Based in Denver, CO, Agile Ideation collects the thoughts and experiences of Ed Schaefer. His posts explore agile and devops related topics as he works to maximize team effectiveness and minimize waste through continuous learning, coaching and empowering teams.

Business Systems and the Work System Method

Today is something a little different. I'm going to discuss some of the pros and cons of analyzing a business organization’s IT infrastructure using the Work System Method as outlined by Steve Alter (found here, pdf warning).


Steven Alter's perspective on the work system method is a unique way to examing a business or organization, though I feel the pros are outweighed by the cons.

I do think all organizations should at least experiment with the model. IT and IS typically interprets data differently then management and using this model may help an organization to recognize problems in the work system early and find a resolution before it impacts the business.

That being said, I'm not sure who exactly this article is directed towards. Initially it seems like he is making a case for why business organizations should use the work system method, but then pokes holes in the method by illustrating that certain work systems need to react in ways that the work system model is not designed for. The article may be directed at IT and IS professionals who 'don't get' how a business works and he's trying to use a familiar model to explain an unfamiliar concept, and the fact he continually downplays technology this may also make sense, but from that perspective the content feels condescending.

I like the idea of using the model as a planning tool - determining what the work systems will be and how they interact and influence one another - could be very useful, but any large business is going to have various work systems that may or may not interact, have different employees and cultures, different attitudes, relationships and understanding. This type of model may not be able to account for those differences or react quickly enough to unanticipated changes.

A final con - the model seems less like something to follow, an outline, and more like a generalization of every business ever. All departments in every industry interact without realizing it. All departments have unanticipated problems that impact other areas, have different culture, training, objectives and purposes. There are always sunk costs, fixed costs, slow decision making processes. Corporations are like cruise ships - it's possible to turn the boat but it's slow and takes a long time. This is nothing new and applying a work system method will not change anything. I think the model is excellent for planning and as an analysis tool, but it seems impractical to try to organize and run a business using the model.



-I'm planning to update this later with a little more background and clean up the analysis a bit.

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