IT Transformation – Welcome to the machine

The rapid growth of Project and Programme Management frameworks for the delivery of IT projects has empowered a wider section of the organisation to realise transformation. These frameworks have increased predicability in outcomes of our projects, and by doing so have enabled Sensing/Thinking MBTI™ personality types to become the key drivers of our projects. For the Business Analyst, charged with bridging the gap between a project and the intended value; this presents a challenge.

To understand the source of this challenge it is useful to recognise the assumptions about an impacted organisation that these frameworks, perhaps unwittingly, reinforce. In his book Images of Organisation, Gareth Morgan (2006) identified a number of metaphors for the way we represent an organisation internally. One such is the “machine” metaphor, viewing the organisation as a set of interconnected parts, hooked together according to a master blueprint, with leadership pulling the correct leavers to work the machine and produce goodness.

A well oiled machine?
A well-oiled machine?

This metaphor is extremely seductive within IT, where concepts of “plug and play”, interfaces, object oriented approach, etc. are used to reduce complexity. The temptation is take these models a step further as a method for abstracting the organisation. The underlying assumption being that individual units are either working, or broken; i.e. if they perform their task they do not introduce flaws, and if they do not perform an alarm will sound so we can fix the component.

The Sensing-Thinking IT management community have been incredibly productive in producing tooling based on this kind of rational view – Prince2, MSP, CoBIT, ITIL, etc – with the underlying assumption that the challenge is to identify and control work.

In reality neither of the above assumptions are reliable. Importantly, they are especially unreliable at times of change. At such points we should expect the lower levels of an organisation’s underlying culture to have a stronger influence than the surface mechanisms for organising work, and it is with the former that we must grapple if we are to be successful.

The challenge then, is for the Business Analyst to bridge the gap between the expectation of a project and an approach that manages through the actual culture of the organisation. This culture is often far removed from the machine metaphor that the organisation would state as operating.

For the change to be successful the analyst needs to address the visible artefacts of a machine way of working, whilst engaging the norms and values of the actual culture of the organisation – these may be political alliances, emergent change, professionalism in the work-force undermining management, etc. The first challenge of the is often to onboard the sponsors to the idea that the organisation is not a machine with plug-and-play parts.

What are your experiences of the machine metaphor? Have you encountered organisations that are convinced they run like a machine, but are actually something quite different? Let me know…

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