System lifecycle models exhibit great variety; for our purposes it suffices to use a generic four-phase model that distinguishes a domain definition and scoping phase, a requirements phase, a design and implementation phase, and an operational and maintenance phase. These phases are brief and mostly inseparable for some simple organizing systems, more sequential for others, and more systematic and iterative for complex organizing systems.
Most of the specific decisions that must be made for an organizing system are strongly shaped by the initial decisions about its domain, scope (the breadth or variety of the resources), and scale (the number of resource instances). In organizing systems with limited scope and scale, most of these decisions are made in an informal, unanalyzed, and holistic manner. For example, when we arrange our bookshelves or closets it is not necessary to think explicitly about scoping, requirements, design, implementation, and operational phases. For complex organizing systems, however, especially those in information-intensive domains, it is important to follow a more systematic methodology.
Initial decisions about scope and requirements can create lasting technology and process legacies that impact operational efficiency and flexibility. They can also have profound and unforeseen ramifications for the users of the system and other people affected by the work the system enables. A rigorous, well-documented planning process can help organizers minimize unfair and ineffective outcomes, justify their difficult tradeoffs and decisions, and figure out what went wrong so they can learn from their mistakes.
The consequences of releasing technical systems and tools into the world always include social, business, political, and legal dimensions in addition to technical ones. Some of these implications are due to the context in which the system will operate (“Implementing Interactions”). Others are due to the fact that the work of organizing system designers, architects, and developers is shaped by their experiences, values, beliefs, and circumstances—the often hidden constraints and influences of their social position, education, cultural context, and mental models of the world. Inevitably, the work of information professionals involves “carving up the world at its joints,” creating classifications, models, and architectures that support interactions with resources. In practice this often translates to creating artificial “joints” where none truly exist, which will always favor some and injure others. No modeling is ever completely faithful to reality for all people with all experiences (nor is it intended to be), so those people not considered target users for a system, or who have unique circumstances, may end up feeling slighted or ignored and may actually suffer as a result.