the project management plan because it is only by doing so that people can understand the true value of 5G technology and the importance of Huawei’s smartphone project (Akkermans et al., 2020). The company is setting itself up to be the main service provider in this segment of the market and customers need to recognise its value in this regard. However, the failure to understand differences between 4G and 5G capabilities undermines Huawei’s ability to convince its customers about the true value of its services because most of them would not be able to differentiate the two. This problem may lead to challenges in pricing goods and services developed on the 5G platform, thereby creating more problems when seeking financing to keep the 5G economic system functional.
The complexity of project quality management also emerged as another issue in the project because Huawei’s 5G plan is not only confined to the smartphone industry alone; it has adopted the same technology in the development of wireless internet technology and chip manufacturing segments of the technology market (Simons, 2020). Therefore, other sectors of the industry are also benefitting from the progress made in developing 5G technology. Huawei is not the only service provider in this regard because other competitors are also providing similar services. Nonetheless, both sets of players are interlinked with the smartphone industry because some of the components developed by Huawei using the 5G technology can still be used in smartphones.
Differences in legal frameworks across major markets also highlight the complexity of undertaking quality management tasks at Huawei because adhering to multiple quality specifications would yield to inconsistent results. This problem explains why Huawei has received different types of market reception after its launch of 5G technologies. Particularly, western countries are sceptical about its 5G technology and have only authorised its partial use in some sectors of the economy (Maizland and Chatzky, 2020). Comparatively, emerging economies, such as India and Indonesia, are ready to embrace new technologies and are poised to drive most of the company’s future revenue in 5G development (Maizland and Chatzky, 2020). Broadly, Huawei has leveraged its skills in the smartphone industry to overcome the complexity of the market, but more is required to improve its overall performance. So far, the Chinese company has interests in many sectors of the global economy and has partners across the world who have helped it to build its 5G technologies. Its project management tasks also carry equal weight and need be interpreted within the context of achieving the company’s shareholder objectives.
Yan (2019) says the growth and spread of 5G technologies will increase the scope and scale of business-to-customer (B2C) relationships by enhancing capabilities for providing high-definition video services. Business-to-business (B2B) relationships are also set to benefit from the same capabilities. For example, live broadcasting is easier done using 5G technologies as opposed to 4G technologies (Chen et al., 2017). Therefore, the latter group of technologies offer limited services to businesses, thereby making it difficult to differentiate their products in the market. Consequently, most service providers who use 4G technology offer the same user experience to their customers. However, 5G technologies allow companies to differentiate their services from the competition because they provide differentiated user experiences based on their expanded data volumes and bandwidths capabilities. Therefore, it is easier for businesses to monetise their 5G capabilities compared to past years when they relied on standardized 4G technologies. Therefore, the main difference between 4G and 5G technologies is that the latter group can offer faster speeds of data transfer because of their high bandwidth and lower latency times (Rahmatov et al., 2019).
The smartphone industry is not the first place where companies have fought over 5G technologies; the battle has usually been domiciled in other areas of 5G device development and use, such as eMBB and mobile broadband connection (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). For many operators, their adoption of 5G technology in the mobile phone industry is still at the infancy stage, with early trials reported in 2019 (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). This statement suggests that many types of 5G devices are used in the industry and not just smartphones. For example, mobile routers and customer-premises equipment (CPE) are some of the most popular devices using 5G technology. They have given consumers an opportunity to eliminate cable technology in place for virtual and artificial reality programs (Nightingale et al., 2016). In this regard, it is said that virtual reality technology will increase the capacity of businesses to exchange information 10-fold, thereby enhancing their capabilities to make new products for customers (Huawei Ltd, 2020c).
Broadly, the findings gathered from this research investigation suggest that project management is a complex process that should be carefully executed to avoid the potential pitfalls of employing project quality management tools that do not fit the organisational context. Although Huawei has adopted project quality management as an important aspect of its overall project performance record, the company has addressed its project management issues ethically, as proposed by Owusu et al. (2019). The researchers also suggest that project management plans should be devoid of corruption and unethical business practices because they undermine its effectiveness (Owusu et al., 2019). The main goal of Huawei’s 5G mobile device market is to build a thriving ecosystem based on the progress made in expanding the company’s capabilities through its ongoing research and development activities. The project has seen Huawei get approved to supply 5G technologies in more than 90 commercial contracts with other companies (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). In this regard, project quality management has been successfully adopted in the company.
