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authors Kunz, J.C., Christiansen, T.R., Cohen, G.P., Jin, Y. and Levitt, R.E.
year 1998
title The Virtual Design Team
source Communications of The ACM, Vol. 41, No. 11, November, 1998
summary The long range goal of the Virtual Design Team" (VDT) research program is to develop computational tools to analyze decision making and communication behavior and thereby to support true organizational (re)engineering. This article introduces the underlying theory, the implementation of the theory as a computational model, and results from industrial test cases. Organization theory traditionally describes organizations only at an aggregate-level, describing and predicting the behavior of entire organizations in terms of general qualitative predictions. We define and implement a "micro" theory of the structure and behavior of components of organizations, explicitly representing activities, groups of people called "actors," and organizational structure and policies for project teams. A VDT model can be "run" by a discrete event simulation. Emergent aggregate model output behaviors include the predicted time to complete a project, the total effort to do the project, and a measure of process quality. More detailed model behaviors include the time-varying backlog of individual actors and the "exceptions" associated with activities. The results are detailed and specific, so they can guide specific managerial interventions in a project team and can support sensitivity studies of the relative impact of different organizational changes. We conclude that such a theory is tractable and predictive for complex but relatively routine, project-oriented design tasks. The application for which VDT offers unique new kinds of insights is where an organization is striving to shrink time to market dramatically for a product that is similar to ones it has previously developed. Reducing time to market dramatically almost always requires that previously sequential activities are executed more concurrently. In this situation, experienced managers can still correctly identify the required activities and estimate their durations and skill requirements; but they almost always underestimate the increased workload arising from exponentially higher coordination needs and the propagation of rework between the now highly concurrent activities. The VDT framework, which explicitly models information dependency and failure propagation between concurrent activities, has proven to be far more accurate, and to incorporate a wider range of parameters, than CPM/PERT process models for these fast-paced development projects."
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