Adressing time issues in Enterprise 2.0 approaches

Albeit time is a critical dimension in today’s every business, it is curiously absent from most discussion around Enterprise 2.0. Adoption time scale is an issue we will eventually empirically solve as more and more successful case studies are publicized. Just don’t put too much expectation on this data beyond “fail fast and often”, as Dion Hinchcliffe stated it, since adoption can merely be measured on an individual basis, and each case is unique. But beyond that, even more cruelly absent from the debates going on are operational time scales.

It’s all in the process. Really?

Reducing time consumption in complicated tasks’ chains is one of the main objectives of the sophisticated processes which drive our organizations. (Repeatability and industrialization of production is the other one) To achieve productivity and efficiency improvements, they release the burden of “reinventing the wheel” by minimizing the number, and complexity, of decision which have to take place along the chain.

Recent technologies, like SAP’s Gravity or Thingamy, suggest that BPM can be efficiently improved through collaborative work, which opens a new path to Enterprise 2.0 (I won’t discuss here my personal view on the discrepancy between collaborative enterprise and process based organizations). But even if considered from an integrated-to-the-workflow angle, this approach doesn’t take into account the time factor: how long will it take to optimize a process in a collaborative way? To what extend is “how long” acceptable? When is the result of collaborative work stated satisfactory enough to be considered as an outcome?

Thinking of Enterprise 2.0 from a process perspective doesn’t free us from the major shortcoming of all E2.0 frameworks so far: making decisions is one of the main tasks of organizations. This takes time, and we lack methods to understand, leverage and quantify collaborative decision making’s time scales.

Complexity at work

Processes helped shaping big, complicated organizations from the industrial era, but cannot encompass the complexity of our hyperlinked economy. Industrialization has reached a tipping point beyond which traditional productivity funnels must be rethought. Of course, admitting that organizations are complex adaptive systems brings new, and sometimes overwhelming, challenges, but it also highlights some aspects diretcly relevant to the time issue.

Complex adaptive systems  (CAS) are self-similar and embedded, which means that communities and collaborative teams are CAS themselves, and their time scale is independent from the global time scale (of the process, of the company…).

CAS are, well, adaptive, which means that the definition of an absolute time scale is out of reach. Time in execution depends on initial factors, so setting fixed time rules for a collaborative work to provide an outcome seems irrelevant. Timeframes are relative to the environment in which they are measured.

CAS are non-linear, which trumps any attempt to measure time and set it as a process variable in a ‘traditional’ way. Statements like ‘you have two days to come to a consensus and find an answer’ are irrelevant.  Instead, several time states, several thinking processes, can cohabit in a collaborative initiative.

Time-relative processes

We need to think differently here.  Complexity and quantum theories allow us to encompass time, not as an absolute forward mechanism, but as a probabilistic one. While we cannot quantify the time needed to take a decision, we can measure the percentage of consensual adoption of a collaborative decision. Setting thresholds to this percentage would allow for triggering the next task or process, without compromising the global performance of enterprise.

Instead of being dependent on fixed task-based rules, and to be able to address the operational time scales concern Enterprise 2.0 is facing, my bet is that we will see the emergence of new relative time-based processes, to harness the true power of networked teams and communities. I hope you will add your view on this crucial issue.

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7 Responses to Adressing time issues in Enterprise 2.0 approaches

  1. Rotkapchen says:

    Old paradigms die hard. One of the greatest opportunities provided by some E2.0 architectures is the ability to rethink “process” altogether. It frees us to see how we can facilitate the flow of work, rather than workflows. There are ways to focus on the conversations and the artifacts and let them attain ‘action states’ that effectively replace what was formerly known as ‘process’.

    Life is not predominantly linear — our solutions need to embrace this reality.

