The following are both academic papers on STS and case studies that will be helpful in understanding successful application of STS organization and workplace design.
There is also a repository of papers, case studies and presentations produced under a grant from the VOSS (Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems) program of the National Science Foundation, by members of the STS Roundtable called “A Sociotechnical Systems Study of Virtual R&D Organizations”
Theory and Research Papers:
Most of the foundation documents for for ‘classical’ British/North American socio-technical systems theory as well as the Australian ‘participative design’ framework can be found at this TRIST TAVISTOCK ANTHOLOGY.
All documents are in format .pdf
The following are additional seminal writings, many published more recently.
One of the originators of ‘classical’ socio-technical systems thinking traces the development of key concepts and principles for 3 levels of analysis–the primary work system, the whole organization in relation to its changing environment, and the macro-social perspective of networks.
The first industrial revolution was about ‘muscle’, the application of energy to transform matter. The post-industrial revolution is based on a whole new technology which is a substitute for ‘mind’, the manipulation of symbols in communications and automation, based upon a transformation in our concept of the nature of reality, from the Machine Age to the Systems Age.
Shona Leitch and Matthew Warren
With the rapid introduction of computers in the 1960’s, Enid Mumford concluded that the development of information systems is not a purely technical issue, but an organizational issue, and based upon Mumford’s socio-technical perspective, she developed and applied in numerous cases (such as with Digital Equipment Corporation) a participative method known as ETHICS: “Effective Technical & Human Implementation of Computer-based Systems”.
Frans M. van Eijnatten and Ad H. van der Zwaan
The Dutch approach to STS Design (or “Integral Organizational Renewal”), both in its design theory and its intervention processes is reviewed and compared with its American, Scandinavian, and Australian counterparts of Modern STSD. All share the ideal of participative democracy, and though many concepts appear incompatible, the approaches manifest a single sociotechnical paradigm.
5. From Complex Organizations with Simple Jobs to Simple Organizations with Complex Jobs
L. Ulbo de Sitter, J. Friso den Hertog, and Ben Dankbaar.
The Dutch variant of STS Design is described in detail here, with its key concepts of Controllability, Production Structure and Control Structure, and Design Sequence Rules with the aim of developing a systemic approach to work design that supports improvements in both the quality of work life and the quality of the organization, i.e. its ability to deal with a complex and continuously changing environment.
Lawrence M. Miller
Although the Toyota Production System (or lean management) has become one of today’s standards for organizations, the implementation of ‘lean’ has proven to be problematic, which has inspired this model of how to create that transformation in the entire system of an organization, its architecture and culture.
To overcome the deficiencies of traditional STS design for much knowledge work and nonlinear work systems (with multiple, nonsequential conversion flows) that rely heavily on unprogrammed (nonroutine) tasks, Pava proposed a new set of concepts and methods–focusing on ‘deliberations’ and ‘discretionary coalitions’ as the key units of analysis, while retaining many of the fundamental STS precepts like minimal critical specification, open systems, and participative design.
Gordon Baxter and Ian Sommerville.
As computers have become more pervasive in workplaces, and as computers shape and constrain work practices, what is required is a pragmatic approach based on the introduction of socio-technical considerations into software procurement and development processes—a new field of socio-technical systems engineering.
William O. Lytle
As many organizations are demanding a faster cycle time for planned, large-scale change, with assured success of implementation, and a process to involve employees in creating their own future, this paper outlines 3 proven options for accelerating the design process and the conditions under which the use of each is appropriate—the modified traditional systems approach, the cascading macro-design approach, and the sequenced multiple-conference approach.
D. Austrom, D.de Guerre, H. Maupin, C. McGee, B. Mohr, J. Norton, C. Ordowich
As political, social, technological, economic and ecological change accelerates, STS design must focus simultaneously on multiple levels of system complexity—the firm, networks, and ecosystem.
Furthermore, we need to think differently about ‘design’ that is ‘emergent’ (no longer planned), ‘ambidextrous’ (managing the tension between innovation and optimization), and no longer about creating end-products in the form of specific structures but rather about ‘leading effective (and ongoing) designing’.
A Case Study – Bert Painter
A public insurance company and its unionized workforce successfully designed and implemented an organization-wide electronic document management system while redesigning jobs, organization structure, and business processes. This experience is an imperfect but powerful illustration of designing social and technical elements of knowledge work concurrently and interactively.
Fairview Case: Terry Martinson, Stu Winby, Chris Worley
Within a few months, using an ‘Adaptive Work System’ model as a core platform for work innovation, 40 clinics with more than 400 providers scattered over a 300 square mile area designed, optimized, and diffused a wide variety of health care innovations. Physicians and staff developed completely new ways of working together, that won Fairview Clinics certification and national recognition under the Minnesota model of Healthcare Home and the federal model of Accountable Care Organizations.
A Case of Highly Professional Self-Managing Healthcare Teams – Wim Sprenger
Frustrated by the poor quality and ineffectiveness of formal care services in the Netherlands, Buurtzorg (Neighbourhood Care) has grown as an alternative organization of over 6000 employees— 95% women—in over 600 self-managing teams of 5-12 nursing and specialized care professionals, each team serving patients and elderly people in a specific neighbourhood. The business model and performance of Buurtzog has proven to be more efficient than traditional care providers, and at the same time, Buurtzorg has been awarded ‘Best Employer’ in the Netherlands for consecutive years.
Ake Sandberg, Editor
Volvo’s Uddevalla car assembly plant abandoned the assembly line, and replaced it with groups of skilled workers producing components, supported by advanced computer technology. Although very productive, the plant was closed after only four years. Nevertheless, out of the experience of this plant, and with international comparative studies, a concept has grown of “enriching production”— production that is enriching to work and workers, and to investors and owners.
Justin Bitter, Elizabeth van Veen Berkx, Hein G. Gooszen, and Pierre van Amelsvoort.
Healthcare professionals in operating rooms (ORs) at a University Medical Center in The Netherlands have demonstrated the ability of cross-functional teams to identify and correct bottlenecks in their own performance. Through socio-technical systems design processes, teams improved significantly their collaboration and use of control mechanisms in delivery of patient care in operating theatres.
Edward E. Lawler III
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a few American companies (Proctor & Gamble, Cummins Engine, General Foods, etc.) began building a new kind of manufacturing facility that emphasized a high level of participative management and flatter organizational design. Two decades later, this article outlines specific practices of the new plant model and points out the degree to which these practices have spread to other organizational settings.
This article describes a large-group, participative methodology for redesign of organizations. Reviewing the application in two similar manufacturing facilities, the author asserts that the Conference Method, compared to traditional socio-technical or re-engineering efforts, saves time and money, while increasing commitment to change and the quality of design.
Sharon Goodwin and Lawrence M. Miller
One of Canada’s largest and oldest home and community-based health care services required a major redesign of its care delivery process. Leadership of the company engaged employees in a change process that employed a ‘whole system’ version of lean methodology. Results reported by funding agencies demonstrate dramatic improvement in patient satisfaction and the satisfaction of service providers, with substantial productivity and staff scheduling improvements in the delivery of service.