Professionalism, codes of conduct and ethics
The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries define professionalism as “the high standard that you expect from a person who is well trained in a particular job” (2020). In addition to having strong skills and competence in your chosen field, a professional individual will exhibit certain qualities, behaviours, and a certain manner when conducting business affairs (Mason 2016). Examples of these characteristics include competency, accountability, reliability, and maintaining a professional demeanour and appearance (Mason 2016).
As an individual working in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), I also have to exhibit the specific characteristics of an ICT professional. Weckert and Lucas (2013) discuss professionalism in relation to what the Australian Computer Society (ACS) deems eligible for its professional level membership. The ACS believes an ICT professional should possess the following knowledge, skills, and capabilities:
- Factual and theoretical knowledge of ICT in broad contexts.
- Advanced, coherent body of knowledge in a discipline/field involving critical understanding of theories and principles.
- Advanced skills, demonstrating mastery and innovation required to solve complex and unpredictable problems in a discipline/field of ICT.
- Exercise management and supervision [skills] in contexts of work activities where there is unpredictable change.
- [Competent to] Take responsibility for complex technical and professional activities or projects.
- [Competent to] Review and develop performance of self and others.
(Weckert and Lucas 2013)
In this context, the descriptors the ACS uses to define levels of membership can be stated as:
- Knowledge: facts, information and skills acquired through experience and education.
- Skills: the ability to perform a task.
- Capability: a standard necessary to perform a specific job.
(Weckert and Lucas 2013)
In addition to the specific profession of information and communication technology, I also work within the Australian Public Service (APS) for the Australian Government Department of Health. Therefore, I must also perform to the high standard expected for APS professionals. In relation to my specific department and role, this would include having knowledge of ICT practices and projects in the context of health, while also possessing the skills and capabilities outlined in the ACS descriptors of ICT professionalism (Weckert and Lucas 2013).
Ethics can be defined as the systems of accepted beliefs that control individual behaviour, especially systems based on morals (Cambridge Dictionary 2020). Relative to my role within the APS, the idea of ethics is discussed in the APS values, specifically “the APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does” (Australian Public Service Commission 2018). The APS values also require that professionals are impartial, committed to service, accountable and respectful. I personally believe that these values also contribute to the general practice of ethics in the APS, as these values all control the individual behaviour of APS employees, coinciding with the Cambridge Dictionary (2020) definition.
A code of conduct is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary (2020) as an agreement on rules of behaviour for the members of a group or organisation. A code of conduct relevant to my profession is the APS Code of Conduct, which is set out in section 13 of the Public Service Act 1999 (Australian Public Service Commission 2013). The APS Code of Conduct features multiple descriptive points outlining what an APS employee must do, for example, “behave honestly and with integrity in connection with APS employment” (Australian Public Service Commission 2013).
The Australian Department of Health also has its own ethics framework for professional employees, known as the ‘Behaviours in Action’. The values set out in the Public Service Act 1999 are grounded in the Health Behaviours in Action, known as ICARE (impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful, ethical) (Australian Department of Health 2016).
As an ICT professional in the APS, these frameworks, systems and principles provide me with the underlying knowledge and understanding of professionalism, ethics, and codes of conduct relating to my career.
An example of a case study that relates to this topic is Case No. 27:  from the ACS Code of Professional Conduct Case Studies (2014): “Nirmal is the IT manager in a government department with more than 500 staff members and six branches across Australia. His department has decided to acquire an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. An RFT for the procurement of the software was advertised in a number of Australian newspapers. Two local companies responded to the advertisement and sent their offers to the department. When Nirmal opened the envelopes and examined the offers he found that company A’s offer is slightly better than company B’s offer. To his surprise, company B’s offer was made by his best friend Devraj, who is the general manager of company B. Company A’s software appeared to be easier to use and easier to modify compared to company B’s software. Although the initial cost of company B’ software appeared to be less than that of company’s A, the former may require some ‘tools-consultants’ to modify it and some ‘business-consultants’ to assist in running it, which might eventually raise the total cost. To complicate matters more, Nirmal received a phone call from Devraj, who urged him to favour his offer, as he is quite desperate to get this deal. He also reminded him that the ‘tools and business consultants’ who might be needed in the project will be recruited from his home country which means more jobs for his countrymen and in turn more money sent home. Nirmal is indeed in a difficult position” (Australian Computer Society 2014).
