Organizational Case Studies & Ethnographic Research

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In addition to software projects, I conducted research of two organizations:

1) A campus student housing company in which 30 employees manage a community of over 1,500 students

2) A non-profit mentoring organization

Methods

  • Field Observations
  • Participant Observations
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Structured and Semi-Structured Interviews

Findings

Out of respect for the organizations, I will discuss general themes that have roots in classical management theory but still find themselves present in contemporary settings.  

Organizations as Machines Metaphor 

In Frederick Taylor's 1911 monograph Principles of Scientific Management, he applied the scientific method to management processes with the goal of maximum efficiency. This methodology became known as Taylorism; its primary principles include division of labor, tool standardization, instruction cards for workers, and time studies. Core values revolve around structure, measurement, regularity, reliability, efficiency, and speed. 

Ultimately, the goal is to create an optimized process that produces the same result every time.

This approach is effective given a non-dynamic environment and static set of tasks. However, weaknesses involve a sense of detachment from work and difficulty creating innovation.

Organizations as Organisms Metaphor

In Images of Organizations, Gareth Morgan depicts organizations as organisms. In contrast to the mechanistic comparison, organisms focus on adaptability and survival. Key characteristics include internal differentiation, ecological factors affecting behavior, and separation of roles into niches. 

When a company adopts this metaphor, they change dated strategies as a part of survival, re-examine ineffective processes and relationships, and encourage employee innovation. Weaknesses of this framework could involve excessive focus on an individual's needs instead of those of the organization, aiming towards abstract goals that are difficult to measure, and lack of emphasis on productive output.

"Mechanistic Organisms"

Successful organizations blended elements of both metaphors, combining effective processes with the flexibility to adapt to changing organizational needs.