Monday, June 22, 2009

November 06, 2006: What's in the Script?

JP Rangaswami seems to be having a good time exploring the analogy between film-making and software development; and I am glad to see that one result of this exploration is the assertion that "the script is central." However, I see this as a point of departure, rather than a conclusion; and the direction in which we must depart is that of a more rigorous epistemological and ontological consideration than those emerging from JP’s efforts to develop his analogy. Most important is that, to invoke my favorite language, we need to honor the fact that a script is fundamentally a dramatistic (rather than scientistic) artifact (which entails the corollary that software development is also more dramatistic than scientistic, that being what JP really means in his related proposition that software is about stories). (Needless to say, neither filmmakers nor most parties involved in software projects, including the customers, are particularly interested in either epistemology or ontology; but we need them to keep our own thoughts in order!) As regular readers should know by now I have decided that Kenneth Burke’s pentad provides a useful grounding for both epistemology and ontology.

Lest anyone think this is just a philosophical exercise in abstraction, I have now performed an initial exercise at putting it into practice. The exercise is based on what is probably now a “classic” case study in the first chapter of the Decision Support Systems text by Keen and Scott Morton. The study concerns a manufacturer of laundry equipment dealing with forecasting sales and then projecting requirements for manufacturing. This case study concerns the “real world” (albeit a bit dated) of decision-making, rather than the world of support software; so, in spite of the fact that it reflects an earlier business era, I find it a good way to focus on those stakeholders who are not fixated on things like software artifacts.

The problem can be cast in the ontological categories of Burke’s framework as follows:

* Acts (what takes place)

o Manufacturing “sells” consumer products to Marketing
o Marketing prepares sales projection
o Manufacturing prepares requirements for manufacturing and inventory
o Marketing-planning manager resolves conflicts between salesforecast and production forecast

* Scenes (situation in which it occurs)

o Negotiating parameters for sales forecast model: Marketing manager Marketing-planning manager
o Negotiating parameters for production model: Marketing-planning manager Production manager

* Agents (who)

o Profit centers

. Marketing
. Manufacturing

o Planners

. Marketing-planning manager
. Marketing (sales) manager
. Production manager

* Agencies (means or instruments)

o Sales forecast based on computer model
o Forecast of manufacturing and inventory requirements based on computer model

* Purpose (why)

o Project sales for next twelve months

o Manage production consistent with sales projection

. Work force levels
. Production schedules
. Inventory management

o Define pricing and merchandising strategies

In this framework the key problem comes down to whether or not the agencies are doing a good enough job to facilitate the resolution of conflicts between the sales forecast and the production forecast. To invoke language that JP holds so dear, this involves facilitating conversations that work, where much of the “work” has to do with aligning the agencies to the motives of the agents (in this case both individual and institutional), in order that the negotiation “scenes” are furnished with the necessary information. The punch line is that the dramatistic stance allows us to examine the nature of negotiation through the subjective lens of motivated action, rather than trying to see the world in terms of the objective numbers (whether or not they are visualized in “dashboards”) compiled by the bean counters who drive the enterprise software.

Final disclaimer: This exercise is far from cast in concrete. I just decided it was time to start trumpeting the virtues of Kenneth Burke by anchoring his stuff down to a concrete example. All sincere efforts to refine the details of the exercise will be most welcome!

No comments:

Post a Comment