Management as ‘just another service’
What do I mean when I say that, in a service-oriented architecture of the enterprise, we need to view management and the like as ‘just another service’?
This came up in a comment to the previous post ‘Why are the elite the elite?‘ The notion of ‘just another service’ is worth exploring more – especially as it has corollaries and implications that do have serious impacts on enterprise effectiveness.
(Just to make things clear: this is about enterprise architecture, not politics. Yes, as we’ll see, there are some significant sociopolitical ramifications from this, but that isn’t the focus here: the primary purpose is to explore some of the practical issues we encounter when scaling up a service-oriented architecture to a full whole-of-enterprise scope.)
Although I’ve said ‘enterprise’ above, what we’re dealing with here is mainly about management within ‘the organisation’ (organisation and enterprise are not the same).
What we’re actually dealing with is a paradigm-problem. On the one side, there are two fundamentally-different concepts of the organisation: organisation-as-machine, typified by Taylorism and the like; and organisation-as-living-organism, typified by various ‘systemic’ views such as those from Deming, Senge or Beer.
These two perspectives lead to two fundamentally-different views of the nature and role of management – which in turn have, as above, significant sociopolitical ramifications. But to get there, and to contrast those two views, we first need to do a couple of side-steps.
One of these side-steps is about purpose and the organisation.
In the machine-view, purpose is extrinsic: the purpose of the organisation is defined from outside the organisation. It’s just a machine: everything and everyone within it is, by definition, just another ‘purpose-free’ component of that machine. The machine itself is guided – or defined, perhaps – by the aims of the organisation’s owners, who provide the capital for ‘the enterprise’ and “the animal spirits of the entrepreneur” to set it in motion.
In the organism-view, purpose is intrinsic: the purpose of the organisation is defined from within the organisation. The biological metaphor here is the urge the survive and thrive, within a broader ‘enterprise’ represented by the ecosystem within which the entity exists. The organism is self-guided, self-directed, largely autonomous in the literal sense of ‘self-defined’ or ‘self-owned’. The classical concept of an external ‘owner’ doesn’t really make sense here – other than by stretching the view to include a metaphoric ‘farmer’, perhaps.
Which brings us to another related side-step about owners and rulers and property, because there are two fundamentally-different concepts there as well: feudal/hierarchical versus free-form/ecosystem.
(Note that this won’t suggest that one is somehow inherently ‘better’ than the other: they’re not. It’s more about ‘fit’ to the requirements of the context – ‘better’ only in a contextual sense, not an ‘absolute’ one. If you’re familiar with Spiral Dynamics model of social contexts, feudal/hierarchical is essentially Red/Blue, nowadays with a thin veneer of Orange; free-form/ecosystem requires system-awareness, and hence is in the Gold/Turquoise range. [Ignore the ‘historical determinism’ in Spiral Dynamics, by the way: to be blunt, it’s garbage. But the core ‘vMeme’ model is sound, and can be very useful as a cultural-assessment frame in enterprise-architectures.])
A feudal/hierarchical culture is one in which there are strict relationships (‘fealty’) of roles that are ‘above’ or ‘below’ each other, and that identify respective authority, ‘rights’, responsibilities. A true feudal model has a single ruler (‘monarch’) at the ‘top’ of relationship-tree; a more literal hierarchy instead has some form of abstract concept (such as ‘God’, or ‘the Law’) that is nominally ‘above’ all others, but in essence and in practice comes to much the same as a feudal model. In both variants, each ‘inferior’ is the ‘subject’ of the respective ‘superior’ – literally, classed as a semi-autonomous extension of the ‘superior’, with no independent identity, existence or will.
(For an extreme near-present-day example, consider Gadaffi’s Libya, with Gadaffi himself as ‘Brother Leader’ who thinks for all, decides for all, and possesses all – and whose merest whim is Law. In principle, if fortunately not so much in practice, the Pope provides much the same role for the Catholic Church – subject only to the perceived ‘will of God’.)
‘Modern’ capitalism arose in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in cultures that in essence were still largely feudal – in practice, at least, if not necessarily in theory. Aristocrats still held most of the land; but increasingly, the new merchant class held most of the money, and hence could claim a near-equal stake at the top of the tree-of-control. Beneath them in the tree were a wide range of agents: the bailiff, the steward, the factor, and so on. In modern-day parlance, these were the ‘managers’. And beneath them, as the ‘subjects’ of everyone else, were the ‘workers’ – the providers of Labour, to use the term from classic capitalism.
Taylorism in essence reflects and embodies exactly this type of feudal model: a rigid three-tier class-hierarchy. At the top we have the owners, who actually don’t get much of a mention in Taylorism as such: they set the purpose for the ‘machine’, issue commands accordingly, and are deemed to have the exclusive ‘right of possession’ over everything and everyone else. (Note, though, that with the invention of the ‘limited-liability company’ and other related changes in law, the old feudal mutuality of responsibilities is gone: all others are still responsible to the owners, but not the owners to their ‘vassals’ or to anyone else. In effect, the ‘social contract’ becomes one-way only: an obvious huge kurtosis-risk that few now seem willing to acknowledge…) Beneath them we have the managers, who in Taylorism do all the thinking for the ‘machine’, and maintain control: they interpret the wishes of the owners, and relay them as orders to those who in turn are ‘beneath’ them. And at the base of the tree, we have the workers, who do all of the ‘doing’ of the ‘machine’, and in essence are classed as mindless robots, subjects of everyone else’s ‘rights’ to ‘command and control’.
