University of Oulu

Discourses on ‘culture’ and ‘usability work’ in software product development

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Author: Iivari, Netta1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Department of Information Processing Science
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2006
Publish Date: 2006-05-10
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, for public discussion in Auditorium IT115, Linnanmaa, on May 24th, 2006, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Professor Richard J. Boland, Jr.
Professor Marleen Huysman


The thesis critically examines discursive construction of ‘organizational culture’ and ‘user involvement’ in academia and in the information technology (IT) artifact product development industry. IT artifacts are perceived as texts that are written by the writer-designers and afterwards read by the reader-users. User involvement explored is indirect; ‘user surrogates’ labeled as usability specialists ‘represent the users’ in the development. Their work is labeled as ‘usability work.’ However, this work has proven to be challenging, especially in the product development context. Culture is an influential factor affecting the successes and failures of organizational change efforts. However, there is a clear lack of culture studies carried out in relation to user involvement, especially in the challenging product development context.

Both ‘organizational culture’ and ‘user involvement’ are versatile concepts, and there are controversies in defining them. Therefore, this thesis first analyzes discourses on ‘organizational culture’ and ‘user involvement’ in academia. The thesis examines within what kind of discourses organizational culture has been studied, and suggested discourses within which it could be studied. Five discourses are identified. Furthermore, the thesis analyzes discursive construction of user involvement in academia. First, literature advocating indirect user involvement is reviewed. Afterwards, alternative notions of user involvement are introduced. Three academic discourses on user involvement are identified and contrasted with the discourses on organizational culture to highlight their similarities and to identify unexplored paths for future work.

Finally, user involvement and its cultural context are empirically analyzed in IT artifact product development organizations by utilizing a discourse selected based on previous analysis. First, four ‘cultures of usability work’ are identified. Then, two ways usability work has been encultured in two product development organizations are outlined. In addition, five discourses on usability work are identified, and contrasted with the academic discourses on user involvement. Finally, the construction of the notions of ‘we’ and ‘the other’ is explored in the case organizations, concentrating specifically on the discourses of the ‘usability specialists’ and ‘the other.’ Some of the discourses are criticized for ‘silencing the users’ instead of ‘giving them a voice,’ and even representing ‘misuses of user involvement.’

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. A, Scientiae rerum naturalium
ISSN-E: 1796-220X
ISBN: 951-42-8072-5
ISBN Print: 951-42-8071-7
Issue: 457
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2006. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.