Agile or fragile?:: organizational complexity is a waste farm


This article is another example of a lesson for Organizations to be prepared for “exaptation”. I have mentioned (more than once!) about the “universality of systems” and that, organizations that are “too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe” are doing themselves and their stakeholders a great dis-service. Why not consider and embrace, tried and tested, solutions from other sectors and disciplines…instead of sticking to management structures, that were designed to oversee people and linear processes…in the (now past) Industrial era?

15-Global ChallWe are now inter-connected components in a “Knowledge Economy”, existing in the Digital Age. The most successful Complex systems are those with an interdependent Operational Structure to “support” the effective exchange of information.

Even when unseen, we now appreciate the importance of effective information-flow within and among networks of systems. Although I vaguely recall reading that this isn’t a direct quote from Charles Darwin (I am happy to leave others to investigate that) THE message is clear. He wasn’t talking about organizations per se but he was talking about biological systems:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.

Yeah we ALL know how tough trading is in the current climate! So, why exacerbate the problem by failing to observe information from the environment?

If your organization are expert “hunters” then success will have increased the need for more to sustain an expanding tribe. But what happens when unforeseen circumstances have a dramatic impact upon the environment? If another tribe comes along with greater numbers, better skills or new weapons, your preferred food sources may be hunted to extinction or only be found farther afield. Your tribe can fight, flea or collaborate to develop the problem-solving ability (complexity isn’t a new phenomena!) to adapt for survival…or more. What appeared to be stable and robust is, suddenly, made fragile. All that you thought you knew (assumed) can be destroyed unless your awareness and understanding of the wider, changing, environment is constantly updated.

Get it!?

When people are pooled in specialized silos more process is required to get things done. Responsibility gets diffused and transaction and coordination costs go up because there are more handovers and sign-offs as work is passed around; more meetings are needed to keep people involved and informed, and it’s more difficult to gather people together; it’s more time consuming to chase people for responses. Work is stop-start. There’s little flow and lots of waste.

This setup is a common organization design in the drive for greater efficiency. Unfortunately it’s really great at increasing operational complexity, which works against both effectiveness and efficiency. The complexity requires people to do more work that doesn’t add value and it does a bloody good job at hiding the associated costs. These costs may be greater than any savings made through improved efficiency but it’s unlikely anybody actually knows for sure one way or the other. Worse, the complicated organization structure typically gets reflected in the architectural design of the software solutions produced. Conway’s Law* basically.

John Seddon points out that managing costs causes costs go up. I think companies should be simplifying organization structure by dismantling silos and removing waste.

via Organization complexity is a waste farm.

* As I am viewing this from an “organizational complexity” perspective my preference is for  the Coplien and Harrison’s version:

“If the parts of an organization (e.g. teams, departments, or subdivisions) do not closely reflect the essential parts of the product, or if the relationship between organizations do not reflect the relationships between product parts, then the project will be in trouble”

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