    • Thierry de Baillon says:

      Paula, linguistics maintain an even firmer dominance than technology does. Orgs will still need ‘productivity enablers’, however we call them. Rethinking businesses along relative data (or artifacts, as you call them) is IMHO a giant leap toward embracing human, cultural and commercial values

  2. Pingback: Adressing time issues in Enterprise 2.0 approaches | Sonnez en cas … | Industrial Scales and Weighing Systems

  3. Rotkapchen says:

    BTW “I won’t discuss here my personal view on the discrepancy between collaborative enterprise and process based organizations” — except I think it’s really important to discuss : )

    • Thierry de Baillon says:

      Yes, humans are not like ants or birds, but CAS pertain also to organizations. I do not agree with Chris Rodgers, as I think orgs are living organisms. The fact that they are not self-organizing systems is I guess another issue.
      There is, of course, a big difference between a crowd, which is self-organizing and might be reshaped by rules as simple as empathy, and organizations where entropy is artificially kept at low level. Seeing them as CAS might help shape new, networked, kinds of companies.

  4. Hi Thierry,

    Your idea of using “the percentage of consensual adoption of a collaborative decision” as a trigger for a group to move forward is an interesting one. I can see how that might be a useful technique in what I would call “joint problem solving” situations.

    Here, though, I want to respond to you suggestion that organizations are best thought of as complex adaptive systems and living organisms.

    A person working in an organization is undoubtedly a living organism! However, the ‘organization’ – or so I would maintain – is not. Those who see organizations as “living systems” often draw an analogy with the behaviour of colonies of ants or flocks of birds. And it was the attempt to simulate this behaviour in the laboratory that led to the notion of the Complex Adaptive System (CAS). There, ‘agents’ interacting locally, according to a few pre-programmed rules of interaction, were seen to self-organize to form coherent ‘global’ patterns of behaviour. This has led to the idea that managers could set a few simple rules of interaction for staff and ‘allow them’ to self-organize; rather than seeking to impose detailed order from on high.

    To treat an organization as a CAS would require those same conditions to be fulfilled. That is, a set of rules would need to be imposed by someone outside the system boundary (as with the ‘programmer’). And those rules would have to be followed precisely and without exception. Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps) these conditions don’t apply. First, managers (the presumed programmers) are not external observers and controllers of other people’s actions; they are involved participants. Secondly, people don’t tend to follow rules, simple or otherwise. Issues of power, ideology, self interest, emotion and identity etc are always in play. Thirdly, organizations are not systems, in the sense that this is usually meant. Amongst other things, they don’t have boundaries. And, whereas a hand, say, (as part of the human body) can’t function if it is cut off from the body as a whole, an individual can – and does – function independently of ‘the organization’.

    At the same time, as Ralph Stacey and his colleagues point out, the work on CASs provides a useful source domain of analogy for what actually does go on in organizations. In particular, outcomes do emerge from people’s self-organizing interactions – as they make sense together of what’s going on and decide how they are going to act. Importantly, this happens in all organizations, whether managers govern by so-called “command-and-control” or are enthusiastic disciples of empowered self-management. That is, self-organization isn’t a designed-in function, it is a natural dynamic of local, conversational interactions.

    Also, as I outline in Informal Coalitions, the more that people make sense of things in particular ways, the more likely they are to make similar sense going forward. That is, coherent patterns of response arise, which manifest themselves as tendencies to think and act in some ways and not in others. These ‘global’ (i.e. widespread) patterns enable people to continue to function together, by tending to channel their ongoing sensemaking and action taking down mental, emotional and behavioural ‘pathways’ that are ‘culturally acceptable’.

    The potential always exists for novel outcomes to emerge from this interactional process and for patterns to shift spontaneously. The likelihood, though, is that existing patterns will be repeated and further reinforced.

    Other outputs that emerge from this ongoing process of conversational interaction are the formal trappings of ‘organization’ itself; that is the ‘official’ strategies, structures and processes etc. These similarly both enable and constrain ongoing interactions – though not wholly in the ways that managers intend them to, because they are always subject to local perception, interpretation and evaluation in the light of the particular circumstances that people find themselves in.

    So I would argue that what we talk of as “organizations” are complex social processes of people in interaction (or complex responsive processes, as Stacey would say). Nothing (i.e. no ‘thing’) exists outside of this process of everyday interaction. That is, there is no overarching body (an “organization”) that thinks, feels and acts independently of these local interactions. So organizations cannot be living organisms, or living systems because, in terms of the dynamics I’ve been describing, they don’t exist as an entity. The self-organizing dynamics of people interacting together simply generate patterns of meaning and action that we (have come to) think of as “organization”.

    Cheers, Chris.

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