Rethinking the architecture of management
Why is management the way that it is? Does it work well that way? And what part does the architecture of management play in determining how well it does or doesn’t work?
(This is probably another politically-risky post for me to play with, but never mind… 😐 )
In recent weeks I’ve repeatedly come across four seemingly-distinct themes:
- deeper exploration of the architectural idea that everything in the enterprise is or represents a service
- watching architecture colleagues in several different organisations struggle yet again with inane demands from management-hierarchies that simply don’t work
- deeper exploration of conceptual flaws in current economics, particularly around the concept of possession and ‘rights of possession’
- watching yet deeper cracks appear in the current worldwide economic system
For me there’s been a kind of nagging suspicion that there might be some strong interrelationships across all of that conceptual space. Which in turn leads me to several deeply-worrying questions – from an architectural perspective, if nothing else:
- If everything is a service, what services – if any – does management actually deliver to the enterprise?
- If everything is a service, why should management be assigned any priority over anything else?
- Why are management-services and management overall so consistently and notoriously inefficient and ineffective?
- What part does organisational-structure play in rendering management-services so seemingly-ineffective in practice?
- Why is it assumed that ‘promoting’ someone into management will necessarily improve overall service-delivery?
- Why is it so often assumed that the most effective way of organising management-services is a top-down hierarchy of supposed ‘control’ of all other services?
- Following the trails of prioritised service-relationships, why are financial-shareholders so often assigned priority over every service, when in many cases the only ‘service’ they offer seems, in essence, little different from a ‘protection-racket’ – enforced compliance to demands under threat of removal of ‘protection’?
- In the current socio-political context, what – if anything – can we do architecturally to make any of this work any better?
For that matter, what can we do to make it safe even to ask such questions…?
(Warning: this will no doubt be another long post…)
Let’s explore a bit more about each of those questions above.
If everything is a service, what services does management nominally deliver to the enterprise?
In Enterprise Canvas, the services typically delivered by ‘the management’ are described as ‘direction services’, with three distinct components:
- ‘develop the business’ – identify organisational and enterprise vision, and keep the organisation on-track to vision (VSM: ‘system-5’, “decisions to maintain identity”)
- ‘change the business’ – explore external (and internal?) context, to identify required strategic change (VSM: ‘system-4’, “development, research and marketing”)
- ‘run the business’ – use tactical and operational information to assess activity, allocate resources and guide decision-making (VSM: ‘system-3’, “operations planning and control”)
- ‘staff’ – aggregation of information and decision-making in terms of layers of abstraction (EC: ‘realization’ relationship)
- ‘line’ – aggregation of information and decision-making in terms of layers of decomposition or service-granularity (EC: ‘composition’ relationship and subtypes)
- coordination-services – coordination of planning for overall change, detailed management of change, and run-time coordination of inter-service transactions (VSM: ‘system-2’, “regulation and tactical planning”)
- validation-services – developing awareness and capability to keep on track to values, and performance in relation to those values (VSM: ‘system-3*’, “auditing”)
In essence, in classic Taylorism, anything that is not specifically about production or service-delivery (VSM: ‘system-1’), and could be construed as in some way related to ‘control’ of others, is placed under the exclusive purview and privilege of ‘management’. Taylorism places a strict boundary – some would say a social class-boundary – between ‘management’ and ‘workers’. Yet from a service-architecture perspective, management itself is another form of service-delivery, namely the delivery of ‘management-services’ – it is not and cannot be viewed as structurally different from anything else.
If everything is a service, why should management be assigned any priority over anything else?
Short answer: no valid reason at all – from a services-perspective, anyway. It’s just another service, or set of services.
The only feasible reason why management might be assigned arbitrary priority over other services is from left-over delusions about ‘rights of control’. For the most part, these delusions arise from an unfortunate coincidence of functions within the ‘management-services’:
- services for strategic-assessment – potentially giving the delusion that ‘knowing more about big-picture’ inherently means ‘responsibility to tell others what to do’
- services for coordination of resource-allocation – potentially giving the delusion of authority over others via ‘right to withhold’, in turn arising from delusions about the (dys)functional role of purported ‘rights of possession’ within the broader society, and hence within an organisation’s economic model.
