Using Activity Domain Theory for Managing Complex Systems

Using Activity Domain Theory for Managing Complex Systems

Lars Taxen (Linkoping University, Sweden)
Indexed In: SCOPUS
Release Date: November, 2009|Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 350
ISBN13: 9781605661926|ISBN10: 1605661929|EISBN13: 9781605661933|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-192-6


Latest research indicates that construction of a communal meaning regarding coordination of complex systems development tasks should be implemented into practice, proving that far more attention should be given to the issue of communal meaning construction in organizations.

Using Activity Domain Theory for Managing Complex Systems offers a new approach towards managing complex systems that informs the co-construction of technical support for coordination and communal meaning regarding this support. Compiling and structuring empirical observations from the Ericsson™ Company and theoretical developments from the perspective of meaning construction, this unique book combines a deep understanding of concrete, every-day conditions of the telecom industry with innovative theoretical development of the Activity Domain Theory (ADT).

Topics Covered

The many academic areas covered in this publication include, but are not limited to:

  • Activity domain
  • Activity Domain Theory
  • Activity modalities
  • Agile development of software
  • Alignment of business and knowledge strategies
  • Anatomy-centric approach
  • Business Processes
  • Cognitive grounding
  • Common understanding, communal meaning
  • Complex Systems Theory
  • Congruence mind – activity
  • Coordination
  • Coordination of the development of the 3rd generation of mobile telecom systems at Ericsson™
  • Cultural-historical Activity Theory
  • Dialectical method
  • Enterprise architectures
  • Information modeling projects
  • Integration centric development method
  • IS/IT architectures
  • Mediation
  • Mediational means
  • Practical guiding principles for managing complex systems
  • Practice-based theories
  • Praxis
  • Product life-cycle management

Reviews and Testimonials

The reader is invited to a rewarding ride through research and experimentation, ending up in highly useful new insights.

– Christian Berggren, Linkoping University, Sweden

The book adds a new dimension in systems literature. I think this is one of the few books that addresses philosophical issues of complexities with the practices. It attempts to make a bridge between the theory and practice.

– Anonymous reviewer

The author did a good job by discussing the importance of well informed theories. He/she did not leave the readers just with mere theories, he explained the background of the theories and philosophies, and their relationships with modern practices. I think this is an excellent contribution in the literature.

– Anonymous reviewer

The book makes an attempt to link between the Marxian theory and the current practices on how complex organizations run. It provides necessary background related to managing complex projects. It not only includes the Marxian praxis philosophy, cognitive science, Russian theory of activity, modern IS/IT theories, but it tries to make a convincing connection among all these theories and philosophical trails related to managing and coordinating complex systems. I find this connection is quite extra ordinary in this book. I also see this endeavor is quite new in the IT field."

– Anonymous reviewer

This book offers a unique opportunity to understand the discipline of coordinating and supporting thousands of people involved in innovative development of entirely new and complex systems. The book conveys a comprehensive set of concepts, methods and theories, with a high density of substance, so it should be read carefully and slowly, and hopefully by many managers and projects leaders as well as students and educators in the area.

– Bengt Lennartsson, Associated Professor, Linköping University

The book addresses the gap between the possibilities the modern technology offers us and our capabilities to take advantage of this development. Closing this gap requires a theory concerning coordination of complex system development. The author convincingly argues for his theory ADT. He succeeds with his theory to reach an integrated view of seemingly non-related issues and this is a prerequisite to managing complex systems. Finishing the book you agree with the sociologist Kurt Lewin 'there is nothing so practical as a good theory.' ADT is a good theory.

– Johan Schubert, Ph.D., Senior Advisor

The book is a must for anyone that search for a deeper knowledge on the many challenges facing developers of complex systems. With the authors extensive experience from both industry or academia, you can expect to find valuable lessons learned on combination with explanations why this occurred and theories on how the prevent similar situations in the future.

– Joakim Lilliesköld, PhD, Assistant Professor – The Royal Institute of Technology

An insightful book. It addresses many theoretical trails and their possible impact on system development; usually one finds literature with just one issue addressed at a time. This approach makes this book interesting and useful for both practitioners and researches. For practitioners: since it actually deals with the full complexity faced in the development situation. For researchers: because it creates a meeting between different trails of theories and the problems faced by product developers.

– Joakim Lilliesköld, PhD, Assistant Professor – The Royal Institute of Technology

Table of Contents and List of Contributors

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“Why make it simple when you can do it so beautifully complicated?” This answer to a student is attributed to one of the classical German philosophers of the 19th century. Some readers may think that the author of this book would reply in a similar way. The theoretical discourse of this book, which is partly inspired by some of these philosophers, is indeed a tough piece of cerebral aerobics. However, it results in the wonderful simplicity of understanding complex issues, which makes the reader feel amply rewarded.

Mastering the mindboggling complexity of creations such as modern telecom systems can not rely on shortcuts and silver bullets. On the basis of extensive professional experience and reflection the author convincingly demonstrates that coordinating the development of such systems needs to build on well-grounded theories and thoughtful application. The successful development and diffusion of the “anatomic-centric” approach to project coordination within the Ericsson telecommunications company, where the author was so deeply involved, testifies to the importance of this contribution.

In the area of complex systems development, thoughtful project management is a key factor for innovation, for bringing together system capabilities to actually working systems and for taking them to the customer. The critical question then is: How can managers and practitioners conceptualize and understand the central ingredients of successful project management in this and similar fields? In the extant literature there is a plethora of tools for advanced planning and scheduling, for system decomposition and modularization, for reducing interdependencies and avoiding errors. But there is also a growing criticism of these approaches. A number of these studies have criticized mainstream models of project management for an over-emphasis on the role of planning and scheduling and highlighted the need for developing models that take into account the need for flexibility and adaptability. These studies have singled out the importance of fitting project management to the situation and working out contingency formulae as critical for firm-level competitive advantage. This critique, however, tends to be overly general in character and lack grounded suggestions for effective managerial practices and coordination mechanisms which are needed to make complex system development at all possible.

This work pursues a different route, different both from the traditional planning road, and the alternative “flexibility” route, where everything is open for negotiation. By applying rigorous theoretical analysis it brings a new depth to the art and science of complex system development in general and to project management practices in particular. As the author forcefully argues, nothing is as practical as a good theory. The theories discussed and analyzed here do indeed lead to very practical results such as new forms of representing and expressing interdependencies, new means of creating shared understanding, new ways of communicating system characteristics and integrating complicated project activities into systems which function as predicted and can be delivered as promised.

The reader is invited to a rewarding ride through research and experimentation, ending up in highly useful new insights.

    Christian Berggren
    Professor in Industrial Management & Program Director for KITE
    Knowledge Integration & Innovation in Transnational Enterprises at Linköping University

Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

Lars Taxén (Associated Professor) received his MSc from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (1968). Between 1968 and 2003 he was employed at the Ericsson Telecommunication Company, where he held several positions related to processes and information systems for hardware and software design. From 1995 on he was engaged in the development and implementation of incremental development methods for large, globally distributed software development projects. The experiences from this work were reported in his PhD thesis “A Framework for the Coordination of Complex Systems’ Development” (2003). In 2007 he became an associated professor at Linköping University in Sweden. He has published in various conference proceedings and journals and is now active as a researcher and consultant.