Thursday, June 23, 2011

Corporate Ethnography?

I received an interesting piece from Putting People First a few days ago referencing a book on corporate ethnography, edited by Melissa Cefkin of IBM's services research department: Although you have to pay to download specific chapters, some of them are particularly interesting, e.g. "Working in Corporate Jungles," and you can grab decently sized previews from Google Books (well, at least for that chapter).

Reading through the excerpts, I began drawing parallels between recent changes in my department and this act of corporate ethnography. Prior to my arrival, the standard practice with creative deliverables (say, for re-designs of the site or sections of it) would be to convene rather large stakeholder meetings, complete with the VPs from every single department. I had the chance (chance in terms of the motivation it gave me to do things otherwise) to attend such a meeting and, as an initial outsider, be able to identify its pitfalls. Amongst others, the size of the meetings made it hard to progress through a sequential list of deliverables and/or topics -- personalities would clash, departmental special interests would be aroused in light of others, etc. Since then, we've gone a far way. In the recent re-design I'm leading, we've separated wireframes and visual designs based on "groups" that represent certain sections on the website. In turn, these groups also represent specific departments. What this highly compartmentalized layout of deliverables has allowed us to do is to completely strike out the idea of a general stakeholder meeting. Instead, we've made for a plan that will allow us to meet with each stakeholder group that a certain group of wireframes is relevant to.. this brings down meeting attendee numbers from 15+ to 2-3... making such meetings simply more useful and manageable. This, in the end, helps us iterate more quickly.

Although my example definitely doesn't nearly touch the breadth nor specificity with which the book approaches the role of ethnography in corporations, I think it does show the value of either investing in actual corporate ethnographic studies or at least performing some internal, reflective operational reviews. As a newbie in the corporation, I was pretty much an unbiased observer "in the field" -- however, it was that outsider perspective that made the large stakeholder meetings seem a bit out of place to me, and that eventually led me to the idea of carrying out the re-design in this new way.

Much like HCI espouses user-based iteration in research, design, and implementation, internal user-based iteration (e.g., in this case, modifying the structure of creative-related debriefs to stakeholders based on "outsider" impressions of past practices) re: organizational practices can also help refine the productivity and efficiency of internal teams.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.