Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Complexity Approach - A new perspective on organizations?

When in the past, people discovered and created the clock, this new technology had great impact on the way they started seeing things. The clock, as concept, was used to understand other phenomena, such as our body, the movement of the planets, etc. As a model, it helped people conceptualize and understand things, which was great. But also – it limited their view (a model is less than reality). With the discovery of the computer, we did the same thing. Powerful, but we ran into difficulties, trying to explain, for instance, our brain-function, with the simplified concept of computer-concepts. Not everything was as deterministic as we needed, to apply the computer-concept.

More hidden, with the “discovery” of systems thinking, we have done the same. System thinking has lead to great conceptual tools, to….

  • Divide the complex reality in parts, that are interconnected, and as group, can be seen as a new part of a large system
  • Define “control” as a concept, where a part is steered (plan-do-check-act) by a “managing part”

This thinking and tools have helped us understand, model, realize and operate complex structures, such as IT-systems. Of course, we have used these concepts for other complex areas. So we started to use this in our view of organizations. And that’s where things started to become messy.
Are organizations systems? Are groups of people able to be divided in parts, where some parts are planning and controlling others, measuring output, and intervening when needed, to get the desired results? Or it this view limiting? Possibly even dangerous?

Last Friday, I visited an interesting seminar on a new approach to view (and intervene in) organizations: the Complexity Approach (or also known as Complex Responsive Processes). Some of the key people involved with this new view were present: Ralph Stacey, Douglas Griffin and Thijs Homan. In addition, Nol Groot (former director of the NS, the Dutch Railways) was present, as one of the people that have actively applied this new view in the NS).

Their research in organizations suggested that the system’s approach to organizations is limited. And that it had lead to surreal mythical set of beliefs in leadership and the ability to control and change the performance of an organization. A new view is needed.

So they decided to step back, and try to look at organizations in a fresh way: how are things done here, actually, really? What do we really experience?

This lead to the following observations:

  • People interact with other people (usually not the whole organization, but a smaller set) in varying interaction patterns. These “local patterns” (or “self-organizing collectives”) might be totally different than the formal organization structure (they may be based on friendship, identity, role, process, etc).
  • This is also true for managers (although in larger meetings they might send a lot, but is essence they don’t know how people interpret their message), breaking one myth “the manager knows all, oversees everything”
  • These local interaction patterns emerge – they are not created “by design” but appear and develop over time, through complex influences
  • Through interaction patterns, people get informed, negotiate and decide, based on their plans, intentions (I want....). In these patterns people confirm their values.
  • These interactions (or “interplays of intention”) produce results. Interaction patterns lead to meaning, changed attitudes, conflict, choices, activity and constraints. However, these results might not be the ones that the people had intended upfront (and might not be in line with manager’s plans and intentions!)
    Example: two people want to eat together, and end up at a Italian restaurant, while neither had that in mind at the start
  • One of the results of local patterns are so-called “social objects”: agreements on how people should behave and perform activities in certain situations.

An example:

  • A manager gets his unit in the central hall, and tells them that the organization needed to be more customer-friendly. He explains his plans, and communicates that he expects everyone to commit to the plans.
  • People leave the hall, and in various complex interaction patterns, the view of the manager is given meaning, mixed with history (“we have done this before”) and own intentions, in various groups of people. Each group will develop their own meaning, interpretation. And the “company-wide plan” becomes a myth.
  • And change might come, yet not predictable, and maybe even in despite of all change management efforts

This new view leads to a number of important (and maybe even scary) questions:

  • Can a manager “be in control”, if activity and change is dependent on complex interaction patterns which are mostly unpredictable?
  • Is change “manageable”?
  • Is “resistance to change” something we see as a sign that our plans have not been executed enough yet, something that we need “to handle” and then reach success in the end?
  • Can we speak of organization? Or is it more a network of people (with endless dynamics in interconnections)? Can we speak of organization boundaries? Or again – complex interactions with people “inside” and “outside”?
  • Is an organization a set of local patterns of interaction?

