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Breaking the flow: a study of contradictions in information systems development (ISD)

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The purpose of this paper is to examine contradictions (specifically tertiary and quaternary contradictions) that can disrupt the flow of work in contemporary systems development methods.


This study uses Activity theory (AT) as a theoretical lens to: examine ISD flow as an interrelated activity system; and identify contradictions. AT is pertinent in the context of this study as rather than view contradictions as a threat to prematurely abandon the use of flow tools and metrics, it shows how contradictions can act as a motor for change and continuity. This study adopts a longitudinal single case study approach including face-to-face interviews with management and software development project teams, as well as direct observations and document analysis.


This study identifies tertiary and quaternary contradictions, and highlights the influence of contradictions on flow-based systems development.

Social implications

This study provides a set of contradictions for researchers and practitioners. It shows that contradictions can be culturally or politically challenging to confront, and even when resolved, can have intended or unintended consequences.


This paper fulfils an identified need to study ISD flow from the perspective of interrelated activity systems and beyond its initial implementation phase.
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Keywords: Activity theory; Case study; Information system development; Qualitative method

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lero∣The Irish Software Research Centre, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland

Publication date: August 23, 2019

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