As highlighted in the literature review section of this study, the conceptual framework for this study is based on three key areas of project quality implementation: quality planning, quality assurance and quality control. These three areas of evaluation outline the main areas of review for Huawei’s 5G Smartphone project, as outlined below.
Quality Planning: Planning requires project managers to understand the quality expected of them at the end of the project lifecycle. As explained in chapter two of this paper, this stage of the quality implementation process demands that project managers understand their customer’s requirements. Huawei’s 5G smartphone project demonstrates this goal because the entire project is designed to meet changing customer needs (Huawei Ltd, 2020d). For example, the company has chosen to invest heavily in 5G research and development more than any other aspect of its operational planning process because it believes that the future of the industry will be on 5G growth (Huawei Ltd, 2020d). Huawei chose to stick to this strategy because they understand the modern consumer better than its rivals do. For instance, they know that the modern consumer demands higher data transfer speeds, better user experiences, faster gaming speeds and enhanced communication capabilities – all of which are made possible through 5G technology (Jansen and Wan, 2020). Therefore, the company understands current consumer requirements that inform its project management process. In this regard, it has applied project quality management effectively by benchmarking the project’s progress on customer requirements.
In line with the above-mentioned goal, Huawei has invested in 5G technology for close a decade now. Within this period, significant progress has been made in improving the company’s quality standards, including promoting the standardization of global tests and the transition of programs from “test” to “application” phases. Since 2009, the company has made significant investments in 5G research and design that has earned it a position at the global policy table where standards are formulated (Davies, 2020). Since then, Huawei acts as a representative of technology companies in the policy arena. This is why the company enjoys the number one position in contributing to the formulation of global 5G standards (Huawei Ltd, 2020c).
Research shows that that the Chinese company enjoys 3GPP standard-certification for its quality management practices, which offer it up to eight categories of technological products development, which include uplink and downlink decoupling and polarization cues (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). It also enjoys a vast network of relationships from core networks and end-to-end relationships developed during research and development activities. These competencies have made it possible for Huawei to be the only company in the world to offer 5G end-to-end technological solutions (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). For example, it is one of the only companies in the industry to offer ASIC chip based small CPE and IPTV, which have one of the highest peak speeds in the industry at 3 GB/second (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). Huawei also boasts of one of the most elaborate business networks in the industry. This means that it has one of the best business incubation capabilities in the industry and one of the most elaborate 5G ecosystems in the technology sector. They integrate aspects of personal, industry and business performance to system functionality.
Quality Assurance: The quality assurance phase of project quality management refers to the presence of systems and procedures for making sure quality standards are always met. In the context of Huawei’s 5G smartphone project, quality assurance is an integrated safeguard to the company’s project planning system. Stated differently, its 5G project is designed to meet the highest quality assurance standards of any company in the industry. The project managers have ensured that the company excels in this field because it has developed some of the highest quality 5G capabilities in the industry. To affirm its market dominance, Maizland and Chatzky (2020) report that the tech giant has leveraged its capabilities to become the world’s top producer of 5G-enabled smartphones. Its 5G competencies have also enabled it to produce products with innovative technologies into the market. For example, its Mate Xs brand integrates some of the most advanced 5G software and hardware technologies in the industry (Huawei Ltd, 2020c). Other brands that have similar capabilities include the HUAWEI 5G CPE Pro 2 and HUAWEI AppGallery (Huawei Ltd, 2020d). Before their introduction to the market, the aforementioned products underwent a throughout quality control process that made sure they not only met the customers’ specifications but also the legal requirements of the target market. The company intends to pursue such quality management practices as techniques for developing long-term competencies (Huawei Ltd, 2020d).
According to the statement made by the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) below, Huawei intends to enhance its 5G ecosystem from the progress it has made thus far.
“Huawei is fully committed to the All-scenario Seamless AI Life strategy. We will continue investing into our edge technologies including chipsets, 5G communications, mobile AI, operating systems, cameras and audio-visual solutions to build out our long-term competitive advantages. We are also eager to work with developers globally to catalyze the growth of the all-scenario ecosystem” (Huawei Ltd, 2020d, p. 3).
