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HP Software's community for IT leaders // January 2014

Structured success: Get your org ready for change

How do you make the newest technology flourish in your enterprise? Make sure your organization is at its best—and ready for change.

If the culture of an IT team, and the entire enterprise, is key to success, then IT organizations dealing with rapid change (cloud, mobility, big data analytics, etc.) need to look at the structure of their organizations, because the structure helps define the culture that will be make-or-break in a fast-changing business and IT environment. 

Author and consultant Dean Meyer talked to us about the human side of cloud deployments in particular, and in the second part of that interview, he digs deeper into organizational structure. Meyer, president of consulting firm NDMA, has coached executives and facilitated organizational transformations with systemic change (structure, culture, resource-governance processes)—all based on the business-within-a-business paradigm.  So we asked him, what a healthy IT structure look like, and what it gets you. Turns out, a well-designed organizational structure creates a more flexible, entrepreneurial organization.

Q: What structure best supports an entrepreneurial organization?
Dean Meyer:
There’s no “one size fits all” organization chart. But there is something that entrepreneurial, business-within-a-business organizations have in common: Jobs are defined around lines of business within IT; what you sell, not what you do.

Over years of study, a framework has evolved that defines all of the lines of business that exist within every IT organization. This is a key part of the science of structure called Structural Cybernetics. We use that framework not as an off-the-shelf organization chart, but rather, those lines of business within every organization become the “building blocks” of structure.

Then, Structural Cybernetics suggests principles for assembling those building blocks into an organization chart that meets the unique needs of each organization.

The word “structure” involves more than just the organization chart. It also includes workflows. You can’t change the org chart without, at the same time, changing workflows. These are two sides of the same coin, and any competent practitioner of structure will treat both your organization chart and workflows concomitantly. 

Q: How do the organization chart and workflows work together?
The organization chart tells people what they’re supposed to be good at. It determines their specialties, their domains, their boundaries, their lines of business, their accountabilities and authorities.

Workflows put those pieces back together, combining all the different specialties that are needed into project teams (or service-delivery teams) that get the job done.

If the workflows aren’t working well, then no matter how well-designed the organization chart may be, the structure will ultimately revert back into stovepipes of generalists trying to do everything because staff can’t count on one another’s help.  

Q: How fluid is this org chart and workflow?
Each project, and each new technology innovation like cloud, is unique in terms of which specialties are required. But that doesn’t mean we change the org chart every time another project or technology comes along. There’s great stability in a well-designed organization chart. In fact, we design organization charts to last a lifetime. What’s dynamic is the workflows that combine just the right people for this project at just the right time.  

Q: What’s involved in implementing Structural Cybernetics?
In too many cases, executives play with boxes on their org chart, put names in boxes, and then leave people to muddle around in public until they figure out how things should work (or revert back to their old ways).  

In Structural Cybernetics, we put a lot of thought into understanding how the new structure will work before we turn the switch. First, we design the organization chart, using the building blocks and the principles in a participative process. Through consensus, the leadership team defines exactly what lines of business are under each group. 

Then, the CIO decides the names in boxes. Next, we get those selected leaders to do what we call “walk-throughs” on all kinds of different projects and services. This is where they define workflows in the new structure, in the businesslike language of primes and subs. 

When you’ve got your leadership team in a place where you can corner any one of them, present a real-life project or service, and get a walk-through on the spot that’s pretty much the same answer as everybody else, then you’ve got a leadership team ready to go public.

Q: Is all this done just by the senior leaders?
We always start with the senior leadership team, designing the tier-one structure and practicing walk-through. In a large organization, they then design the boxes at tier two—two levels under the CIO—and put names in boxes. Then, the tier-one leaders rehearse the tier-two leaders with walk-throughs until they fully get it.  

At that point, we’ve got a whole leadership team with a common vision of how things should work in the new structure, and meanwhile, we still haven’t released it. We’re still operating in the old structure.

We then roster the rest of the staff, including contractors and vendors. Next, we prepare for the big day, when we officially switch over. Finally, there’s a meticulous migration process where accountabilities for projects and services are moved to the right place in the new structure. But by that time, we’ve got a whole leadership team ready to go, and we hit the ground running.  

Q: How will we know if we’ve got it right? 
You’ll know your structure is working if your managers have a clear sense of running a small business. They know their individual catalogs of products and services. They know whom their customers are, and make every effort to please them. They work as teams fluidly across boundaries. They manage vendors, like external cloud providers, as part of their staff. They’re proactive about innovation, and continually look for new ways their business can add value to the enterprise. You’re there when you’re managing a network of successful entrepreneurs.

Learn more about structural change at the NDMA website.


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