David Wastell, who was Senior Lecturer in information systems at University of Manchester, points out that information systems development (ISD) projects are learning endeavors, a movement from one state to another. This learning therefore creates organizational anxiety.
He says that models and other IT project deliverables can function as emotional transitional space, using the Tavistock use of the term. ISD projects therefore benefit from transitional objects, things that help the people involved feel safer.
Wastell provides threee case studies where the use of transitonal objects assisted in producing better project results.
[T]he primary role of “project leaders” should be the creation and maintenance of a supportive learning environment and the populating of this “space” with appropriate transitional objects….. Throughout the life of a project, leaders must be vigilant for symptoms of defensiveness and ready to deploy appropriate countermeasures…. Redefining the project leader’s role as the custodian of “a learning zone” is not to dismiss the conventional role of planning and control, but to argue that learning is at least as important. [from section “Implications for Practice”]
There are some interesting points that shake out when this is considered from an RO perspective.
The need to interact with others, to understand their viewpoints and problems, is critical for ISD to be effective. But this brings many risks: of ‘cognitive overload,’ of being judged inadequate, of encountering resistance.
The overload comes from the fact that the work is being rethought. Reengineering a position takes one Stratum more than doing the position would take. Thus, we are aksing people to participate in the project by rethinking their own jobs, asking them to work at one Stratum above their capability. Some people can do it, but that’s because companies are full of people working below their capacity, especially in Information Systems.
This point is even more interesting when considered with the research by Ford and Sterman on the 90% Problem (where the last 10% of a project takes 50% of the time). They consider thinking time frames to be one of the leading contributors to project overruns.
- Wastell, David G. (1999). “Learning dysfunctions in information systems development: Overcoming the social defenses with transitional objects.” MIS Quarterly, 23(4):581-600 [Dec 99].
- Ford, D. N., & Sterman, J. D. (2003). Overcoming the 90% syndrome: Iteration management in concurrent development projects. Concurrent Engineering, 11(3):177-186.
- Ford, D. N., & Sterman, J. D. (2003). The Liar’s Club: concealing rework in concurrent development. Concurrent Engineering, 11(3):211-219.
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