In short, architecturally speaking, this is not a defensible reason for priority. Every service is ‘just another service’ that is required for enterprise viability: hence no service can be said to have inherent priority over any other.
Why are management-services and management overall so inefficient and ineffective?
The main reason is failure to understand that management-services are ‘just another service’, without any inherent priority over any other.
Mistaken concepts of inherent-priority and inherent authority ‘over’ others underpin and maintain a broad suite of highly-addictive power-problems and power-delusions – see the ‘Manifesto‘ from my book ‘Power and Response-ability: the human side of systems, and the SEMPER framework documented in SEMPER & SCORE.
In essence, the assumption of inherent-priority feeds a possessionist delusion of ‘right’ to regard and treat others as either ‘object’ or ‘subject’ of self. For obvious reasons, this rarely works well in a social context…
What part does organisational-structure play in rendering management-services ineffective in practice?
The short answer is probably a lot – though it’s often far from obvious as to exactly how and why this should be so.
Two themes do come to mind. One is that the Taylorist split between ‘management’ and ‘workers’ means that anything ‘not-work’ is pushed into the ‘management’ space. (This is another variant of the same driver that creates IT-centrism or business-centrism, but kind of in reverse – more “I am not-that” than “I am that”.) A key side-effect of this is that the non-run-time coordination-services and virtually all of the validation-services are subsumed under the ‘management’ banner – where they most definitely do not belong. As the Viable System Model makes clear, these categories of services are necessarily somewhat orthogonal to the direction-services (‘management’); if they are in effect subsumed into ‘management’, the automatic result – as evidenced in every ‘control’-oriented organisation – will be the creation of somewhat-covert ‘shadow-networks’ in order to get the respective work done. This inevitably creatives inefficiencies, misalignment, miscommunication, and many, many conflicts with ‘the management’ – as can be seen in almost any Dilbert cartoon…
The other theme arises from the Victorian (and hence Taylorist) passion for hierarchies of ‘control’. A tree-structure works well as a means to aggregate information and develop abstractions and overviews, and also as a means to distribute guidance-information (and resources in general) from a central point. However, a tree-structure is not good for coordinating end-to-end business-processes, because it forces all cross-silo coordination up towards the ‘top’ of the tree, creating serious bottlenecks for flows. And as Deming showed, it’s also often a very poor structure for decision-making and control, because of the ‘Taylorist trap’: the skillsets and abilities needed to solve concrete front-line problems become less and less available the further ‘upward’ – more-abstract – that we move in the hierarchy-tree.
There are probably many other examples of how management-structures impact effectiveness: there’s a lot more exploration needed here. These two themes are destructive enough already, though…
Why is it assumed that ‘promoting’ someone into management will improve overall service-delivery?
In a technical sense, we could suggest that it’s an odd historical artefact of three related yet distinct strands: possession-based economics, capitalism, and the last vestiges of feudalism. Possession-based economics provides the notion of personal ‘rights’ to collective resources; capitalism provides the concept that ‘the owners’ have exclusive ‘rights’ to organisational resources, and hence have exclusive say in how those resources are distributed and used; whilst feudalism provides the notion of ‘superiority’ and ‘inferiority’, and the purported ‘right’ of ‘superiors’ to determine and demand the actions of their ‘inferiors’. The result is a peculiar tree-type structure that can work well for specific functions in certain specific contexts: the Roman army is perhaps the classic example. In all too many cases, though, it tends to collapse into a dysfunctional mess where position with the tree-of-control denotes ‘authority without responsibility’ – riddled with all too many illustrations of what goes wrong when ‘power’ is defined as ‘the ability to avoid work’…
In possessionist capitalism, ‘rights’ to organisational resources are directly related to ‘position’ on the tree-of-control; ‘promotion’ (and its counterpart ‘demotion’) is a re-positioning on that tree, and hence an amendment of ‘rights to resources’ – both organisational resources and, via ‘remuneration’ and the like, to societal resources. To put it in a less technical way, ‘promotion’ is the main mechanism within the current employment-based model via which competent people get more recognition and more ‘stuff’. Because the tree-of-control is associated almost exclusively with the management-services, this often means that the only available means of enhanced recognition and remuneration is via ‘promotion’ into the management-structure.