This case study directly connects to the ACS Code of Professional Conduct in multiple instances. Nirmal hasn’t yet decided on which company he is going to go with; selecting company B would conflict with many of the points outlined in my presented theory on ethics, professionalism, and codes of conduct. For example, if Nirmal chose Company B because Devraj desperately urged him, this would conflict with point C of section 1.2.3: Honesty of the ACS Code of Professional Conduct: “distinguish between your professional and personal opinions and advice” (Australian Computer Society 2014), as this desperation by Devraj may be seen as personal advice due to being best friends with Nirmal. Another conflict of this decision would be with point A of section 1.2.4: Competence of the Code of Professional Conduct: “endeavour to provide products and services which match the operational and financial needs of your stakeholders” (Australian Computer Society 2014), as selecting Company B over Company A wouldn’t best suit the operational and financial needs of the government department in my opinion. Nirmal understands that Company A has a slightly better offer with an easier software, lower cost, and requires less staff in comparison to Company B. If Nirmal still selected Company B under the influence of his friend Devraj, he would knowingly be putting his personal agenda ahead of the best interests of his government department.
As an ICT professional, Devraj is also acting against the ACS Code of Professional Conduct in this case. Specifically, Devraj is conflicting with point B of section 1.2.3: Honesty of the ACS Code of Professional Conduct: “not knowingly mislead a client or potential client as to the suitability of a product or service” (Australian Computer Society 2014). As an ICT professional, Devraj should have advanced knowledge and capability to recognise that Company B isn’t suitable for Nirman’s government department due to having more complicated software and additional costs. Devraj urging Nirman to choose his company would be a dishonest practice as I believe Devraj’s interests also lie with providing “more jobs for his countrymen” (Australian Computer Society 2014).
I believe that the theory I have discussed related to professionalism, ethics, and codes of conduct directly connects to this case study. The APS Code of Conduct and the ACS Code of Professional Conduct both provide coverage for all the key points within this case study and would be satisfactory policies for dealing with the issues. For example, the specific points and sections of the ACS Code of Professional Conduct (2014) mentioned above, and the APS Values (impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful, ethical) (Australian Public Service Commission 2018). If I knew which government department Nirman was working for, I could also determine whether the policies and principles specific to his agency would also be appropriate for dealing with the issues.’
I would recommend Nirman discuss this case with his government department (team members, other managers) to set a precedent on dealing with similar situations in the future. Depending on whether the government department already has a code of conduct or similar policies, this case and Nirman’s observations could also be used to influence changes and/or the development of policy for the agency in relation to professionalism.
A project can be defined as a temporary piece of work that has a set beginning and end, which allows a defined scope and dedicated resources. A project is also a unique process designed to accomplish a specific goal and often not a routine operation, and a project team may include multidisciplinary individuals who don’t usually work together (Project Management Institute 2020). Therefore, project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements” (Project Management Institute 2020).
When discussing projects specific to the field of information and communication technology, there are many different types of project management methodologies for organisations and teams to deploy. Agile is a popular project management methodology associated with projects that are iterative and incremental, where the project requirements and solutions “evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customers” (Muslihat 2018). As a methodology, Agile has many additional frameworks within itself, such as Scrum. Muslihat (2018) describes the goal of Scrum as being able to “develop, deliver, and sustain complex products through collaboration, accountability, and iterative progress”. The key distinguishable between Scrum and other Agile frameworks is the use of certain roles (such as a product owner and Scrum master), events (such as a sprint, a daily stand-up, and a sprint plan/review) and artefacts (such as a sprint backlog where a project team will list tasks and requirements for the following sprint) (Muslihat 2018).
Agile methodologies are often viewed as replacements for more traditional project management methodologies such as Waterfall, which has a linear, sequential approach. Waterfall has emphasis on the idea of only being able to work on the next task once the current one is completed and can lack the flexibility of enacting changes to requirements and implementing customer feedback during development (Muslihat 2018).
