Friday, May 21, 2010

Is Your Organization a Process or a Network?

Is your organization a process (several operational steps to get things done) or a network (smart knowledge workers connecting to get things done)? Or is it both?

As an information architect I'm often confronted with this question. Usually not explicitly, but in a more implicit way. From an information process perspective you hear people talking about structured and unstructured information processes, for instance. I've shared my thinking about this topic in the past and I'm working on a longer post about this subject (to be published soon). I thought I'd start with something different. Three pictures to show the different views on organizations and how they relate. I'd love to hear you thoughts about these pictures.

What I see is managers and business process specialists look at organizations in this way:

operationprocess

So, the organization is put together as discrete, operational steps moving packets of information (the gray boxes) forward. (Loops back into the organization exist but are not in the picture).

Most employees see the organization in a different way. They see the organization as a network of people that have certain information or knowledge helping them get things done. Employees find the operational steps OK for very operational tasks, like time registration, but not for their core (knowledge) tasks. This could look like this:

networkorganization

I understand both approaches. Depending on how you look at (part of) an organization you see clearly defined steps or a chaotic network.

So my conviction is both are true. Both approaches exist in practice. If so, the pictures above should be combined. It could look something like this:

operationproces and networkorg

The interesting thing is the amount of time and money being invested in these approaches. Generally speaking you see lots of time and money being pumped into improving the first approach. Aligning and reengineering business processes, rolling out an ERP system, etc. The other approach is usually just there. It seems to be taken for granted. It's supported by email and more and more by platforms like Sharepoint. Some companies are also pushing social media into this space. In any case it is seen as infrastructure and investments are low.

This is strange to me because the largest part of the organization is organized as a community and network. People with a certain passion and expertise connect and collaborate to get work done. Of course there are operational processes in companies. And if they can be automated, we should do this quickly. However the amount of time and money being put into these operational improvements is, to me, disproportional to the amount of time being spent by knowledge workers on non-operational work.

Do you agree? Do you see both of these views in the company you work for? And do you take them as they are: related to each other? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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