In a recent post I suggested that considering IT organizations through the lens of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) presents a more useful perspective on IT organizational behavior than does the deterministic view that has dominated IT organizational design for the past 50 years or so. In today’s emerging Web 2.0 world (and beyond) we need to treat IT as an organic capability – one that evolves like a living system, rather than try to manage it through functional organization designs with their “lines and boxes”.
In the next few posts, I want to discuss the implications of considering the IT organization through the CAS and see what new organizational constructs might be more appropriate for a Web 2.0 world.
Taylor’s “Scientific Management” Was Blind to the Science of Complexity
Frederick Winslow Taylor’s contributions to management theory were appropriate to his time (1856-1915) – high productivity could be achieved by segregating mental work (planning, controlling) from physical work (manufacturing). People destined for the mental work would be suitably trained, and those for the physical work, suitably incented.
But in Taylor’s time, companies were relatively simple, and the scientific community had not yet developed the theoretical underpinnings of complex systems. Today, the science of complex adaptive systems is far more appropriate that was the mechanistic, deterministic science of Frederick Taylor’s time.
One useful notion from the science of complexity is the “fractal.” According to Wikipedia, a Fractal is:
A rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole, a property called self-similarity.
A fractal exhibits self-similarity. The leaves on a tree are similar to each other, while none may be identical. The way the tree trunk leads to major branches, leading to smaller branches, and so on, is an example of self-similarity. We see the same patterns in rivers and streams, or in the bronchial tubes. In fact, the alveoli structures in the lungs are very similar to the structures of broccoli. Fractals have a simple and recursive definition that underlies their self similarity.
Fractals – the Lego Blocks of Organization Design
Fractal shapes can be very useful in organization design. Think of self-organizing teams. Give them a common purpose, let them arrive at a few simple “rules of engagement”, and get out of their way.
In organization design, fractals can be thought of as Lego pieces. Lego’s are easy to assemble and disassemble. They comprise a set of standard shapes, with standard connectors. This endows them with relatively predictable behaviors, including the ability to easily reconfigure shapes.
Useful examples of organizational fractals (I will explore each of these in upcoming posts) include:
- Self-organizing teams
- Centers of Expertise (or Centers of Competence)
- Project Management structures
- Program Management structures
- Service Management structures
- Product Management structures
- Relationship Management structures
Providing the “Genetic Code” for Fractal Structures to Collaborate
It is essential, if fractal organizational structures are going to collaborate towards common goals, that they share a “genetic code.” That is provided by:
- Shared goals
- Common vision
- Open communication across porous boundaries
With these attributes as an organizational context, fractal organizational structures can be an extremely effective way to create an “organization of IT capabilities” that adapts to its environment and self-corrects in response to external (or internal) forces.
I realize this might all be heady stuff, and I will elaborate further in future posts, and provide practical examples that bring these ideas down to earth and the day-to-day realities of Enterprise IT 2.o.
Image courtesy of FusionAnomaly.net