In principle, a management role implies increased responsibility to guide others: in a service-oriented enterprise, that’s the real purpose for the management-services – and when that is the purpose for a ‘promotion’ into management, it does work well. The problem is that the ‘management=promotion’ assumes both that the person both wants to do that type of work with that increased responsibility for others, and is competent to do it anyway – and in many cases the answer is ‘No’. Yet if the only means of increased recognition or resources is ‘promotion’ into management, then that’s what they’ll do – and sometimes they have no choice about it anyway.
The result is often serious damage to organisational effectiveness. The competence-problem is well documented in the Peter Principle, that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence”. The other side of the ‘promotion’ is that someone who is usually very skilled at some other type of service-delivery is no longer available to do that work any more. To make it worse, becoming out of touch with front-line service-delivery may result in a steady erosion of their original competence – yet they may still believe that they know as much, if not more, than those who are currently doing front-line delivery. Courtesy of Taylorist theories about the nature of organisations, they may even believe that they automatically know more than others because they have been ‘promoted’ to a management role. The consequences can be very messy indeed…
A first-hand example, from a place where I once worked as a contract web-developer. (I’ve tweaked some of the details here to protect my colleagues, but otherwise this is essentially a factual description.) A very experienced engineer, who’d been very effective as a cross-discipline trouble-shooter for many years, was finally forced to take ‘promotion’ into managing the overall section. He was not a good administrator – but unfortunately believed that he was, and quickly learnt to blame everyone else rather than take responsibility for his own mistakes. Worse, he decided that, as manager, he now had the ‘right’ to review and amend anyone else’s work, often without bothering to tell them. The climax came when he changed a core part of our application late one evening, bypassing the code-management system to do so, and causing the application to break the following morning, right in the middle of a demonstration to key stakeholders. After that, everyone learned to block him out from anything that they were working on. So the only effective result of the ‘promotion’ was that we lost a very good troubleshooter, and gained a barely-competent manager and a frankly dangerous meddler – all in the same person.
Why is it assumed that the most effective way of organising management-services is a top-down hierarchy of ‘control’?
Most of this comes from Taylorist and pre-Taylorist belief-systems, as summarised above.
The problem is two-fold. One part is that a tree-structure is a good way to aggregate and abstract from performance-information, and to distribute directions within any context where centralised decision-making makes sense. There’s therefore a tendency to assume that it will therefore work well in all contexts – which is not the case. In essence, if the work is essentially robotic, can be defined by simple rules, and aggregation of control- and performance-information can be handled by a simple tree-structure without ‘top-of-tree’ inter-silo bottlenecks, and the context itself is not undergoing rapid change, then a top-down hierarchy will usually work well. If the work is knowledge-based and/or relationship-based, requires any form of localised decision-making, or any form of ‘any to any’ communication, or the context itself is changing – all of which frequently apply in present business-contexts – then a top-down control-hierarchy will not work well, and an alternative structure for management-services within that context must be used.
The other part of this is a hang-over from feudal times, where authority, responsibilities and ‘rights’ were defined in terms of strict rules within their own networks of fealty-oaths. A duke had the responsibility to lead an army, but was also responsible to raise the funds and everything else that the army would need; a count was responsible for taxation within a region, which often entailed the need for a small army to enforce that taxation; and so on. A feudal model defines that all people ‘below’ in the tree-of-control are subjects – literally, subject to the will of the ‘superior’, or acting as extensions of the ‘superior’s will.
