Saturday, December 12, 2009

Organizational Design and Engineering

Today I presented a paper I wrote together with Marinka Copier and Thijs Gaanderse at the International Workshop on Organizational Design and Engineering in Lisbon. My participation in this workshop brought me a lot of new insights. Not just from the reactions to my presentation, but also from listening to the other speakers and participating in the discussions that went on here these past two days.

One early comment that resonated with me was the distinction that was made between "hard" and "soft" elements of an organization: on the one hand hard artifacts that can be designed (information systems, offices, business processes, etc.) and on the other hand the parts of organizational systems that cannot be designed, such as individual behavior and social interaction. This of course lies at the heart of my own research and of my interest in game design.

I was encouraged by the reactions to my conception of a rule-set as the minimal structure that an organization is looking for. Case studies like the one described in our paper were recognized as a valuable research setting that add an important empirical element to related conceptual and theoretical work (such as that by Joao Vieira da Cunha, also present at the workshop). One insightful comment was that the term "minimal structure" does not relate so much to the number of rules, but to their elegance and their affordance for emergent behavior.

The keynote today was given by Antonio da Camara, CEO of a company called YDreams. Besides some of the very interesting projects his company is doing, he talked about how he designed his organization. What I thought was his most interesting remark was: "If I were to start another company now, it would be less emergent but more based on my experiences in the past." This points to the need for supplying design knowledge to managers and entrepreneurs. It also addresses one of the questions that was raised during this workshop: who will use the results of our work? My answer to that question is - based on the discussions here - that the results of our work on organizational design are not directly applicable by managers or entrepreneurs. As a matter of fact, it was pointed out that there have been big failures when working from the assumption that everyone can use these methods themselves. Applying organizational design knowledge requires specific training, so a manager will need an (internal or external) designer to come in and help him with this task. Much in the same way that managers will not design buildings or information systems themselves.

A presentation that got me thinking was the one by Robert Winter. He has been doing very interesting work on what he calls method engineering. I did not know this label before today, but it is actually part of what I'm doing in my research: I am constructing (or: engineering) a method for organization design. His point was that there is often too great a distance between the method and the actual problem that it is being applied to. He used the example of Davenport's BPR method. This is a very general method, being applied to a great variety of problems. Sometimes it can be better to make a method adaptable to specific design goals or context contingencies. This is definitely something to think about in my research as well: perhaps the steps we go through in our method should not be the same for all design problems.

I look back on a very worthwhile couple of days. Interesting discussions with fellow researchers, much food for thought, and a feeling of validation for the direction that my research is taking.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Generations and Work

Last night @nalden was at "De Wereld Draait Door" a dutch daily news talk show. Nalden is a great guy living in the true sense of the new generations hitting your workfloors about now. In this show he talks about his blog and his way of live sharing his thoughts to those who are interested. And he can make a nice living doing just this. When he is confronted with the jobtitle 'trendwatcher', he denies this and says he is just a young man paying attention! This is a great way to illustrate the connected mode of Generation Y. I included the video is his discussion in Dutch so you can get an idea about what is going on with this generation that is wondering around inside your company trying to figure out why corporate life got alienated from what is going on outside their walls.

Nalden is making his living in his own unique way but these are a lot of people just like him that are looking for jobs inside your companies. They are making use of technologies that are not provided by most IT departments and in a way that is unknown to most managers.

Shouldn't your company be trying to make these talented people feel at home and challenge them to make a difference for their company?

Monday, December 7, 2009

The New World of Work in The Netherlands

I was trying to make an overview of communities and sites concerning the New World of Work in The Netherlands, "Het Nieuwe Werken". I came up with the following alphabetical list, which is not complete off course. I excluded all vendors and only added non branded communities.

  • Ambtenaar 2.0, a community with more than 2500 members looking into the new government worker, with regular open coffee events and lots of activity online. Ambtenaar 2.0 is a more open variety of Overheid 2.0, a more closed community on Government 2.0
  • Het Nieuwe Werken Blog, a pure blog written by some the thoughtleaders in the Netherlands on this subject, active since february 2009

  • Het Nieuwe Werken op Lindedin, a group with more than 4700 members and 154 recent discussions

  • Innovatief Organiseren, a platform started by, active since september 2006

  • Nework community op Linkedin, a closed community with 200 members (of which 88 registered at linkedin) and quarterly meetings

  • Over Het Nieuwe Werken, a community and conference initiated by Kluwer

  • Telewerkforum, a foundation active since 1995 and supported by 88 companies

  • Vernieuwing in Werk, a more recent community with more than 250 members, active online and in meetups

  • Werken 2.0, a blog with more than 563 articles on the subject and also an overview of the communities on linkedin and ning

To show how much content is being added on this theme I performed a Google search on "Het Nieuwe Werken" delivers about 72.400 results. A more loosely executed search on this theme gets you more than 4 million results. The theme is hot in The Netherlands and based on some discussions with people outside of the Netherlands I think were somewhat ahead of the troops. But I doubt if this is true...

Fo you know of other initiatives in The Netherlands or Global initiative? Do you have an opinion on the state of The New World of Work in a global perspective? Let us know!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Groudswell part II

Yesterday Josh Bernoff presented the table of contents of the sequel to Groundswell. In his new book the groundswell inside the company gets more attention than in the first book. Four chapters will be dedicated to "Your People". I am looking forward to the contents of these chapters! These chapters will discuss empowerment, collaboration and leadership.

In his blogpost he mentions one of the principles they came up with: "If you want to succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve their problems". This principle will have big impact on IT and Risk for making it possible for employees to actually design their own IT to fit their needs. IT have to hop on to the trend or be left back and actualy lose the role they were designed to do! The risk people have to figure out a way to empower employees to make smart decisions and minimize risk at the same time. The current financial crisis illustrates that these two do not necessarily go together well...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Groundswell: POST and implementing new ways of working

Last weekend I finished reading Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. They describe strategies for winning in a world transformed by social technologies. To start of an organization needs to think about POST (People, objectives, strategy and technology). As I look back in doing implementations of new ways of digital working inside companies, I see the same pattern in all of my projects. At the start we try to analyze the current state of an entire company. Our analysis does not stop with people but considers processes and IT and the physical workplace. The social technographics profile tries to standardize and benchmark the population you aim for. This is essential because you need make sure your solutions are going to be used by your chosen population. When you are profiling an organization you will encounter differences within parts of your organization. These differences will occur between divisions and team, between countries between generations and between male and female.

The conclusion is you should use some sort of profiling at the beginning of your project, this will result in multiple different profiles. Some companies transform profiles into persona's to better understand needs and considerations for a target group. You need to analyze work processes to grasp the work that is being done inside. Plotting these processes inside a matrix to see differences between collaborative nature and complexity of work. This complete analysis will give a good base for designing a new way of working!

What are your thoughts on this? How do you think POST can be enriched to cover more ground?