Posts Tagged ‘organization’

Structure And Work

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Under the inescapable second law of thermodynamics, fragmentation and dis-integration are natural consequence of organizational growth over time. Real leaders respect and arrest the destructive power of the second law by conscientiously applying structure and work to keep the org intact and aligned toward a higher purpose. All cookie cutter managers know how to design and impose structure. Hell, that’s the easy part because you could look one up in the standard hierarchical patterns handbook (which has only one page and one pattern – the command and control hierarchy where the kahunas at the top rule over the kingdom and ignore input from everyone else).Entropy

The “work” is the hard part. Unlike leaders, managers hate work and they’ll do anything, no matter how harmful it is to the org, to avoid it while feigning that they’re bustin’ their butt to “get things done”. Thus, after unveiling his/her latest masterpiece corpo structure, which is always an insignificant  hierarchical tweak, he/she “abdicates” the day-to-day work of keeping the fragments in harmony to…….. “others”.


So, what is the “work” part of the powerful, entropy-arresting, work+structure dynamic duo? It’s a continuous and active “sampling the value stream” and a continuous monitoring of the interfaces and interactions between the org fragments to sense signals of disintegration. Without doing the work part, performance will not improve, and of course, it will deteriorate further; triggering yet another round of restructuring to “meet the changing needs of our customers”. Bummer.

Yin And Yang

Structure And The “ilities”

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

In nature, structure is an enabler or disabler of functional behavior. No hands – no grasping, no legs – no walking, no lungs – no living. Adding new functional components to a system enables new behavior and subtracting components disables behavior. Changing the arrangement of an existing system’s components and how they interconnect can also trade-off qualities of behavior, affectionately called the “ilities“. Thus, changes in structure effect changes in behavior.

The figure below shows a few examples of a change to an “ility” due to a change in structure. Given the structure on the left, the refactored structure on the right leads to an increase in the “ility” listed under the new structure. However, in moving from left to right, a trade-off has been made for the gain in the desired “ility”. For the monolithic->modular case, a decrease in end-to-end response-ability due to added box-to-box delay has been traded off. For the monolithic->redundant case, a decrease in buyability due to the added purchase cost of the duplicate component has been introduced. For the no feedback->feedback case, an increase in complexity has been effected due to the added interfaces. For the bowl->bottle example, a decrease in fill-ability has occurred because of the decreased diameter of the fill interface port.


The plea of this story is: “to increase your aware-ability of the law of unintended consequences”. What you don’t know CAN hurt you. When you are bound and determined to institute what you think is a “can’t lose” change to a system that you own and/or control, make an effort to discover and uncover the ilities that will be sacrificed for those that you are attempting to instill in the system. This is especially true for socio-technical systems (do you know of any system that isn’t a socio-technical system?) where the influence on system behavior by the technical components is always dwarfed by the influence of the components that are comprised of groups of diverse individuals.


Everybody wants to be a manager or director. Hell, why not? Extracting yourself from the pig sty of hard and sweaty work that directly creates value is the smart thing to do in an obsolete org that is structured as a stratified pyramid. And, how many orgs do you know that aren’t structured as outdated command and control hierarchys? Subjectively of course, I assert that managing and directing others ( fancy words for command and control) is easy relative to doing hard work and constantly getting beat over the head with the schedule stick. Plus, it’s pays more, and you get to have some fancy title of superficial importance appended to your name. Oh sure, you have to put up with whiny direct reports (like me 🙂 ) but does that really warrant more pay and value by fancier and higher paid people positioned even higher up in the pyramid of woe?

