Design Your Process to Control the Chaos

by David Mastronardi 29 Jun 2010 Blog Post

Two separate themes stood out to me during my time at the E2.0 Conference in Boston last week.  The first,  design for loss of control, came directly out of JP Rangaswami’s top-notch keynote address.  The second, how can E2.0 improve process at my company?, was something I picked up more organically from time spent in conversation with E2.0 pundits and practitioners.  Separately, these concepts seem opposed but when blended together they create a healthy tension that exists in agile organizations.

The first theme strikes the core of a learning organization.  A learning organization is in constant flux, continually challenging its assumptions and evaluating wins and losses to glean insights for competitive advantage.  Organizations designed for loss of control will not be in balance; their equilibrium will be deliberately and continually challenged.  These challenges and pressures are the forces that create learning organizations.  Attempts to learn and achieve equilibrium will create a more flexible and agile enterprise better equipped to respond to frequent and unexpected changes in the competitive landscape.

Keeping the above in mind, addressing the process issue starts to become more clear.  When (re)designing process, assume and design for loss of control.  Build in an evolutionary mechanism for the process itself.  This meta-process could be as simple as a feedback loop consisting of collection, prioritization and process alteration.  In the continuum between control and chaos, target somewhere in the middle for your process (for most organizations this target represents an uncomfortable shift away from control and towards chaos).  An open and flexible process has the benefit of returning expected results (what’s the point of process after all?) plus the ability to adapt, optimize and mutate if need be, enabling emergent outcomes.

Most cutting edge ‘social’ enterprises are still only in an adoption phase.  Pilots are scattered across business units and functional organizations and, in many cases, the separate project teams aren’t aware of each other’s efforts.  As these efforts mature away from adoption towards integration and aggregation, process will be challenged.  Start thinking about that now.  Take advantage of this adoption phase and practice designing for loss of control.  You want to be good at it when it’s really going to matter.

  • Greg Waddell

    Greg post! Like the idea of building adaptive mechanisms for the process itself. Two potential obstacles immediately came to mind though: investment and human nature. Some processes involve major financial investments which would cause people to resist adaptation. Also, it has been shown that people are more enthusiastic about maintaining the familiar than they are about moving into the new. So, any adaptive process needs to address these two issue if it is to be successful. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.