This blog discusses how we design information system solutions for real-world problems.
The focus of IS design has moved “upstream” of the waterfall model, from technical design to the co-design of business-processes and IT systems. This focus requires an improvisational design approach. IT-related organizational innovation deals with wicked problems. Wicked problems tend to span functional and organizational boundaries as business process and information management problems are intertwined. There are clusters of interrelated problems: these cannot be defined objectively because the problem is defined differently, depending on who you ask. IS designers cannot analyze this type of problem in isolation – we need to involve diverse groups of stakeholders in negotiating suitable problem definitions and boundaries for change. But wicked problems also involve distributed knowledge, where understanding of the problems is stretched across (rather than shared between) stakeholders. So design goals evolve, as designers and stakeholders learn more about the context and the problems facing the organization by engaging in incremental change. This is often approached by means of agile design methods. But our lack of understanding about how to establish a “common language” for this type of design means that information system innovation tends to be pretty hit-and-miss. Most design initiatives spend more time arguing about process definitions than achieving change.
We need a new approach that focuses on the co-design of business (process) and IT systems: a collaborative process that involves problem stakeholders as collaborators in analyzing change. This is the basis of improvisational design.