In the enormously popular book, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”, Dr. Gray identifies innate differences between men and women in terms of the ways of thinking, feeling, and responding. He suggests that we should understand the communication styles and emotional needs of the opposite gender to improve relationships. In the information system development (ISD)world, we face similar, or even tougher, challenges in our project teams. There is no lack of stories about the resistance to new work practices and conflict between IS team members. Often these conflicts result from fundamental differences in the way that information systems (IS) professionals view ISD. Without an appropriate understanding of such differences, people are apt to propose ISD work practices and make decisions that are technically, politically, or otherwise unacceptable to other people, thereby reducing synergistic potential of diverse expertise and creating confusion and conflict. Despite the importance of solving the problems that arising from our differences, little is known about differences among IS professionals. In this research, we seek to develop a way to assess IS professionals’ beliefs and preferences of ISD concepts and reveal deeper insights about how to manage products, processes, and personnel. As Dr. Gray says, recognizing and appreciating differences between each other is essential to maintaining a happy and healthy relationship. We hope that by understanding the mosaic mind of IS professionals, teams will be more effective since project participants will be more cognizant of individual differences, begin conversations on common ground, and find ways of addressing discrepancies.
Currently two major approaches inform ISD – the Process school (e.g., Waterfall, CMMI, PMBOK) and the People school (e.g., Agile). Does the dichotomy accurately demonstrate differences among IS professionals? On the surface, IS professionals who value innovation, collaboration, and human are likely to embrace the People school while IS professionals who value stability, control, and outcome are likely to stick in the Process school. However, when looking at specific work practices, we can observe multiple, potentially conflicting, values within each school. For example, Agile work practices, such as pair programming and collective ownership of the system code, demand trust, commitment, and collaboration so that team members are willing to indicate and correct each other’s code without worrying about offending others. However, Agile work practices, such as daily stand-up meetings and code inspection at the end of each 30-day Sprint, highlight the importance of identifying any deficiencies or impediments in the development process via frequent management activities. These work practices are more aligned with the Process school. There is no shortage of examples of conflicting values within either school (or its accompanying methodologies) or compatible values between either school (e.g., think about similarities between CMMI and Agile). The message here is that viewing ISD as a simple dichotomy among schools (or methodologies) is insufficient for depicting individual differences and identifying where conflict arises.
As an alternative, we suggest to look at specific ISD concepts and work practices because they more accurately reflect past experience from training, working with people, and project implementation. There are different values and goals embedded in concepts and work practices. People selectively embrace work practices that fit their values and goals. For example, iterative and incremental development assumes changes in requirements, the practice requires IS professionals to learn and adapt to changes. Therefore, it fits people with an “innovation” value. Regular inspection and review of deliverables, such as walkthroughs and inspections of design and code, require the “stability” and “attention to details” values. To examine how IS professionals view, value, and categorize concepts and work practices, we plan to develop an assessment procedure drawing on a mental model perspective (see below for a sample mental model). The mental model perspective has been developed over several decades in cognitive psychology and has received strong theoretical and empirical support. We think the mental model perspective can help us understand the origins of difficulties and conflicts around the development of IS. We believe the findings of the research will enable diverse expertise to be integrated more effectively and efficiently and help to resolve much of frustration in IS project teams.
In order to conduct this research, we seek the participation of IS professionals like yourself who are interested in enhancing ISD effectiveness. In order to gain deep insights into major concepts and work practices used in IS community and how they interrelate each other, we are looking for experienced IS professionals with expertise in ISD project management, system analysis, system design, programming, or testing. Volunteers will participate in an interesting mind mapping exercise. Volunteers will receive a summarized report regarding dominant concepts and work practices used in the IS community and how concepts and work practice fit (misfit) with each other based on underlying principles and values. As well, there is a small token of appreciation for volunteering your time. To further examine how the interplay between different mindsets in a team affects ISD effectiveness, we are also looking for ISD project teams to conduct case studies. Participating teams will receive a summarized report regarding how high-performance teams’ mental maps look like and how to integrate disparate mindsets in a team.
For more information or to volunteer for this study, please contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your consideration.
PhD Candidate, Management Information Systems
Queen's School of Business, Queen's University