Research

As a practitioner …

and as a team manager, I am especially interested in helping customers, executive stakeholders, and my peers in other functional areas (such as Development and Product Management) understand the benefits of User-Centered Design (UCD) and User Experience consulting services.  My current interests focus in the following areas:

  • Articulating Return on Investment (ROI) for user-centered design, and finding ways to document business cases that will make sense to an executive audience.
  • The organization for which I currently work is committed to Agile software development methodologies.  As a result, I am also heavily focused on articulating the ways that UX resources can engage effectively in Agile processes, as well as identifying what opportunities and challenges exist for UX staff.
  • Among other things, this has required me to gain an understanding of Lean principles and tools, so that I can effectively communicate the value of UX in a context where bottom line improvements are being sought through high priority process improvements.
  • Another recent area of interest is social network analysis, which brings qualitative and quantitative research together in compelling ways.
  • I am also curious about and committed to making multi-disciplinary teams work, because I recognize that as an anthropologist with training in design theory, my skills aren’t sufficient to meet the needs of my executive stakeholders, customers, and colleagues.

My interest in this last area led to the formation of a listserv called anthrodesign in 2002.  I also explored the relationship between anthropologists and engineers through a well-attended panel at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in 2004.  I became increasingly interested in the way that research and design methods need to be thoughtfully selected in response to changing business direction and emergent stakeholder requirements – and how collaborative interdisciplinary teams work together to make that happen.  I am especially interested in what different skills each type of formal training affords, and how (with the right level of support) each of those can work in concert to achieve desired business outcomes.  Much of what I learned led to the growth of a User Experience team under my direction at SAP, where our work informed both strategic process improvements and system design for the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Process Officer (CPO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), and various executives in Sales Operations.

You can learn more about my current role on my Work overview page.

As an academic …

I am an anthropologist who studies workplaces and how people work (the Anthropology of Work), and the role of technologies (Science and Technology Studies) in that context.  I have a special interest in how institutions respond to macro-economic, industry, and regional trends, and how the organizational response to those changes affects the lives of employees.

My dissertation focused on traditional management practices like Human Resources (HR), Finance, Marketing, and organizational restructuring.  Those areas are still a focus of my writing today.

Late in my doctoral work, I was exposed to the work of Michel Foucault.  His work was transformative for me, because at the time I had documented many of the ways that the corporate context was explicitly shaping the lives of employees – through HR practices, for example.  But I lacked a theoretical framework to explain how employees were responding to those practices – the idea of power and resistance to that power seemed oversimplified.

I also felt that most of what I read about control in the workplace assumed employees were physically present (on a shop floor or in a call center, for example) where they could be monitored, and whose work was measurable in some way.  At the time, little had been written about how remote workers (mostly knowledge workers) were being measured and managed.  It became clear to be that self-management would play a critical role as corporations sought to control their increasingly mobile and remote workforce.

Foucault’s ideas about power opened up a whole new way of thinking for me, especially the idea of technologies of the self, which is the way that Foucault described the way that individuals internalized forms of power, thereby managing themselves.

… technologies of the self … permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and soulds, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselfe in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.  1988

Following my exposure to Foucault, I cam across a body of management literature called Critical Management Studies (check out the Resources page to read about it and download a bibliography).  This body of literature uses the work of Foucault to explain the changes taking place in a wide variety of industries and business practices.  Those two bodies of literature – the work of Foucault and the work of critical managemetn theorists – continue to influence my research and writing interests today.

Prior to my Masters and PhD in Anthropology (which I earned in 2004), I earned a Masters degree in Whole Systems Design.  Through those studies I had the opportunity to travel to mainland China in 1991.  I also lived briefly in a weaving factory in Bali Indonesia, where I explored weaving practices as an expression of local religion and culture.  You can see some of the photographs from those trips in the Photography area of this site.