Post by: Sigurd Rinde

It all started by John Tropea's post, then the discussion moved onto Google+.

My first comment was "I'm still puzzled why all still accepts "organisational hierarchies" as a given... after all they're nothing but frameworks for work processes, of the push kind mostly, based on technology like quills, whips and shoe leather."

Hierarchy

As always, succinctly described by Hugh at Gapingvoid

Not having organisational hierarchies is almost unthinkable, so in the comments the premise for the question had to be backed up by a little fictional story:

Say you and five friends start a new company, let's pretend an advertising company. All of you know your stuff, albeit with slightly different focus, interest, abilities and experience. On day one you all sit in one room and the telephone rings, a customer. Luis sitting next to it picks it up and does a damned good job at it, landing your first customer. This was noticed with much satisfaction by all of you so next time it rings all call out "Luis, call for you!" and soon Luis is the designated sales/customer-handing person.

By way of interest Keith starts doodling with some art ideas, while you have some channel ideas spurring you to pick up the phone calling some friends to bounce off your ideas. And so forth. Group dynamics at it's best, and soon your little firm have natural leaders for each type of activity, the next arts chap gets his desk next to Keith. But nobody bothers about titles until you're asked for it by some corporate customer going "ehh, yes, Keith is our arts director" while giving Keith a glance to see if that sound ok :)

The work flow in that example is all manual, but with extremely low overhead thanks to all sitting in the same room, hearing all, seeing all and communicating via looks and head nodding or the occasional group discussion without leaving your desk. Not a report in sight, you all know what's going on after all.

But soon you guys are 120 people and no single room can hold you anymore, offices are rented and walls are cropping up - so now you turn to the classic solution to make the work flows flow - you establish management positions, who will have morning meetings and gather in reports which are distilled into new reports for the management group who spend three hours meetings at regular intervals to inform each other and set new goals. To make all that more efficient you invest in collaboration tools and budget tools and the half-hour slots in google calendar now becomes the guide for your day and scheduling-conflict-time-waster ("sorry, cannot on Tuesday, what about Monday week after?"). And Keith's almost 100% focus on creating great art soon falls to say 40% of the time, rest is spent on "managing" and meetings and reporting. (The 40% BTW is supported by research, we do spend between 55 and 75% of our time on moving the flow forward in similar situations.)

This is when the work to make the work flow becomes costly - Keith is value-creation-wise only 40% of the man he used to be (sorry Keith ;)) Luis having to handle all the interest have a few chaps and chapettes helping him so soon he's also a "40% man" (sorry Luis). And not to talk about the new hires that have to sit in at those meetings and write those reports - so you end up hiring people and paying them 100% for only 40% value-creation time!

If IT architects were abundantly clear that the sole purpose of the organisational hierarchies, the meetings, the calendars, the reports and budgets were nothing but a process framework (make flows flow) - then they would have shifted their focus away from making those manual work flow mechanisms more efficient to focus on actually making the whole more effective by making the flows flow (and flow is process, Barely Repeatable or not, so a process engine must be the core of such solutions). In short, allow the 120 person group in the story to operate as if they were in the same room where no org hierarchy was needed (except to please old school corporate types who need it to navigate) and no reports were required as all could see what was going on in real time.

This focus on efficiency over effectiveness should remind us of what Peter Drucker once said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” And today, thanks to modern IT we do things very efficiently, especially the 60% that which need not to be done at all.

If all of that 60% non-value-creation could be done away with by a new kind of work flow engine your new advertising company could triple it's output, and not to talk about the pleasure of not having to be pestered by bosses, pester subordinates, sit at long meetings, write reports, or struggle with budgets that we all know is less real than anything coming out of the Walt Disney studios!

As an end note I'll just mention, even if plugging one's own products is frowned upon; this is what we at thingamy actually is doing - automating the flow work.

Original Post: http://blog.thingamy.com/sigs_blog/2011/10/when-organisational-hierarchies-becomes-useless.html