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1999 Working Papers

No. 207

Inventing Organizations of the 21st Century: Producing Knowledge Through Collaboration

Nina Kruschwitz and George Roth

March 1999

This manuscript examines a Process Handbook (PH) special project using a learning history form. A learning history is an assessment-for-learning, designed such that its value is derived when read and discussed by teams interested in similar issues. Its contents come from the people who initiated, implemented, and participated in the documented efforts as well as non-participants who were affected by it. A learning history presents the experiences and understandings of people who have gone through a learning effort in their own words, in a way that helps others move forward without having to "re-invent" what the original group of learners discovered. The content of the learning history creates a context for conversation that teams within organizations wouldn't be able to have otherwise.

This learning history, and the PH project it describes, raises issues around knowledge creation and team structures by looking at how a project team of individuals from university, business, and consulting organizations was effective in creating new knowledge. The team members held different predispositions toward theory development, producing business outcomes, and developing capacity for action. Their complementary, and at times conflicting, interests provided a robust structure for knowledge creation. Knowledge created through this team structure is also multidimensional, having theoretical, methodological, and practical components.

No. 208

Useful Descriptions of Organizational Processes: Collecting Data for the Process Handbook

Brian T. Pentland, Charles S. Osborn, George Wyner, Fred Luconi

August 1999

This paper describes a data collection methodology for business process analysis. Unlike static objects, business processes are semi-repetitive sequences of events that are often widely distributed in time and space, with ambiguous boundaries. To redesign or even just describe a business process requires an approach that is sensitive to these aspects of the phenomena.

The method described here is intended to generate semi-formal process representations suitable for inclusion in a "handbook" of organizational processes. Using basic techniques of ethnographic interviewing and observation, the method helps users map decomposition, specialization, and dependency relationships at an intermediate level of abstraction meaningful to participants. By connecting new process descriptions to an existing taxonomy of similar descriptions in the Handbook, this method helps build a common vocabulary for process description and analysis.

No. 209

Genre Taxonomy:  A Knowledge Repository of Communicative Actions

Takeshi Yoshioka and George Herman

October 1999

In this paper, we propose a genre taxonomy as a knowledge repository of communicative structures or "typified actions" enacted by organizational members. The Genre taxonomy aims at helping people to make sense of diverse types of communicative actions, and has three features to achieve this objective. First, the genre taxonomy represents the elements of both genres and genre systems, sequences of interrelated genres, as embedded in a social context considering the "5W1H" questions (Why, What, Who/Whom, When, Where, and How). In other words, the genre taxonomy represents the elements of both genres and genre systems in terms of purpose, contents, participants, timing of use, place of communicative action, and form including media, structuring devices and linguistic elements. Second, the genre taxonomy represents both widely recognized genres such as a report and specific genres such as a technical report used in a specific company, because the difference between a widely recognized genre and a specific variant based on the more general genre sheds light on the context of genre use. Third, the genre taxonomy represents use and evolution of genre over time to help people to understand how a genre is relevant to a community where the genre is enacted and changed.

We have constructed a prototype of such a genre taxonomy using the Process Handbook, a process knowledge repository developed at MIT. We have included both widely recognized genres such as the memo and specific genres such as those used in the Process Handbook itself. We suggest that this genre taxonomy may be useful in the innovation of new document templates or methods for communication because it helps to clarify different possible uses of similar genres and explicates how genres play a coordination role among people and between people and their tasks.

No. 210

Towards a Systematic Repository of Knowledge About Managing Collaborative Design Conflicts

Mark Klein, PhD

October 1999

Increasingly, complex artifacts such as cars, planes and even software are designed using large-scale and often highly distributed collaborative processes. A key factor in the effectiveness of these processes concerns how well conflicts are managed. Better approaches need to be developed and adopted, but the lack of systematization and dissemination of the knowledge in this field has been a big barrier to the cumulativeness of research in this area as well as to incorporating these ideas into design practice. This paper describes a growing repository of conflict management expertise, built as an augmentation of the MIT Process Handbook, that is designed to address these challenges.

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