Monday, July 14, 2008

Fighting IT failure with ethnographic research [podcast]

Podcasts on ethnographic solutions to IT failures ...

"Many IT failures are ultimately rooted in negative organizational culture and related political dynamics. For example, failures can arise when critical information is not shared across internal corporate boundaries (or even among members of a single team).

Solving these problems can be difficult because cultural issues are hard to measure and transform. Ethnographic research methods offer a way to gain deeper insight into organizational dynamics that contribute to failed IT projects.

To learn about ethnographic research and its ability to help explain why IT projects fail, I spoke with Dr. Natalie Hanson, a corporate anthropologist and ethnographer employed by SAP. Natalie manages a team of 30 people in the company’s global Business Operations group.

On ethnographic methods:

"Ethnographic methods are a form of shadowing, or what an anthropologist might call participant observation, which is to embed oneself in an experience with a set of users to better understand that experience."

On the relationship with quantitative research:

"Ethnographic methods complement more quantitative methods by telling us more about what’s not being said….You start to see and understand things that you might not understand otherwise.

[This] longitudinal aspect of ethnographic methods makes it quite interesting and provides rich feedback, but also makes it challenging to bring into the business setting. If not handled properly ethnographic research can be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to analyze."

On IT failures from an ethnographic perspective:

"To me, it’s actually much more than just the system side. We say there’s a technical aspect to it, so something going on in the system that might need to be addressed; there’s a business aspect; and then there’s the user, or people, aspect, what we might call user experience."    (Continued via putting people first, ZDNet.com, Michael Krigsman)    [Usability Resources]

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