Learning Dysfunctions in Information Systems Development: Overcoming the Social Defenses With Transitional Objects

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Abstract

Given the continuing prevalence of IS failure, this paper contends that a fresh theoretical perspective and new methodological principles are required. We argue that learning is crucial to the success of ISD, and that many IS projects miscarry due to the inherently high levels of stress and anxiety which imbue ISD and which elicit defence-avoidance behaviour patterns in project teams. These social defences refer to modes of group behaviour that operate primarily to reduce anxiety, rather than reflecting genuine engagement with the task at hand. We argue that the operation of these defences can come to paralyse the learning processes that are critical to effective IS development

Following a clinical research strategy, case studies are presented illustrating the working of defensive processes which undermined three IS projects. Three social defences are illustrated: the organisational ritual, the sibling horde and paranoid isolationism. Drawing on psychodynamic theory, the concept of transitional space is introduced. Such spaces have two important aspects: a supportive psychological climate and a supply of appropriate transitional objects (i.e. entities that provide temporary emotional support).

It is argued that IS development should be re-framed as a transitional space, with particular attention given to the selection of appropriate transitional objects to assist in breaking down defensive processes. The cases are revisited to illustrate this approach in action: useful insights and positive practical outcomes are shown. It is concluded that the present psychodynamic perspective has considerable value in relation to the IS discipline: theoretically in terms of our understanding of the social dynamics of ISD and at a practical level too, through the provision of diagnostic concepts and remedial measures that have significant potential to enhance IS praxis and to redress the high rate of IS failure.

Additional Details

Author David G. Wastell
Year 1999
Volume 23
Issue 4
Keywords IS development, organizational learning, stress and anxiety, social defenses, transitional space, transitional objects, methodologies and methods
Page Numbers 581-600