In this paper we address how to do reliable systems design in small complex organizations - small in the sense that the design project we use as an example has approximately 50 employees, and complex in the sense that the employees had very different roles and relationships. We use the term design in the same way as architects do - focusing on the analysis of needs and the preliminary design of functionality and form - in contrast to what is common within computer science, where the design term is borrowed from engineering - focusing on construction and implemen-tation.
Current approaches used in industry and published in literature (e.g. SA, SD, OOA, and OOD) tend to ignore design as being a political endeavour also. Also they tend to neglect the potentials in participatory design, and/or they tend to homogenize users not being sensitive towards individual needs.
Our approach is more in line with ongoing research within Participatory Design, in that we see results of a design project to include a con-ceptual design in terms of a written document, sketches, mock ups and/or prototypes. We consider an evaluation of individual and organizational consequences of implementing the design as well as a plan for the implementation to be part of the result.
Ethnographic approaches to systems design has proved valuable,
especially within highly specialized product development and research
oriented design settings, reports on concrete consequences on
a spe-cific design due to such an approach seem scarce.
We reflect upon an action research project carried out over a period of 1 1/2 years in a public organization in Northern Europe. We were called upon to conduct what ended up as 3 design projects. Having a design approach inspired by ethnography and intervention, we did in-depth analysis of current work practices, carried out unstructured interviews, observation, video recording, document analysis, and the like. We set up participatory analysis and design workshops. The organization is currently implementing our visions and design proposals.
We are presenting the setting we have worked in, the establishment of the project, the activities we carried out in one of the design projects, and some conse-quences our approach had on the final design. All three design projects are documented in Simonsen, (1994). We conclude by discussing some of the orga-nizational and technical effects the approach had on our design, as well as political dilemmas we got involved in.
The setting presented here represents the application area of
the design approach we are developing: com-puter support for complex
administrative, manage-rial, and professional work. The management's
at-titude is probably important for the relations we seek to establish
with the individuals and the organization. Management should state
that the purpose of the design project is supporting the existing
workforce in meeting current and new challenges rather than headcount