work practice

Using Your Feet: Subverting the Structure of Meetings to Help Teams Go Further Faster

TOM ROWLEY Stripe Partners PechaKucha Presentation—Meetings are a central part of how we work as commercial ethnographers. We meet with our clients to plan our projects and share our findings. We meet with our informants to explore and understand their worlds. However the cultures and practices that inform meeting behaviour can be antithetical to our goals as researchers through their reinforcement of pre-set patterns of thinking and being. In this presentation I explore how we can challenge the affordances imposed by meeting culture. I draw on my experiences founding a global volunteer network and reframing meeting contexts for corporate clients to challenge conventions and identify fresh opportunities for ethnographic praxis. Tom Rowley is a partner at Stripe Partners, a global strategy and innovation consultancy based in London. He co-founded www.goodfornothing.com a global volunteer network that brings together designers, developers, strategists and researchers to volunteer their skills for positive social causes. 2017...

In Praise of Theory in Design Research: How Levi-Strauss Redefined Workflow

by BILL SELMAN and GEMMA PETRIE, Mozilla In his 2015 novel, Satin Island, Tom McCarthy’s protagonist (known only as “U”) is a corporate anthropologist working for an outre design research firm whose work embodies all the absurd contradictions of late capitalism. The highly influential firm’s logo is “a giant, crumbling tower.” The visionary owner and boss of U takes pride in telling his clients that he is selling them “fiction” and in talks to Davos-like conferences speaks primarily in Nietzschean aphorisms. Ultimately, McCarthy portrays the role of his protagonist and design researcher as the ideal specimen of the late capitalist job. In one scene, U describes a tactic he used to provide insight for analysis to a well-known client who manufactures jeans: ...to provide a framework for explaining to the client what these crease-types truly and profoundly meant – I stole a concept from the French philosopher Deleuze: for him le pli, or fold, describes the way we swallow the exterior world, invert it, and then flip...

Translating Infrastructure to Technology

by ALEXANDRA MACK (Pitney Bowes) I spend a lot of time thinking about mail. Actually, I don’t just think about it—I interview and observe people sending things, and it is actually more interesting than watching people lick stamps. As an ethnographer, I look at the overall context of the work and business processes connected to what is sent, as well as the perspectives and values of the various actors involved. These include decision makers who buy postage meters, inserters, or software solutions but may not ever use them, product users, and the people who actually care about what is sent and received. To do something as seemingly mundane as sending documents to a client, for example, a lawyer gives instructions to her assistant, who prints the documents, organizes them and addresses the envelope, then passes to a mail room with instructions on how to send to the end recipient. And this is just a relatively common scenario; more complex interactions and processes of documentation are often involved. On the day-to-day level...

The Enterprise, On the Go: Exploring Mobile Work Practices at IBM

by CHRISTINE T. WOLF, IBM Research From conference rooms to conference calls, from our homey desk at the office to a hotel room across the world, people are working “on the go” in various ways. Mobile devices make many of these forms of mobile work possible. From the early days of the personal laptop, to the revolutionary Blackberrys and PDAs, to today’s smart phones, tablets, and wearables, our work tools are rapidly changing, and enterprises must quickly adapt new solutions to keep up with our constant mobile demands. At IBM, the importance of mobile enterprise solutions is on everyone’s mind. As we tackle the demands of the enterprise on the go, we are using ethnographic insights to further and deepen our understandings of what “mobile work” means today. Consider Sally*, a tech consultant. She uses her phone to join a conference call with her team while driving to a client site in the morning. At the client site, she presents slides from her laptop and uses her phone to demo solutions. In the afternoon, she is back...

Donna Flynn / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by LUIS MACHADO, University of North Texas Walking a Different Path The path of American anthropology is becoming ever more diverse. Under the academic umbrella of Anthropology the world has been explored, analyzed, reflected on, and then determined to be wanting of more exploration. The Indiana Jones stereotype of the archaeologist or anthropologist is still a familiar reference in popular culture, perhaps surpassed for recent generations by Dr. “Bones” and her TV show bearing the same name. Anthropology in common parlance brings to mind the bold researcher off in the exotic far away, taking and studying the strange, bringing it back to the university and, after knocking dust off the hiking boots, demystifying it for the social science community and curious students. Yet, explorers of new kinds of anthropology are changing the conversation about who an anthropologist is and what they can do. Donna Flynn is one such anthropologist, creating and expanding these new frontiers. Donna Flynn is Vice President...

A Perfect Storm? Reimagining Work in the Era of the End of the Job

MELISSA CEFKIN, OBINNA ANYA and ROBERT MOORE Trends of independent workers, an economy of increasingly automated processes and an ethos of the peer-to-peer “sharing economy” are all coming together to transform work and employment as we know them. Emerging forms of “open” and “crowd” work are particularly keen sites for investigating how the structures and experiences of work, employment and organizations are changing. Drawing on research and design of work in organizational contexts, this paper explores how experiences with open and crowd work systems serve as sites of workplace cultural re-imagining. A marketplace, a crowdwork system and a crowdfunding experiment, all implemented within IBM, are examined as instances of new workplace configurations....

