Organizational Design 2.0 – Technology, Change & Organizational Structure
This is my site Written by Alora on April 13, 2009 – 4:16 pm

Technology-enabled Organizational DesignOver the past few months, I’ve been more closely aligning myself with the Enterprise 2.0 community of professionals. Though I have been in technology for my entire career, and in Web 2.0 for at least part of that time, and implementing Enterprise 2.0 solutions quite extensively in recent years, I had not previously made a concerted attempt to professionally align myself with the community of professionals that actively work and evangelize in this space.

There were a number of reasons for this. For starters, the work I was doing had a decidedly e-commerce focus to it. While the rise of social commerce has been important in the space, for those of us who have been in e-commerce since before the tech bubble burst, our focus was still very much on the B2C side of the equation, and not behind our own firewall. E-commerce has long-held the retail mentality: the best floor space is always dedicated to the store; the back office survive in a closet if necessary. In technical terms: the time, innovation and talent is all focused on the revenue-side of the house; the internal teams can work with duct tape and bailing wire if necessary.

Secondly, “Enterprise 2.0” has a name that is often misleading. The word “enterprise” has a connocation that is commonly associated with Big Business — the IBMs, P&Gs and Doles of the world. Aside from the fact that my professional love is small business (with a particular soft spot for tech startups), the fact is that convincing organizations of this magnitute to fundamentally change the way they interact internally is a mammoth effort, and one which is often akin to trying to turn around a battleship. Even more discouraging is that many large-scale enterprises have so much investment in their existing solutions and processes, that they are extremely reluctant to jump into large change initiatives unless or until it is absolutely necessary.

Finally, when I was working in in-house environments, I was subject to one of the biggest hurdles all Enterprise 2.0 practitioners face: the corporate IT Department. Even worse, as a member of the corporate IT department, some of the hurdles I would have had to fight were so deeply woven into the fabric of my daily life, that they were completely unwinnable battles that I had difficulty mustering the energey to suit-up for in the first place.

After the past few months, I’ve started getting my head around the activity, personalities and players (organizational and individual) in this space. Some of it (the value, the tools, the potential) is particularly interesting; other aspects of it are less appealing (social media celebrity, the hype, the self-congratulating echo-chamber).

One thing that is clear, though, and that is the fact that most people approach this space strictly based on their background:

  • Enterprise 2.0 practitioners who come from development backgrounds like the tech toys.
  • Enterprise 2.0 practitioners who come from marketing backgrounds like the holy grail of social media power.
  • Enterprise 2.0 practitioners who come from content management backgrounds like the idea of better tools to solve their age-old problem.

The trouble is that there are very few Enterprise 2.0 practitioners whose specialty is in leadership, organizational design and change management. Ironically, everything about Enterprise 2.0 requires those things, and yet they are often the part that is only discussed as an adjunct to other objectives.

This is something I find interesting, because if there is one thing I have seen is that marketing people (“social media marketing” or otherwise) do not have a history of business process improvement or change management experience. Hard-core tech geeks are frequently tempted to select a “cool toy” they can play with over a practical off-the-shelf product that requires very little customization. And no matter where you look, the issue of transparency across organizational silos scares the daylights out of nearly everyone.

So where is the more traditional discussion about change management, business process improvement and organizational design? Technology solutions are designed to support and encourage those things, not to drive them.

In his article Enterprise 2.0: Competitive differentiation occurs at the intersection of technology and culture, Ross Dawson discusses the criticality of an organization’s culture in successfully implementing effective Enterprise 2.0 strategy. He calls it out as being the key differentiator that ultimately makes all the difference.

This is an extremely important point, and one that I do not think the Enterprise 2.0 echo-chamber discusses enough. The conversation is usually centered around how to get a culture to change enough to use a tool, rather than examining what tools can be inserted into the existing culture to begin fostering long-term change and an adoption-friendly attitude.

This is where, in my strong bias, I see my project management background as being invaluable in this space:

  • Everything is a project or (more accurately) a series of projects. If you don’t break it down into actionable, bite-sized pieces, you’ll be DOA before you even know it.

  • The notion of “agility” doesn’t just apply to development, but to business and to projects. Start small, and iterate.
  • A good project manager with a wide array of experience has had to learn to negotiate conflicting interests, not get bogged down in political land-grabs, find a way to let cooler heads prevail, work within the cultural confines of an organization, and bridge the gap between how things are percieved to be and how they really are. That is precisely the type of skillset essential to driving change.
  • And a truly experienced project manager should have a solid background in manaing technology, people, change, risk and communications in a way that not all other disciplines foster as actively. And you’re not going to get anywhere without all five of those factors being actively and carefully managed.
  • Project managers are in the business of getting things done. Execution is key and ultimately, that is how our success is measured. Project management is a very bottom-line business in many ways. Either you hit the mark or you didn’t, and that is how you will be judged.

Of course, as someone whose true love is the sweet spot where technology, organizational design and change management all converge, I am often asked if that isn’t just a little bit too complicated — both from a personal branding standpoint, as well as an explanation standpoint. That’s a fair question, and no matter how much they really do dovetail together nicely, it is still seen as a convergence of multiple skills instead of a single, predictable and expected skillset.

To be honest, this is one of the reasons I most love working at startups. Because even if they bring me in to do technical work, it isn’t long before I am working on both organizational and change management issues, because those are things that are constantly in flux — even moreso in startups than in larger, more mature organizations.

There is another reason that I love this intersection as well: change management and business process improvement is complicated, tedious, time-consuming and sometimes discouraging work. People are hard. No matter how complicated you think a system migration is, it is almost always more straight forward than dealing with people. The best reason to work on projects that involve both is because the technology side is (pardon the pun) much more binary, while the people side is often far more nebulous. Technical successes — which are often fairly easy to confirm and measure — often prove to be the gas in the engine that drives the fuzzier and less quantifiable human side of large-scale change.

And after months of work on a complicated initiative, you should never underestimate the value of the occassional “quick win.”

That’s another thing that we project manager-types know: it is usually a series of small victories that keeps a team’s momentum going to get them across the finish line.

  • Neeli Basanth

    I am a product manager and my interests are in the area of implementation of 2.0 technologies in enterprises (subject to your analysis above :)). Could you direct me to the communities that you were refering to?