Cowboy, cataloguer, methodist, magician, and master : gestalts of analysis and design

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Business information systems (BIS) projects succeed or fail because of people. A better understanding of the people who analyse/design BIS could lead to more successes. This study of the qualitatively different ways that analyst/designers’ conceive of and approach their work improves our understanding. Twenty interviews with analyst/designers with varying expertise and years of experience were analysed, interpreted, and described using a research method that evolved from orthodox phenomenography. This evolved method itself contributes to phenomenography. The significant contributions are: 1) GIFTed data analysis, a data analysis technique incorporating Gestalt theory, types of intentionality, and Gurwitsch’s field theory of consciousness; 2) a generic conception-of analytical framework; 3) a generic approach-to analytical framework. The categories resulting from the phenomenographic analysis, and which describe analyst/designers’ awareness of analysis/design, are treated as Gestalts. The categories form two sets: conceptions and approaches. The five conception categories are: 1) Differentiate analysis/design as something other than programming; 2) Catalogue separate analysis/design tasks into a sequential and orderly activity; 3) Idealise analysis/design as how to deliver what the client wants; 4) Contrast actual and ideal analysis—what and design—how; 5) Integrate exploring the organisation and problem with creating an abstract solution. The four approach categories are: 1) An ad hoc process that as quickly as possible delivers something to the client and solves the problem; 2) An atomistic process that produces artefacts to show that some analysis and design took place; 3) A circumscribed process that produces the best artefacts and solution; 4) An adjustable process that shares an understanding of the problem and a vision of the solution to satisfice stakeholders. Ten relationships between conception and approach categories were deemed rational. Five relationships, which are the relationships between the highest approach category to which a conception category is related, were selected for closer examination. These five Gestalts of analysis/design, the cowboy, the cataloguer, the methodist, the magician, and the master are described as parallel Gestalts at the field or theme level of the categories and as development life cycles. All these results reveal at a collective level a number of different ways analyst/designers experience analysis/design, thus contributing to a people-centred foundation for research aimed at increasing BIS project successes.
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