(These questions resonate with various uneasy feelings I have about BPM and the "organization-people-process-by-design" myth, it implicitely suggests)

Yet, organizations seem to work, sometimes even great. So, the key question is: if an organization does not function well, what can we do as managers (and for me, as consultant)?
Some of my starting points:

  • Many instruments of intervention can still be applied. Be aware that interventions however produce non-predictable results (and non-linear: a small intervention might explode through all interaction patterns, a large intervention might be reduced to nothing....)
  • The process of giving meaning (how people perceive the need for change and the desired outcomes) is very difficult to manage. Even through various facilitation workshops, etc, people will have a “on-stage” face and a “off-stage” face. And the “off-stage face” will influence many people in their networks. In a typical organization many “clouds of meaning” might exist around certain themes. However, meaning is often given by fixed groups, based on their intentions and history. Investigation and narrative interventions could help here.
  • Be very aware of the existence of the (emerging) patterns, through all networks (visible, invisible). These “cells of people” have large influence. If needed (and possible), intervene in this patterns (for instance: break up the organization in smaller teams, build relations, make sure teams interact with each other, as a manager participate on one or more local groups, getting their respect)
  • Develop the ability/competency of people to effectively perform local patterns of interaction, and support them by providing clear intentions (on WHAT is needed, not HOW). Help them to be able to address concerns within the group. And become connected!
  • Become aware of the “social objects”, and how these objects are created and changed. Who has influence? Through what patterns?
  • Change occurs through interacting cells, that see the need for change, form new ideas and create new social objects.

This complexity approach is interesting stuff, which will probably have a large impact on how I see organizations, change, but also BPM! There is much more I could write, but let’s stop for now!
Ok, one last thought for us, consultants: We often see our project (which is a change intervention!) as a set of people, doing the planned activities. During the project, often “fuss”, “discussion”, “resistance” is born and needs to be handled. Often, I saw this stuff as uneasy, difficult, nagging stuff, that was extra effort and thus delayed the project. But maybe this stuff IS THE REAL the project!?

For more information on the Complexity Approach, see for instance:

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sigh! Process as intervention is just not sexy...

I am jealous.
I see many types of interventions that management can choose to influence people behaviour in their company...

I see great workshops focused on culture, people doing fun-games at remote locations, deep and inspired discussions on values
I see managers working on mission, vision and strategy in expensive resorts, golfvenue around the corner
I see IT-systems being designed, and delivered, forcing people to follow the screens and workflows embedded in these systems, with all kinds of cool UI-widgets
I see budgets being given or denied
I see people in fun training
I see promotions, new hero-managers, with powerfull mandate
I see jobpromotions, jobdescriptions and evaluation cycles that will actually hit people in their wallet, with big bonusses for the right behaviour

And then there is us, process consultants, proudly showing the next swimminglane model and desperately trying to find someone to take process-responsibility...

How sexy and influencial is that??????

Can anyone help this disillusioned BPM-practioner with concrete examples of process-interventions that inspired, motivated, improved, e.g. sexy?????

10 easy? questions for managing IT-change

Where various parties from business and IT collaborate in deciding on IT-change (implementing changes, based on various new or changing requirements), a complex playingfield arises.
Often, in my observation, many companies struggle, in terms of "who will need to decide what", during the preparation and delivery-phases of IT-changes. With a more fundamental understanding of the types of questions that needs to be answered and the ownership of these answers/decisions, more clarity can be created (and confusion avoided...).

I think, in essence, we have to deal with 10 easy questions. Well, easy, in terms of the answers provided, they are easy, but to answer them with confidence, based on the right information, might be quite complex....

Here are the 10 questions, that should drive your change-process (for instance your ITIL change process, or any other changeprocess, for instance in deciding and implementing change-requests for your software applications) and create a clear demand/supply relation:

Before realizing the change:
1. Do we understand and really want this change? (business)
2. Are we willing to invest to research solutions? (business)
3. Is the change really feasible, what solution-scenarios exist? (IT)
4. Do we understand the solution-scenario's and are we willing to commit to one (including the consequences)? (business)
5. Can we agree on a realistic start- and enddate? (Business and IT)
6. Do we commit to adequately lead the change from the business perspective? (business)
7. Are we, as IT, willing and able to commit to deliver the chosen solution? (IT)

After realizing the change:
8. Do we accept the delivered solution? (business)
9. Are we willing to implement the solution in our operations (and supporting IT-layer)? (business)
10. Are we done, happy and ready to move on? (business and IT)

I hope that during your changeprocess these questions are clearly answered by the right stakeholder!