I respect people, not titles. If you, as an anointed and highly compensated manager or director:

  • listen to your people and treat them as equals,
  • actively and visibly help your people get their jobs done better and better each day ,
  • pay for ongoing training that’s critical to the company’s future success,
  • constantly and diligently take action to repair decaying infrastructure as a result of increasing entropy (2nd law of thermodynamics)
  • don’t act two-faced (e.g. pounding your people with schedule while espousing “quality is king”),
  • behave congruently and with integrity,

then I’ll respect you and the title that you rode in with. Otherwise, fuggetabout you, your fat head, and your fancy title. Other people, out of the natural fear that all pyramid org structures auto-instill into the minions at the bottom, may feign respect, but I won’t. However, being human, and (hopefully) not too stupid, I do publicly kneel and pay homage to the awesome power to instill fear that is naturally built into the hierarchy – most of the time. Since “most” is not the same as “all”, you can use your imagination to envision my day-to-day experience in a hierarchically structured workplace.

Being a software designer, I’ve learned that different structure types enable or disable different types of behavior. The pointy haired hierarchy, with it’s long history of top down command and control misery, is a disabler of highly creative, adaptive, and efficient human behavior. Since humans (especially those in western countries) are mostly about “me and my story”, and those at the top always accumulate riches at the expense of those at the bottom and on the outside, the pyramid of woe won’t be going away soon.

Regardless of the amount of damage inflicted upon those at the bottom and to external stakeholders, the people at the top will continue to wield their power to keep themselves entrenched. Why continue this irrational behavior? In order to continue living the high life of luxury and consumption, of course.  However, the relatively flat network structure fueled by the rise of the internet, will eventually displace the collapsing corpo C & C hierarchy in the future. Those that wait too long will die. Too bad this global maelstrom of change won’t happen in my lifetime.

High Falutin’ Titles

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Along with a whole bunch of co-workers, I’m a member of the professional networking site It’s a great site and I highly recommend it.

It’s interesting to browse through the profiles on LinkedIn. Everybody’s a freakin’ manager, or director, or chief-this, or chief-that. However, when you read their accomplishments, you can’t tell what the freak they’ve done.  They seem to mostly describe the functions of the org areas that they’ve worked in. WTF? Of course, I don’t have any facts (I only use facts when they bolster my argument and I auto-reject all others 🙂 ), but I’d bet the farm that most of these people don’t direct or manage anyone and they haven’t done squat in years. They’re each, OMG!,  a dreaded individual contributor. I picture them, perhaps wrongly, walking around flaunting their titles, manipulating people (instead of helping them to develop and grow) and barking out non-sensical orders that they’ve pulled out of their arses. They behave this way to look/feel important and they actually fool a few people for a while.

It’s sad, because I think that at the core of their souls, all people want to do the right thing for all. However, the shining light at their core has been trapped in no man’s land by layer upon layer of ego. The culprit behind ego inflation in the corpo world is a dysfunctional org structure.  Specifically, it’s the obsolete 150 year old pyramidal, hierarchical structure of entitlement that all dinosaur corpo citadels pay homage to.

“Enough with the rant, got any alternative ideas smarty pants”? How can you mobilize a large group of people to change the world and prevent chaos from reigning without a corpo pyramidal caste system? One way is to organize as, and more importantly, operate in accordance with, a circular ring structure where all rings are directly connected with robust and high bandwidth communication channels. Instead of managers in the inner rings, there are leaders. Leaders focus more on developing people instead of enriching themselves.


So you say that the multi-ring design is nothing more than a squashed hierarchy with the innermost node representing the CEO? You’re literally right, but not figuratively. The main reason for operating your org structure as a flat concentric set of rings is to eradicate the deeply ingrained 1000s of years old “I’m better than you because I’m higher up in the food chain” mindset that unconsciously pervades all hierarchies. Sure, the people residing on the inner rings still have the responsibility to make org-wide decisions, but they do so with a more down-to-earth and people-centric mindset.

A non-conforming, ring-based company organization can’t possibly work, right? Blasphemy and off with my head! I know of at least one company that’s successfully implemented the “ringo star”. Semco Inc. of Brazil. If it piques your interest, Google them and/or check out the articles bookmarked in this twine: The Magic of Semco.

Thanks for listening.

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