Work System Theory

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Research the theory

Who are the progenitors of the theory? Find the seminal publications. (Try to find references in addition to those listed on the Wiki.)

The term “Work System” was first put forward in two serial journal articles, “MIS Problems and Failures: A Socio-Technical Perspective” (Bostrom, R.P. and J.S. Heinen, 1977). From year 1999 to 2006, Steve Alter published his propositions that developed and completed the current Work Systems Theory, which defined the Work System Framework, the Work System Life Cycle Model, and the Work System Method.

In what discipline(s) is the theory developed / used?

The Work Systems Theory evolved from the effort of many case studies to understand the relationships between information system and business processe. While encountering difficulty in explaining some phenomenons of system failure, especially in information system area, with other systematical theories, such as the General System Theory, the Soft System Theory, or even the Software Development Life Cycle Model, Steve Alter proposed the Work Systems Theory, which emphasizes the ingrtion of emcompassing factors of a given business process.

The Work Systems Theory is basically an output of observation, analysis, and generalization of case studies. It’s a summarization based on the business models what either are being used or had been used.

In turn, this theory, by consummating itself, will be useful for understanding and analyzing the business processes currently distributed in the ongoing commercial environemnt. It is not capable to create or project a future business model or work system pattern that never has existed.

What are the criticisms (strengths and weaknesses of the theory)? Has the theory changed (perhaps in response to criticism?)

There is no published article discussing the strengths or weaknesses of the theory yet as the thwory is fairly new (the current model was finalized in 2006). The Work Systems Theory, in my perspective, appropriately describes “functionality unit” of small scale in business environment. A functional unit (like a project, or a specialized team using information system) is an integration of both tangibleness and intagibleness associated with the functionality. The Work System Framework outlines the tangibleness and intagibleness as nine elements as well as illustrates the relationships between them (Figure 1 below). With the consideration of all encompassing elements of the core business process and activity, it explains the importance of each element and the balance between those elements convincingly. Especially, the theory has been well established for understanding the information system (IS) and business process that IS interacting with.

The Work Systems Theory, in my point of view again, is not suitable for understanding or analyzing a “super macro level” system. Though the theory claims an orgnization can be viewed as a big work system, I don’t think the big work system, which contains many sub-work systems, can be effectively intepreted.

Steve Alter published a serial of journal articles to revise and improve the theory. The theory has not changed fundamentally since it was initialized in year 1999 in spite of some amendments in the Work Systems Framework and Work System Life Cycle Model.

Are there empirical tests of the theory? What do the tests find?

A few researchers applied the Work Systems Theory to understand and analyze an information system (IS) serving or being served by a business activity. Those researches spread on the overall IS performance, the interaction between IS components, and / or the IS success rate.

So far, all articles have acknowledged that the Work Systems Theory explains the relationship between IS and Business Process pretty well, since almost all the researches applying the Work System s Theory are relating to information system.

Apply the theory

Identify a relevant situation in your...
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