Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Howl at the moon ...

My first article "The sum of all fears" has been published in the Butler Group Review - it's a review of the underlying processes behind web 2.0. Obviously I'm delighted and hopefully my second article will also be out soon.

Anyway, I thought I'd take some time to write a little more about my forthcoming book and its origin.
It all stems from conflicts which I'd noticed in the business world. Be lean and mean but yet be a great company to work for; be innovative and high speed but plan in detail; create value but focus on cost. Combine this with concerns over aligning to the business strategy and most organisations seem fairly schizophrenic.

Let's look at the business strategy first. Most business strategies to me are very noticeable for what they miss out rather than what they include. Any business is a mass of potential competitive advantage (CA), transitional and cost of doing business (CODB) activities. However most business strategies emphasise the differential, the competitive advantage whereas the cost of doing business is often diminished.

Now let's bring that skewed strategy down to the level of a function such as IT. As said before a function is a mass of activities (products and processes) with each activity at its own stage of its own S-Curve between idea and ubiquity, from novel and new to commonplace, from uncertain to certain, from undefined to defined, from dynamic to static and from barely repeatable to easily repeatable.

Most organisational functions seem completely unaware of what stage their activities are at, even assuming they are fully aware of what activities they do in the first place. Most functions would have a hard time splitting their activities into potential CA / Transitional and CODB.

As any activity moves through its S-Curve then the characteristics of that activity change and the methodologies, culture, finance and governance needed to manage that activity change as well. Most organisations seem unaware of this and manage by function.

To this recipe for disorder we need to add the latest trends. For example outsourcing, a sensible option if you are outsourcing a commoditised and ubiquitous activity to an environment containing multiple providers and second sourcing options. A fairly hit and miss affair if you are outsourcing a function or parts of a function without any knowledge of the stages of the activities that it contains. In the latter case you are likely to be outsourcing innovative activities with appropriate skills and capabilities along with commoditised activities. The net result of this reduces any benefits from outsourcing and in some cases can actually weaken the organisation's position.

There are similar problems when it comes to corporate innovation (all these ideas are wrapped up in the framework which I've spoken about at various conferences).

To the cooking pot of confusion, now add a splash of skewed business plan and hey presto ....
You have a situation in which you have lots of activities (which you may or may not be fully aware of) that you are often trying to manage with the wrong methods (as you are unaware of stage and how to govern by stage) in order to fit in with a skewed business strategy (which ignores most of what you do) whilst dealing with a bewildering array of trends from the outside environment for which no-one ever seems to give you a straight answer (as neither you nor anyone else is in a position to say what the effect is on your organisation without knowing the above).

Now, I've been poring through the history books and every time I have come across a company which has moved away from a functional organisational approach to one more akin to stage of activity - it has had dramatic positive effects. Unfortunately, this move has always been coincidental to some other activity and organisations have tended to lapse back into a functional approach over time.

The more I research I do, the more evidence I gather. I am now more convinced than ever that the issues surrounding corporate innovation, outsourcing, alignment with business strategy and a host of other conflicts are all primarily due to a monumental howler in organisational design.

Before you call me barking mad ... I've been called those words at various points over the last decade when I've talked about commoditisation of IT, commoditisation of manufacturing processes, spime scripts, 3D printing, competitive utility computing markets, biological manufacturing systems, dynamic vs static methodologies, patents vs innovations, utility computing and others.

Well I'm no werewolf and I'm no seer - I just like history books. There isn't one idea in the above list whose origin can't be traced back over thirty years ago.
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