Quality Control: According to the conceptual framework of this study, quality control is the last phase of the quality management plan. Being a Chinese company, Huawei has received support from the Chinese government to roll out its 5G technology using the company’s internally generated quality output standards. The dalliance between Huawei and the Chinese government in its 5G project has seen some governments question the capacity of the Chinese telecommunications giant to keep its customers’ data away from unauthorized use by government agencies (Ting-Fang and Li, 2020; Gyan and Ampomah, 2016). As this debate rages, Huawei continues to align its project quality control procedures with the specifications of the Chinese government. Its willingness to comply with its domestic quality control laws aligns with the company’s new focus on the domestic market front after the United States (US) and some of its western allies banned the use of Huawei’s 5G technology in their local markets (Bicheno, 2020). Therefore, the company’s quality control processes have been redesigned to appeal to the Chinese domestic market because it can sustain the company’s growth based on its sheer market size.
This aspect of management is integral to Huawei’s 5G smartphone project because it refers to the use of specific metrics to measure quality standards across every phase of the project lifecycle. Having secured the position of a market leader in the production of 5G smartphones and technologies, Huawei has bet on itself to be a future market leader in the provision of 5G technology (Huawei Ltd, 2020d). The company has also recognized that 5G will be a new platform of technological revolution that will allow it to secure a position as a formidable service provider in this sector. Based on this goal, quality control is an important consideration in the company’s 5G smartphone project. The firm understands that other mobile phone manufacturers may have to use its mobile phone’s quality standards as a benchmark for the their product development plans but it needs to adopt effective quality controls to improve current standards.
Conclusion, Limitations and Future Research
Most of the research articles mentioned in this study have focused on evaluating the methodologies for implementing project quality management as opposed to the practical experienced encountered by project managers in the field. As such, there has been a gap in knowledge advancement, which is to be filled by practical experiences reported by companies in the integration of project quality management strategies in their operational plans. This statement explains the basis for this case study because Huawei’s experiences in the use of project quality management is reviewed to identify key areas of strengths or weaknesses that could be exploited or improved to better outcomes. These areas of study are less prone to the use of quantitative assessments methods to investigate research phenomenon because there is an implied belief that the information to be generated from these discussions will be subjective. Consequently, there is a need for a wider adoption of methodologies for investigating the research phenomenon to come up with multiple perspectives regarding new and interesting phenomenon in the field of study.
Overall, this study has demonstrated that the literature on project quality management exists, but many researchers have focused on defining quality management dimensions without paying attention to the main issues affecting its implementation. The aim of this study was to identify these factors in project quality management using Huawei’s 5G mobile devices project as a case study. The analysis involved a review of the limitations associated with applying quality management techniques in the project management plan. Most of the literature gathered in the assessment highlighted key tenets of project quality management and their application in a practical project, such as the Huawei case. This statement means that the insights presented in this document have been developed from a broad review of research studies published in the last five years. Nonetheless, the growing interest of researchers in the fields of human and organizational interactions mean that future research will transition into exploring new areas of project quality management, which have been previously ignored. For example, it would be easier for project managers to engage in translational research whereby they will be transforming data and using it in real-time (Müller, 2015).
The insights provided in this document have highlighted the challenges associated with adopting project quality management in practical projects, such as the Huawei 5G smartphone venture. An important aspect of this investigation that emerged in the literature review but poorly explored by many researchers has been the lack of proper education about the implementation of quality management. Law (2019), Unterhitzenberger and Bryde (2019) have also mentioned the same issue in project management and advanced it as a core tenet of project success. In the context of this study, the lack of proper training is relevant to how people in the technology industry are embracing and adopting change. To this end, it is essential for project managers to educate workers about such developments and create a nurturing environment where they can practice what they have learned in everyday practice. However, for this to happen, people need to be educated about the new technology and its benefits to them. Furthermore, project team members need to be aware of their role in the project management plan. All these suggestions have to be communicated to the appropriate team members through effective training programs. In other words, they need to be sensitized about the procedures to be followed when applying project quality management tools in a practical project. This way, there would be few clashes of opinion and low levels of opposition from employees regarding the adoption of project quality management, as they would clearly see the value of quality management and integrate it into their practices.
Based on the information technology focus of this study, it can be deduced that the insights provided in this document may be applicable to companies that operate in the ICT field or that are contemplating participating in a project using 5G technology to develop the next generation of smartphones. The findings of this paper may also be relevant only in the advancement of theory relating to the management of projects and portfolios. Another limitation of this study is the descriptive nature of the data sources. Since most of the publications analyzed in this paper were secondary sources, they failed to provide a contextual understanding of quality management techniques that were relevant to the ICT field. Therefore, they provided little insight into the mobile phone 5G development. Nonetheless, the insights highlighted in this document are useful to policymakers and project managers alike because they highlight potential areas of conflict when implementing project management tools and ways to address them.
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