Episode 68

An organization’s capacity to change is the bottleneck on progress, not technology. There is no greater burden than great potential. Did a new technology implementation come with high hopes to solve numerous problems? Often hope is postponed disappointment. While I had no intention of writing such a downer introduction, this blog will explore the various reasons why technology does not solve organization problems. Before tackling this subject, it is important to define the components of an organization and their purpose. An organization is a mix of people, processes, and technology.

Without people there is no organization. People will vary in quantity, skills, experience, responsibilities, and motivation. Additionally, individuals will often be grouped into teams where structure, cohesion, and coordination have a massive influence over the effectiveness of the organization. Processes are the tasks and routines that people, with the aid of technology, perform. There are documented and undocumented processes. Processes can span individuals, teams, and departments. There are also processes whose purpose is to change processes, otherwise known as change management.
Processes can operate with both parallel and sequential task structures. Lastly, technology: the resource that is responsible for enablement and amplification of people and processes. This foundational explanation is important as you can see if technology enables bad processes or unprepared people to do a task, or worse amplify their efforts, no amount of new technology will solve the problem the organization was originally trying to address.

To tackle organization problems, the most important question to ask is, what problem are you trying to solve? While an obvious question, it is very difficult to properly answer. One way to know if your planning is on the right path is the depth of understanding in the nuances surrounding the problem. A balance needs to be struck between analysis and action, but use caution when a new technology proposal is over-weight on technology considerations. Why is this a problem? Designing a technology solution to solve a people or process problem will likely lead to over-engineering. Over-engineering will create technical debt and unnecessary organizational friction which will hamper the organization’s ability to remain agile. Technology should not be deployed for technology’s sake. We can see this with attempts using blockchain and even more recently with organizations scrambling to get into the Metaverse. Both blockchain and the Metaverse could have huge potential, but both have major challenges with defining what changes are needed regarding people and processes to where an early adopter can generate market value with a clear competitive advantage.

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With every introduction of technology there will be some adoption friction. It is important to understand that organizations contain inertia and change will almost always be resisted, because “it has always been done this way”. Therefore, to improve success, the complexity of the technology implemented must be minimized. Let’s use an example to highlight my argument.

A hypothetical organization that manufactures components for assembly downstream. Through its long history, it has numerous divisions for each market it operates in. Each division has its own finance, marketing, and operations departments. A centralized IT department provides support to the organization, and strategic decisions are the responsibility of an executive team. Now under this structure, consider a task like provisioning IT resources. Every department will need to make a request to the IT department and to manage the requests a ticketing system is used. There are complaints that tickets are open for too long. The high-pressure environment has resulted in high staff turn over in the IT department for years. I hope I do not need to go any further, but it should be crystal clear that no ticket management technology will completely solve the challenges with making IT resource requests.

I will close off the blog with some questions and measures to help mitigate organizational problems. How many work handovers, approvals, and stakeholders are involved in your organization’s processes? Do individuals, teams, departments, etc have clear lines of responsibility and ownership? Does the organizational culture support the creation of organizational heroes? How common are single individual dependencies? How many resources are spent on rework and technical debt servicing? How long does it take to go from idea to completion? How visible is work in your organization? How much work is in process?

Do not put what you want (New Tech Solution) ahead of what you need to accomplish what you want. Regarding technology implementations, quality wins over features; work in small steps, create wins, and build momentum.