Archive for the 'Enterprise 2.0' Category

Systems to organize what employees have to do, or want to do?

I blogged before on the difficulty Enterprise 2.0 faces for entering big organizations. It suddendly occured to me the other day that current IT systems (ERP, CRM,..) are mainly meant to track and organize what employees have to do. While Web 2.0 tools are doing wonders aggregating intentions and organizing actions of people according to what each one of them wants to do.

It is not new that Markets and Hierarchies represent two forms of coordination with their specificities. In this sense, Web 2.0 seems very suited for Markets, allowing people with diverse interests to loosely collaborate for a while, before moving to something else. With that in mind, it seems that Enterprise 2.0 is confronting a very tough challenge, it wants to re-use for Hierarchies the tools that seem to be almost meant for Markets.

But for people who have been in management positions, it is clear that the command and control model has its limits. That a good part of your job is actually to create meaning so that what people have to do, more or less align with what they like to do. It is even more so when you deal with knowledge workers, where there is a strong asymmetry of information, where they know what they have to do, and you as a manager painstakingly try to keep up with what they are explaining to you.

This is why, even though I believe it will be difficult and require a lot of cultural changes, I still think that big organizations can benefit from the new Web 2.0 tools. At the heart of the change will probably be a modification on the way we conceive firms. But, when some corporations let employee use part of their work time as they wish, there is still hope that big organizations can transform themselves to adopt more decentralized working models.

Trying to make value out of what your employees want to do, instead of what top management thinks they have to do is obviously a big shift. But who said the latter should be the ultimate way to run hierarchies. If there is indeed value in the former, evolution will naturally produce new types of organizations thriving on those principles. If you’re still running on the old model, you’ll just have he choice between mutating or sinking into oblivion.

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Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organizations?

I have been reflecting lately on how Enterprise 2.0’s experimentations could be introduced in a big organization environment. There is a lot of “change management” thinking there for sure: start small, pick quick wins, build a community of supporters,… But it seems that there is also more profound forces involved as well: Enterprise 2.0 represents a real paradigm shift for process oriented organizations.

I hate to use the term “paradigm shift”, because it has been used so many times, and for quite common situations. But in this case, I’m starting to wonder if there is not indeed a very distinctive approach between the two modes that would require organization to adopt very different ways to think about their internal dynamics.

Let me first give a bit more background on what I mean by process oriented. It is obvious that many big organizations, if not all of them, conceive their production of value (be it an actual product or a service) as a succession of tasks performed by different individual in specific roles. In this approach, the actual individual fulfilling a role is quite irrelevant as long as he or she has the capacity to perform the corresponding operations. The greatness of such a design is that it tends to make production fairly predictable. The downside is that you can not use the complete value of every individual in your organization because you ask them first to fulfill roles and you miss everything they can do outside of this specific role. Plus there is also a natural tendency to accumulate slack: if you use 100% of the time of an individual in a particular role, you create a bigger uncertainty than if you ask him to operate at 70%, plus or minus a couple of percents; and thus, you become less predictable.

On the contrary, if you loosely define Enterprise 2.0 as the adoption in a production context of collaboration modes as found on the Web, you end up with a very different picture. The individuals and their abilities are at the center of this picture. People freely decide to which project they will contribute and on which part. The whole dynamic is anything but predictable. It is on the contrary very efficient to perform many projects at the same time but with no coordination of a central authority that would ex ante define which one are really worth pursuing. Projects happen not because they are dimmed important by a couple of executive roles, but because the necessary skills aggregate through the desire of each participant of contributing. You trade predictibility for an incredible speed of implementation.

Now imagine a big organization that has been defining and refining its internal processes for the past decades. That has established its recruitment and dismissal processes to constantly have a sufficient stock of resources to fill the different roles. Imagine that you ask it to conceive itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects. That you promote the notion that you will, through this, greatly augment the output by loosing control on the nature of this output. Did I mention the term “paradigm shift”?