In my current role as an Information Technology Graduate at the Australian Government Department of Health, I work in a project team focusing on the development, transformation and maintenance of the websites for Health and its portfolio agencies. Our project team operates using a combined methodology of Scrum/Waterfall. I am able to identify this by using the theory on project management by Muslihat (2018). For example, our Scrum element includes having a Scrum Master and Product Owner in our team, and focusing on implementing feedback during the development stage from the various business areas we complete work for. We also operate around fortnightly sprints and have sprint planning sessions for these, while also meeting each day for a stand-up to provide updates. Our project team also utilises a Kanban board in the form of a Trello board where our tasks and requirements are listed in the sprint backlog. The Waterfall element of our project team is based around the lack of flexibility when it comes to the budget and time frames for the work associated with the project.
In relation to the specific policies, frameworks, and methodologies that the Department of Health uses to manage projects, I had a face-to-face conversation with the Project Manager from my project team. The Department of Health is “PRINCE2 endorsed with a view to Agile” (Health Project Manager 2020), with PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) being the process-based method for effective project management (PRINCE2.com 2020). The perception of Waterfall in Health is that it takes too long (with some Waterfall projects lasting 5+ years) but could work for the department if overall lead times were shorter. The momentum towards Agile for Health is the minimised documentation and progressive sprint system for incremental work, however, government limitations such as requiring many layers of approval for decision making often lead to an Agile/Waterfall hybrid for Health projects. Another reason this hybrid tends to happen with the APS, in general, is that government departments will often define the budget for a project before the actual scope, whereas many companies in the private sector will set a budget after the project scope has been determined (Health Project Manager 2020).
An example of project management in action within my team is the reactionary changes to our project scope in response to COVID-19. Prior to March 2019, our project team focused on transformation efforts for the Heath website and the websites of Health portfolio agencies. These efforts included website builds and maintenance, content publishing, and other ad hoc tasks related to a website such as reporting. When COVID-19 became a priority for the department, our project team also had to shift priorities to the pandemic and as such, our tasks became focused on COVID-19 sections of health.gov.au. This coincides with the theory I presented on Agile project methodologies, as our overall project scope has evolved to accommodate new requirements. However, the project team is still following the Agile/Waterfall hybrid methodology as many of our tasks relating to COVID-19 are sequential as they require things decisions from higher-up decision makers which can take a long amount of time.
A recommendation I would make based on this observation would be for my project team, the Department of Health, and for Government in general. I propose that agencies look at how they ceased business as usual (BAU) work in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what changes were made to the scope of work, budget, resources, etc. I believe that this scenario could be used to formulate a plan of action for future instances where project teams and government agencies need to accommodate new task requirements in response to an unprecedented circumstance. A plan of action would be beneficial so that employees can work on their new tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible, as, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams/departments were able to overcome challenges quicker than others, and a plan of action may make this process more consistent across everyone involved.
‘Code of conduct’ 2020, in Collins English Dictionary, viewed 10 April, <https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/code-of-conduct>.
‘Ethic’ 2020, in Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, viewed 10 April, <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/ethic>.
‘Professionalism’ 2020, in Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, viewed 10 April, <https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/professionalism>.
Australian Computer Society 2014, ‘ACS Code of Professional Conduct Case Studies’, March, viewed 10 April 2020.
Australian Public Service Commission 2018, ‘APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice’, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.apsc.gov.au/aps-values-and-code-conduct-practice>.
Australian Public Service Commission 2018, ‘APS Values’, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.apsc.gov.au/aps-values-1>.
Australian Public Service Commission 2018, ‘Code of Conduct’, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.apsc.gov.au/code-conduct>.
Health Project Manager 2020, personal communication, 13 March.
Mason, G 2016, ‘The 10 Characteristics of Professionalism’, Linkedin, 16 September, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-characteristics-professionalism-greg/>.
Muslihat, D 2018, ‘7 Popular Project Management Methodologies And What They’re Best Suited For’, Zenkit, March 9, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://zenkit.com/en/blog/7-popular-project-management-methodologies-and-what-theyre-best-suited-for/>.
PRINCE2.com 2020, ‘What is PRINCE2?’, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.prince2.com/aus/what-is-prince2>.
Project Management Institute 2020, ‘What is Project Management?’, viewed 10 April 2020, <https://www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management>.
Weckert, J & Lucas, R 2013, Professionalism in the Information and Communication Technology Industry, ANU E Press, Canberra.