Work System Theory

Work System Theory

Work system theory (WST) is the set of ideas that forms the basis of the work system method (WSM) for analyzing and designing systems.  WST is  a lens for thinking about any system in an organization  As explained in Work System Basics, WST consists of three components:

  1. the definition of work system:   a system in which human participants and/or machines perform work (processes and activities) using information, technology, and other resources to produce specific products/services for specific internal and/or external customers.
  2. the work system framework, a static view of the work system as it exists during a particular time interval when it retains its identity and integrity even though it may change slightly through small adaptations, workarounds, personnel changes, and even unintentional drift (e.g., Pentland et al., 2011)
  3. the work system lifecycle model, a dynamic view of how work systems change over time through a combination of planned and unplanned change.

Instructors, practitioners, and researchers who are interested in using WST might find value in a set of FAQs about the work systems and the work system approach

Use of WST in describing and analyzing work systems revealed the need for a number of WST extensions  including a work system metamodel that bridges part of the gap between sociotechnical and technical views of systems in organizations,  work system principles, work system design spaces, concepts related to specific types of subsystems,  a theory of workarounds, a taxonomy of work system interactions, additional concepts and frameworks related to service systems, and other extensions.

The following articles focus on WST and some of its extensions.

Work System Theory: Overview of Core Concepts, Extensions, and Challenges for the FutureJournal of the Association for Information Systems, 2013. (JAIS Best Paper Award for 2013) 


Work System Theory as a Platform: Response to a Research Perspective Article by Niederman and March  Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 2015    


Theory of Workarounds, Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 2014


Beneficial Noncompliance and Detrimental Compliance: Expected Paths to Unintended Consequences.  AMCIS 2015, Americas Conference on Information Systems


Factors Leading to Business Process Noncompliance and its Positive and Negative Effects: Empirical Insights from a Case Study.  (with Emerson Andrade, Han van der Aa, Henrik Leopold, and Hajo Reijers)  AMCIS 2016, Americas Conference on Information Systems


A Workaround Design System for Anticipating, Designing, and/or Preventing Workarounds.  EMMSAD 2015 (Exploring Modeling Methods for Systems Analysis and Design) a working conference associated with CAISE 2015 (Conference on Advanced Information System Engineering), Stockholm, Sweden


A Work System Perspective on Adoption Entities, Adoption Processes, and Post-Adoption Compliance and Noncompliance. Proceedings of the Twentieth DIGIT Workshop, December 2015. (Recognized as best paper)

Using a Work System Perspective to Expand BPM Research Use Cases . DRAFT of article that will appear in the Journal of Information Technology and Technology Applications in 2017.



Engineering Enterprises for Emergent Change. IEEE CBI, Conference on Business Informatics, 2014.


Incorporating More System-Related Knowledge into Systems Analysis and Design, AMCIS 2013, Americas Conference on Information Systems.  (Nominated for best paper).


Using Work System Theory to Achieve Greater Business Value from ERP by Exploring Alternative Design Spaces, Workshop on Enterprise Systems and Business Process Capability, 2011



Bridging the Chasm between Sociotechnical and Technical Views of Systems in OrganizationsICIS 2010, International Conference on Information Systems. 



Validating Work System Principles for Use in Systems Analysis and Design (with Ryan Wright),   ICIS 2010, International Conference on Information Systems. 


Including Work System Co-Existence, Alignment, and Coordination in Systems Analysis and Design,  AMCIS 2010, Americas Conference on Information Systems


Design Spaces for Sociotechnical SystemsECIS 2010, European Conference on Information Systems


Work systems as the Core of the Design Space for Organisational Design and Engineering, International Journal of Organisational Design and Engineering, 2010.


Project Collaboration, not just User Participation,  AMCIS 2009, Americas Conference on Information Systems




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