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The work system method is a broadly applicable set of ideas that use the concept of “work system” as the focal point for understanding, analyzing, and improving systems in organizations, whether or not IT is involved. The premises underlying this method may be controversial in the IS community because they imply that the traditional jargon and concerns of IS practitioners and researchers address only part of the issues that should be covered and may discourage focusing on other core issues related to successful projects and systems.

The work system method includes both a static view of a current (or proposed) system in operation and a dynamic view of how a system evolves over time through planned change and unplanned adaptations. The static view is based on the “work system framework,” which identifies the basic elements for understanding and evaluating a work system. This framework is prescriptive enough to be useful in describing the system being studied, identifying problems and opportunities, describing possible changes, and tracing the likely impacts as those changes propagate to other parts of the system. The dynamic view is based on the “work system life cycle model,” which shows how a work system may evolve through multiple iterations of four phases. The static and dynamic views are used together in a principle-based systems analysis method that treats the information system as part of the work system until a final step when it distinguishes between work system changes that do and do not involve the information system.


Originally published in Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 8(21), pp. 314-329, 2002.


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