(Psychologically speaking, it’a a very interesting ‘racket’, because it enables all parties to claim the ‘rights’ to any rewards but also the ‘right’ to avoid responsibility for the consequences. The ‘superior’ orders the action, but can avoid responsibility only the ‘inferiors’ actually did the action; the ‘inferiors’ did the action, but can claim that they weren’t responsible because they were ‘only following orders’ from the ‘superior’. The Nuremberg Principles are now used to overrule this ‘game’ in terms of war-crimes, though not yet applied to business-crimes: it will be interesting to see what happens when they are…)
In short, it’s just an arbitrary assumption: nothing more than that. It’s the result of a classic logic-error, assuming that because something did work in one context, it must therefore continue to do so in that context and all other contexts. Architecturally speaking, we need to challenge this assumption in every case, because the consequences to the organisation’s effectiveness are not good.
Why are financial-shareholders so often assigned priority over every service?
Short answer: no defensible reason. In practice, it arises from interestingly-selective myopia, from the usual dysfunctionalities of the possession-economy, and from a failure to grasp that the fundamentals of capitalism have actually changed somewhat during the past few hundred years…
The myopia is that financial shareholders are merely one category of investors in the organisation and enterprise: in almost all organisations and enterprises, there are many other types of investment than money, and many other categories of investor. Financial-shareholders are also often some of the least-responsible investors, given that the shareholding may now last mere milliseconds in some cases, and that shareholding in limited-liability companies involves quite considerable ‘rights’ with almost zero responsibilities other than risk of loss of financial investment. Structurally, this represents a very high risk to the enterprise.
The arbitrary privileging of financial-investment, and purported ‘rights of possession’ solely on the basis of financial investment, are rooted in an early-18th-century model of capitalism that is ludicrously out-of-date relative to the present-day business-context. For example, given that the core capital of many current organisations resides primarily in the minds and relationships of individual employees, the shareholder-model is often tantamount to a declaration of ‘right of possession’ of those individuals themselves – a claim which, as Charles Handy and other business-writers have pointed out, is utterly indefensible in law, because it’s tantamount to slavery. Again, huge structural problems here, for business-architecture especially – with a real risk that some of these structural flaws are already moving towards a point of catastrophic-failure.
What can we do architecturally to make any of this work any better?
All of these are architectural problems, all with very severe consequences, and hence definitely of serious concern in all aspects of enterprise-architecture and its various domain-architectures.
However, in most cases they arise from very deep political roots – which are not fun to deal with as an enterprise-architect…
The key here is to remember that, especially at this level, the architect’s role is primarily one of decision-support – not decision-making. In most of these cases, the decisions belong to senior executives, boards and, further out, regulators and politicians and the like. We should not attempt to usurp any of those decisions!
What we can do, and should do (in my opinion, anyway!), is to gather the evidence that others will need in order to make those decisions. In many cases we also could or should develop and document preliminary options – including documenting the implications and social and other costs and consequences – so that, again, those others can make informed decisions (or at least, more informed decisions than they seem to do at present…). That’s our task here: attempting to do anything more than that will probably help no-one – and may cause a lot more harm than good, especially to us.
Probably the simplest way to deal with this, in an architectural sense, is to class all of the problems described above as ‘dispensations’, breaches of valid architectural principles that have been allowed to go ahead anyway because of some overriding reason. In most cases, we can document the reason for the dispensation as a ‘political’ or ‘gold-plated requirement’ (to use the respective term from the Volere requirements-framework) – in other words, an arbitrary choice that has no real reason other than that someone said “because I said so”. Because all unresolved architectural-dispensations should be subject to regular review, eventually someone will have the courage to tackle these problems – and we can then at last take action to resolve them. But until that happy day, we can at least ensure that they don’t shoved into the dreaded ‘too-hard basket’, where far too many important problems languish indefinitely without attention until they’ve already gone past the point of no-return.
Yes, it’s frustrating – very frustrating. Especially for those of us – such as most architects, perhaps, by now? – who can see where this mess is heading at present. Yet as architects, that’s probably the best we can do for now: so let’s at least do that, I would hope?
Over to you, anyway.