Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Artful Sociology

Earlier I mentioned the three branches of a full-dress analysis. Of these the Sociological Analysis can often be the most challenging. Done right a full dress analysis is like a sublime pancake and sausage breakfast. The first course though, the Sociological analysis, is like that very first batch of pancakes you pour that ends up slightly brown in the middle and rubbery and white around the edges. Although eventually it becomes a throw-away (completely subservient to the Strategic and Object-oriented Analyses) you still have to perform it.

The Sociological analysis often presents dichotomies that are difficult to rectify. The intent of such an analysis might be to direct some aspects of work toward (and away from) specific employees; hence the analysis can be highly politicized. This argues for having this phase of analysis performed by a consultant outside of your regular organization.

The flip side of this argument however is that it can take several years in a large organization to become familiar with the strengths, weaknesses, approaches, and long-term potential of each employee. This argues more for assigning this analytical task to an existing employee who demonstrates sensitivity to these matters. Regardless I would say to treat your sociological analysis as if it were a beautiful rose on a bush you know you will certainly prune way back in the springtime.

How does one go about performing a sociological analysis -- what should such an analysis include?

* A map of the work flow: what gets moved to where, by who, and under what conditions.

* A review of how working hours mesh with constraints on commuting and telecommuting.

* Constraints imposed by contractual arrangements.

* The Management span of control and interest.

* Social cliques and off-hours affiliations.

* Accepted and customary levels of documentation.

* Spheres of influence building.

* Salary discrepancies.

* Communication methods up and down the line.

* Openness or resistance to criticism, and quality improvement effectiveness.

* Interaction of the company with the community.

* Discrepancies between ideas and actions.

* Flexibility, rigidity, and degree of being organized.

Yes this seems like a mumbo-jumbo of collective traits that minister an exposition yet fall short of any development guidance; they don’t point to what the designers necessarily should do next. Still, since they can help set the tone for ongoing design work (and can raise alarms to potential potholes along the way) such an analysis is certainly beneficial and can be a major contributor to the lasting success of a large and complicated mission-critical system.