Ethnographic study of collaborative knowledge work

IBM Software Group, One Rogers Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
Ibm Systems Journal (Impact Factor: 1.79). 02/2006; DOI: 10.1147/sj.454.0759
Source: IEEE Xplore


We present an ethnographic study in which we examine the ways collaborative knowledge work gets done in a process-oriented environment. The purpose of the study is to identify the kinds of support that knowledge workers could benefit from and to make recommendations for tools that might provide such support. The participants in this study, knowledge workers in various business domains, work in a collaborative environment; their skills are in their areas of expertise rather than computer science and programming. The data we collected are based on field interviews, on observation sessions, and on validation sessions using prototypes. We analyzed the field data using selected principles from grounded theory, and the results of each cycle were used to guide the research in subsequent cycles. In our findings we describe how knowledge workers develop their own strategies and techniques for getting their work done in complex, dynamic environments in which prescribed work processes serve only as reference models. By presenting instances of such environments from our study data, we illustrate how such individualized work processes are created and demonstrate the need for new supporting technologies and tools.

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    • "Moreover, the prevalence of collaboration in complex, dynamic environments makes obsolete the traditional top-down approach to process design. Kogan and Muller (2006) and Hill et al. (2006) indeed report the widespread use of ad hoc collaboration and personal information management tools, while prescribed work processes serve "
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    • "Results of those studies show that actual work is more situational and contingent than can be accommodated by fixed models [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] and that knowledge workers have their own modus operandi for doing their work [20]. Supporting customization is important to enable knowledge workers to develop their own strategies for working in complex and dynamic environments [20] [26]. Since software architects are also knowledge workers, we assert that the above findings apply to them as well. "
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    • "Accordingly, the organization will hold the knowledge worker responsible of the self assigned tasks and empower him or her fully to achieve them. Based on a multistage ethnographic study, Kogan and Muller (2006) "
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