So in Taylorism, as in the Victorian battlefield, everyone has a fixed role in a fixed structure of top-down ‘command and control’ – owners own; managers think; workers do – and no-one can move outside of those preordained roles. Everything and everyone is a component within ‘the machine’.
By contrast to all of this, the ecosystem-model has no hierarchy at all: no-one has ‘rulership’ over anything else, there’s no command, and in many ways there’s no control either. The organism or ecosystem simply is. Sometimes there’s no real order as such – as in a colony of extremophile bacteria, for example. Often, though, there is some form of apparent order or collective purpose that emerges from the interactions in the overall context: the structure of a human body is one example of which we all have direct first-hand knowledge. 🙂 Within a human body, it doesn’t make sense to use a ‘rulership’ metaphor, that “the heart rules the head”, for example, or “the kidneys rule the throat”. (Okay, people may well use such metaphors, but they don’t actually make sense in physiological terms, anyway…) Instead, the most accurate metaphor is that each cell and organ and structure offers its services in support of the whole.
So: what next? – especially in relation to the organisation and its management?
On the one side, we have the machine-metaphor. In Taylorism and the like, this aligns with a feudal-style tree-structure of ‘command and control’, a hierarchy of ‘bosses’ and ‘subordinates’. All of this is bounded by predefined rules and algorithms – hence ‘scientific management’. Everything and everyone is considered only to be a component – a nested structure of components within components within components.
On the other side, we have the living-organism metaphor. This aligns with a network-type structure, often with fluid roles and dynamic changes in relationship and connection. There is no identifiable hierarchy as such; instead, relative ‘positioning’ tends to be derived in an emergent way from the interaction of the whole. Instead of predefined roles, each entity – at every level of granularity or decomposition – offers services that contribute in some way to the emergent workings of the whole.
So how do these two models apply in the real world?
On the surface, most organisations still seem to use the machine-metaphor: there are explicit ranks, each with authority ‘over’ others, and so on. The nominal role of management is still a Taylorist ‘command and control’.
However this type of structure is very unwieldy, and slow to respond to change – certainly far too unwieldy for anything involving fast real-time action or real-time change. Even armies don’t use it any more – not on the battlefield, anyway, where ‘command and control’ has long since been replaced by a much more free-form ‘Commander’s Intent’. The same applies in Agile-style product-development, or in successful customer-service: the classic ‘command and control’ call-centre is frankly despised by almost everyone, especially those who struggle to survive within them…
So in practice, most organisations still present themselves as top-down command-and-control. But the reality is that, other than in a few quite narrow contexts, that isn’t how they actually work. Instead, to get the speed of response that’s needed in a real-time world, just about everything is structured around services – except for management, which still tries to cling on to command-and-control.
One of the real problems is that if we move to a service-oriented model – which we need in order to support the required agility and emergence in the market-‘ecosystem’ – one of the crucial side-effects is that management can no longer be viewed as ‘special and different’. It’s not like the hierarchies of Taylorism: a service-architecture is a network-structure with no top, no bottom, and usually no identifiable centre either. In a true service-model, management is just another service, one that happens to provide management-type services to the whole. (I’ve described those services in some depth back in the various posts on Enterprise Canvas, hence no need to repeat it all again here?) And since in a service-architecture there’s no hierarchy-tree, no top, no bottom, no centre, management has no reason whatsoever to try to claim automatic or inherent priority over anyone or anything else: it’s just another service.
In a classic business-architecture, the first thing we usually do is try to map out the ‘org-chart’. What we discover very quickly is that that tells us almost nothing about how the work is actually organised. To get any sense of what’s really going on, and what and how and why anything connects with anything else, our best bet is to turn to a enterprise-architecture that starts from one very simple principle: that everywhere and nowhere is the centre, all at the same time. In other words, a strategy that leads naturally into a service-oriented approach to the architecture.
That’s pretty much where we’re at now with enterprise-architecture, and why a service-oriented approach to the architecture gives the best fit for most current business needs. But we keep on hitting up against that huge stumbling-block and bottleneck that we’re apparently not supposed to notice: namely that the hierarchical concept of management, that everyone seems to want to cling on to, simply does not make sense any more. Instead, the only thing that does make sense is the view that management is just another service, no different in rank or priority or the like from anything else.
Unfortunately, the political ramifications of that fact are huge. For example, if management is ‘just another service’, is there any reason why self-styled ‘senior management’ should always get the top floor and the highest pay? The short answer is no: no reason whatsoever. Oops… Think that blunt fact will be resisted – especially by those who currently claim to have the ‘right’ of command-and-control over all others? You betcha… and it won’t matter one jot that that kind of clinging-on to something that doesn’t make sense will make things worse for everyone, including themselves. It’s very, very hard to let go of privilege, of a sense of certainty in entitlement – especially when the blunt reality is that never were any real defensible grounds for that privilege in the first place. Tricky, that one… very difficult indeed…
Yet before you launch at me with some arbitrary accusation that I’m some kind of crazy ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’ or ‘anarchist’ or the like (okay, as an architect I might perhaps accept the ‘business-anarchist‘ label… 🙂 ), notice that this is not about politics. It’s only about architecture – nothing else. All that I’m saying here is that a service-oriented architecture points us inevitably at the blunt fact that management is ‘just another service’. What we do with that ‘blunt fact’ is another question entirely: but that it is a fact is not in question.
Hope that makes a bit more sense, anyway?