Ethnographic Inspection Identifying Project Risks

AKIHIKO OBATA, SHIGERU YAMADA, HIROAKI HARADA, SADAYO HIRATA and SEISUKE ITO We propose a new approach for project inspection applying ethnography to identifying IT system project risks. Guideline-based inspection is generally conducted in the IT industry to reduce project risks. Guidelines are created based on analysis of failures in past projects. However, it is difficult to detect new risks that emerged according to changes of project environments. We hypothesized that an ethnographic method would have some value to detect such emerging risks by capturing insiders’ perspectives. We developed procedures and guidelines to conduct inspection by ethnographic approach for IT experts. To clarify the value of the method, we conducted project inspection by the ethnographic approach on two projects that have already received guideline-based inspection. Problems found by the ethnographic inspection were not quite new for the members observed and interviewed. However, the ethnographic inspection successfully captured tacit problems that were...

Giving Voice to Print Production Facility Workers: Representing Actual Work Practices in the Streamlining of a Labor Intensive Production Print Job

NATHANIEL MARTIN, MARY ANN SPRAGUE, PATRICIA WALL and JENNIFER WATTS-PEROTTI This paper presents findings from an ethnographic study of digital production printing, with a focus on a complex, labor-intensive production print job. The goal of the study was to inform the development of tools, processes and technologies to improve the efficiency of this kind of job within the print production facility. By documenting how work was done from the perspective of the people who did the work, our study ensured that the voices and perspectives of the workers were formally represented in the process of improving and streamlining the tools and print production facility workflows....

Numbers May Speak Louder than Words, but Is Anyone Listening? The Rhythmscape and Sales Pipeline Management

MELISSA CEFKIN In this paper I explore the often fleeting, seemingly constrained acts of expression performed through participation in everyday, routinized actions and practices. The vehicle I use for this exploration is the tools, processes and practices sales professionals use to manage the list of possible sales opportunities, or sales pipeline. I give particular attention to the meetings in which sales professionals and their managers discuss the pipeline. The element of talk, with its potential for unruliness, plays a central role in this otherwise hyper-rationalized activity focused around numbers, accounting and calculability. I suggest that to understand such signification processes and the forms of meaning that emerge through them we must look beyond the content of enunciated statements to consider the forms they take over time. I propose that participation in the sales pipeline process, particularly the meetings, forms a part of sales-people’s rhythmscape of work. By situating sites of expression in the notion of a rhythmscape,...

Pushing New Frontiers: Examining the Future of Paper and Electronic Documents

JENNIFER WATTS-PEROTTI, MARY ANN SPRAGUE, PATRICIA WALL and CATHERINE MCCORKINDALE Rapid socio-technological change is underway in the world of work. The Xerox Future of Work team conducted ethnographic studies to explore the impact of these changes on the use of paper, printing, and electronic documents. Study findings revealed needs and requirements for workers of the future, and influenced the research directions Xerox is undertaking to explore how documents (both paper and electronic) play a role in the world of work. The team used several techniques to encourage innovation within the company, including the creation of an advisory board, a video podcast and a design directions document. By developing growth spaces that often require new business models and business innovation, the project is a strong example of how ethnographic studies can “take CARE of business.” The project has also “taken care of BUSINESS” by lowering risk, driving innovation, and demonstrating the value that ethnographic studies can bring to the corporate...

The Secret Life of Medical Records: A Study of Medical Records and the People Who Manage Them

NATHANIEL MARTIN and PATRICIA WALL A study of the practices surrounding paper medical records captured key aspects of the work necessary to support this crucial element of health care. It uncovered work that was invisible to the nurses and physicians who use the records. This invisible work comprises tasks necessary to find and deliver the records as well as those necessary to ensure that the records are accurate and up to date. This study was undertaken because medical records are undergoing a transition from paper to digital systems, which will impact the practices of users of these systems at all levels, including clerical and medical staff. This is an area of particular interest to our organization as we look to provide technologies and services that enable seamless integration of paper and digital worlds. New technologies and practices will need to be developed to accomplish what is now being done invisibly....

The Rise of the Techno-Service Sector: The Growing Inter-Dependency of Social and Technical Skills in the Work of ERP Implementers1

ASAF DARR This paper attempts to move away from portraying service and knowledge work as opposite trends in advanced economies. Instead, it maintains that a closer look at the changing nature of work will highlight the need to rearrange our aggregate occupational data so as to include special categories for a hybrid form: the techno-service sector. After presenting a typology of occupations based on the degree to which knowledge and service elements are intertwined, the paper analyze the work of Enterprise Resource Planning [ERP] implementers as a key example of techno-service work. It highlights the practices of ‘reverse customization’ and ‘translation’ performed by the implementers, which effectively combine service and knowledge work. The paper explains the growing inter-dependency of social and technical skills by the shift from the sale of a product to the sale of a process. This shift underpins the growing penetration of professional work into the heart of the industrial enterprise....