This approach for changing the workplace relates to socio-technical systems methods used for many decades (e.g., see Hirschorn 1984, Ehn 1988, Zuboff 1987, Clancey in press). However, today's redesign teams emphasize worker involvement, multidisciplinary collaboration, and the use of computer tools for visualizing work flow and measuring or comparing alternative processes (Kukla, et al. 1992). Furthermore, today's redesign efforts bring together cognitive psychologists and social scientists, making each redesign process itself a research project in integrating alternative theories of knowledge, learning, and organizational change (Brown 1991, Kling 1991, Scientific American 1993).
Work system design occurs today in a complex organizational and business
Competing values, power structures, and change methodologies influence a redesign project:
Our approach is to combine knowledge-based representation techniques, situated action theories of human cognition (Winograd and Flores 1986, Suchman 1987, Lave 1988, Gasser 1991), and ethnography to critique existing models, understand our past redesign efforts, and develop new tools and methods. To illustrate how this combination of perspectives provides a starting point for resolving some of the contextual issues raised above, we present a strawman example of how work systems design might otherwise be carried out.
A team of technologists and system analysts proposes an integrated computer system, called the "Job Multiplexer" (Figure 1). This artificial intelligence system will dynamically transform a customer order into a work plan. The goal of this project is to drive people out of the system and hence cut costs. The job multiplexer will automatically transmit messages between the diverse databases and scheduling programs. The information systems will validate and complete orders, confirm resource availability, order supplies, and schedule tasks. Individual workers will receive on their workstations an ordered queue of tasks to do. These tasks involve getting information from outside the system (e.g., contacting the customer, confirming credit worthiness) and assembling the actual work product (e.g., telephone circuits). As new jobs enter the system from customers, the job multiplexer dynamically reassigns tasks to workers to satisfy the company's objectives of timeliness and resource priorities for different customers. In so far as different workers are trained to accomplish different tasks, the job multiplexer will dynamically reconfigure the office. Workers sitting at their terminals will constitute new organizations, integrated and focused in new ways, under control of the job multiplexer, without any management intervention or communication between workers.
Dynamic reconfiguration of people, technology, and facilities will maximize efficiency. This design allows for real-time and seamless flow of information throughout the business. Tedious and error-prone human copying of information is eliminated. The overall system is easily modified and updated. Formal proofs of correctness demonstrate that the scheduling algorithm is correct.
Without certain assumptions about the nature of people and work, the
system analysts and technologists would of course not have conceived of
This strawman example of the use of computer systems technology is of course not imaginary. We all recognize this view of how technology should be applied in business (Zuboff 1987, Scribner and Sachs 1991). When computer systems people work alone, it may be even inconceivable that there are alternative views. The discussion within the AI community about situated cognition is just one manifestation of the paradigm shifts underway (Clancey 1989, 1991 a,b, 1992 a, b, 1993, in press).
At the workshop, we will discuss our experience in work systems design and how a team of social, cognitive, and computer scientists collaborate to develop new modeling tools integrated with ethnography of the work place and worker management of the redesign process.
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