In more detail:

1. Do we understand and really want this change?
Key owner: business (and IT to advise)
Remarks: we need to adequately understand a change-request, and assess (preliminary) if it is realistic (we want our app to make coffee, but the end of this week)...
- Is the submitted change-request clear and understandable? Is the context (Why, Who) clear? Is it (preferably) mainly stated in "what" terms (business requirements), and possibly supported by (preliminary) "how" statements. Is there a "When"?
- Is the requested change (in principle) feasible? (IT advise!)
- Is the (preliminary) "When" (in principle) realistic? (IT advise!)

2. Are we willing to invest to research solutions?
Key owner: business
Remarks: only for very simple requests, we might directly see the solution and required changes in our IT-landscape. More often, IT will need to research the request, and come up with various possible solution-scenario's, that each has it's pro's/cons and consequences
- Are we willing to free and assign capacity @ IT to research the requirement, and wait for some time to let them deliver? Do we accept the cost? Owner: business
- Are we, if needed, willing to deprioritize other IT-activities, to let this research be executed? Owner: business, with strong IT advise
- Are we able (as business) to further guide IT (and answers business related questions about the requested change)? (business!)
- Are we able to deliver adequate research? Do we have the resources with the right experience and knowledge available? (IT!)

3. Is the change really feasible, and what solution-scenarios exist?
Key owner: IT
Remarks: Based on the changerequest, IT needs to research: can we do this, and how (not in all detail, but in enough detail to have enough trust to answer the question and allow the business to decide the next steps). Research in terms of technical scenario's, their functional and technical impact for the business and IT and the consequences of the solutionscenario, in terms of cost, required resources, time, risks. And an assessment how the scenario fits in the architecture(plans and guidelines).
- Are there technical solutions that fulfill (fully or partly) the requirements from the change? If yes, what solutions?
- For each solution:
- what are functional consequences
- what are technical consequences?
- what are consequences for future maintenance and supportability?
- does the solution fit in the current/to be architecture?
- And for each solution: how can we realize this solution, in terms of approach, cost, time, required resources? What risks?

4. Do we understand the solution-scenario's and are we willing to commit to one (including the consequences)?
Key owner: business
Remarks: In the end, business needs to decide the scenario and accept consequences (to it's operations and the related change-efforts/investments)

5. Can we agree on a realistic start- and enddate?
Owner: Business AND IT
- Does this fit in current plans and available resources?
- If not, can we agree on re-priotizing/delay other requests?
- Are there other solutions (in terms of sourcing)?

6. Do we commit to adequately lead the change from the business perspective?
Owner: Business
Remarks: This is a critical question. Many IT-projects suffer from ambitious business, that fails to provide clear and adequate guidance (enough support and time from critical business people) and speed of decisionmaking
- Can we, as business, free the required people as leaders and subject matter experts?
- Are we willing and able to setup a good issue-resolution process, and commit to it?
- Are we willing to steer the project, take part in steering organization and make tough decisions in a timely fashion?
- Are we willing to invest in the relations and social networks between business, IT and project?
- Do we have but also feel the trust that we can work together with the people on the IT-side?

7. Are we, as IT, willing and able to commit to deliver the chosen solution?
Owner: IT
- Do we have the drive, trust, knowledge, experience to deliver?
- Do we have the maturity to manage this?
- Do we feel the circiumstances are right? All critical succesfactors covered?
- Do we have but also feel the trust that we can work together with the people in the business?

8. Do we accept the delivered solution?
Owner: business
Remarks: IT has delivered now, and we have taken various actions to gather information on the solution. We checked in various tests and reviews if the solution conforms to the change-requirements(verification) and also checked if the solution will work in our operations(validation).
- Does the solution comply to the requirements?
- Will the solution fit in our operations?
- Do we have sufficient information to really assess and decide on acceptance?

9. Are we willing to implement the solution in our operations (and supporting IT)?
Owner: business
Remarks: now it's time to get the IT-change in production.
- Are we ready?
- Has the change been rolled out correctly?
- Acceptable risks for operations?

10. Are we done, happy and ready to move on?
Owner: business and IT
- Will the business case be reached?
- Is the change correctly functioning in operations?
- Can we close the change, with full satisfaction?
- Did we learn the right lessons? Will we remember them?
- Are we still respected partners?