Abstract This paper sets out to question established practice in the design and implementation of information systems. It focuses on the systems development process and the interactions that take place between the various groups involved in that process. It will be argued that systems development activities are interest-based in nature to the extent that an ‘unholy alliance’ is struck between the interested parties. The usual methods applied to (medium-to large-scale) systems development are formalised and mechanistic and tend to ignore the wider social and organisational issues involved. This bias and partialness often results in dysfunctional outcomes which have negative consequences for those using the systems and their organisations. The dysfunctional effects are explored through a consideration of three recently considered case studies. The authors identify a form of technical subterfuge whereby technical experts, in an attempt to compensate for their own lack of change management expertise, project a false image of their knowledge and its representativeness of the wider context. We have referred to this phenomenon as ‘virtual know-how’. The paper concludes by suggesting that creation of a change management space, that moves beyond merely technical issues, is a necessary but badly neglected element of systems development practice.