Learn the Dynamics of a Complex Organization

Complex Organizations operate under a different ruleset than the traditional thinking suggests. Namely, emergence, non-determinism and non-linearity are typical traits of an enterprise’s actual behavior.

One important step in the transformation journey is to understand the actual Drivers in the organization. Drivers are the key leverage points that can be either amplified or attenuated to produce some significant effect on the rest of the organization. A driver can be an actual person, a practice, a process of adding or relaxing a constraint, etc.

To understand the dynamics of a complex organization, let’s consider some crucial aspects of enterprise nature:

Uniqueness. No to product development organizations are alike. Difference are substantial and therefore drivers and the ways they work require contextual validation in a specific enterprise. In other words, if introducing explicit WIP-limits was a decisive driver for organization A, that same factor may have limited or no effect in organization B.

Emergent Properties. Often it’s not our usual suspects that affect the outcomes, but cumulative effect of a significant number of factors, none of which could individually produce it (see Emergent Properties and Second-Order Thinking articles for more information). This is critical to avoid overly simplistic, mechanistic view of reality.

Time Sensitivity. The fact that certain benchmarks were established (practices adopted, quality standard achieved, etc.) usually does not imply sustainability. Moreover, practice shows that unless practices are specifically treated in terms of sustainability, they quickly deteriorate (see Building Organizational Habits).

Propensity (rather than certainty). It is rather useful to think of organizational dynamic as a process with multiple probable outcomes rather than a single future state. Such exact probabilities are hard to calculate in principle, but the very idea of departing from the “single-best-outcome” mentality is incredibly useful to every organization.

Empirical Richness. Empirical evidence provides plethora of information that is in principle impossible to arrive at speculatively. Organizational learning is impossible without experimentation and empirical validation of the hypothesis. See Empirical Mindset for more information on the topic.

Incoherence. Complex systems (like product development organizations) consist of multiple interacting “agents” (in our case: knowledge workers). It is incorrect however to assume that motivation and goals of all agents fully coincide.

All of this is not to say that there is no way to predict anything about the organization’s future. We can and should apply reason to analysis of organizational dynamics. However, with the predominant naive reductionist view of reality, such speculation can be incredibly dangerous, predicated on false assumptions of determinism and linearity.

 

Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC