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Management is a Technology

I’ve been thinking of management as a technology for some time.

Now this.  And the related data set.

McKinsey notices that management models can be impacted by technology!

McKinsey, ten years after I started saying that we should be focusing on using technology to change how we manage rather than over complicating how we manage technology, is now saying companies that integrate Web 2.0 technologies into their work flows perform better:

Shame people have to wait until the data is available before they believe this 🙂

Some extracts from the Collaboration Architecture sections of the MWT book which talk able Collaboration Architectures – which is what we are really talking about (not Web 2.0):

– link coming soon –

Dan Pink: Management is a television set (i.e. technology)

From Dan Pink’s TED talk on “The Surprising Science of Motivation”:

“In the 20th century we came up with this idea of management. Management did not emanate from nature. Management is not a tree it’s a television set. Okay? – Somebody invented it. And it doesn’t mean it’s going to work forever… Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement self-direction works better.”

Pink also introduces parts of his “new operating system for our businesses” based on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

The specifics of Pink’s new operating system are interesting – but I think as values they are almost universally accepted. More interesting is the acknowledgment that you might install a new operating system into organisations to replace ‘management’ itself. This idea has been the premise of MWT from its inception (see here and here for example).

The general principle of the MWT Model is to replace planning, monitoring, and controlling with collaboration architectures, technology-enabled markets, and operationalised brands. The MWT Model also positions management as a technology rather than a class of individuals.

In a sense, Pink’s new operating model fits into the MWT Model by acknowledging management as a technology, replacing it with something else, and operationalising an internal brand based on the values of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


Watch the full video below:


Thoughts on The End of Information Management: Everbody’s Responsibilty

When I began my career in the 1990s I quickly got frustrated with the idea that “quality is everybody’s responsibility”. If you remember corporate environments at that time you’ll remember this expression. To me it didn’t mean much. To me this was like saying your happiness is your own responsibility. It was self-evidently true but I had to wonder why I would waste my time listening to somebody tell me that. I naturally wondered what was in it for them.I don’t hear that phase as much anymore. It started to disappear when it was replaced by “the customer is at the centre of everything we do”. Of course, I had issues with this phrase too. Like the quality people, I couldn’t really understand how people got paid to say such trivial platitudes. I didn’t even think it was helpful to think that organisations should consider the customer to be the centre of everything they did. In fact, to me it sounded too internally focused. When I engaged at all it was to declare that “the customer is at the centre of everything they do – that’s what customer centric actually means!”.

What does this have to do with information management? Well, you might have heard recently that data is really important. It’s the latest craze. It didn’t start with big data but that’s certainly when it went mainstream. You know that’s when it went mainstream because the time between when it was cool to talk about big data and when it was cool to diss big data was about 3 months. Every big data article now proudly declares how contrarian they are by saying it’s not really how big your data is it’s how you use it – or some such chant. For some it’s supposedly really all about “fast data”. Others will say it’s not about data it’s about information. It’s all semantics – and those in information management should find that ironic.  

My personal attempt at the anti- big data spin was to call it “cheap data”. This is no less obnoxious than the others and I apologise for it. But cheap data at least explains why their is so much of it about. With so much data of course comes so much data management. The real disciplines of data and information management are quite mature. I’ve worked with people who have been information management professionals for 25 years. There are deep knowledge bases around how to manage information of both the practical and academic variety.  

Real information management professionals have a deep and complex relationship with all things information. The field is highly specialised and filled with professionals who have their own specialised language and techniques . 

My career is basically 25 years of technology enabled business transformation – starting with the modest business transformation of how wooden pallets were tracked for a small fruit shop that I wrote a tracking program for when I was 17. However, from an information management professional perspective I’m not allowed to say I have 25 years experience. Instead, I have about 5 years experience. This is because information management has a long history and the specialisation is deep. 

I’d also suggest my 5 years experience is only half “real” information management experience because the other half was spent stripping out all of the information management jargon and breaking up endless arguments between information management professionals. That is to say, I spent a lot of time trying to stop information management people talking and getting them listening. But this process – while a nessesary and important part of the mass consumerisation of information management – is unfair on those “real” information management professionals.  

Information management is a mature specialised discipline. But it’s also at the same point that the quality movement was when it endlessly declared “quality is everybody’s responsibility”. When data got cheap, and became the biggest story in town, information management was suddenly everywhere. But that meant it had to appeal to a broad audience. Which meant that deep and specialised language had to go out the window.  

While many concepts deep in the details all of those information management skills are still useful – just like being able to look up a book in a library catalogue is still useful – ultimately the level of broad communication about information management that most organisations can tolerate before they switch off is basically “data is everybody’s responsibility”.  

As I’ve said often before, the discipline of general management is unkind to specialisation – wishing and hoping that complexity and nuance is unceremoniously removed from all things for the convenience of centralised decision-making and at the expense of distributed decision-making power (and ultimately decision effectiveness). For all the intolerance to specialisation that general management has this is nothing compared to the compromises that must be made when appealing to the masses. Data management is the new quality management and is changing so it appeals to the masses. This is in many ways a penultimate step in the evolution of any intellectual centre.  

Short of building another organisational silo and trying to move all of your data management into it, you’re basically in the territory of culture change if you want to broadly impact how your organisation uses data.  But once you’re appealing to something as broad as cultural change you’re out of the realm of specialisation and closer to the realm of politics – for better and for worse.  

Information management is a rich and specialised set of disciplines that help you manage your information once you’re willing to accept you have a problem managing your information. It also includes a number of governance and discovery disciplines that help you identity that you have a problem if you’re willing to invest in information the same way you invest in other assets. 

This is all well and good by why do that? I understand that when information is wrong it could lead to misunderstanding of risk. Or that when information is wrong it might impact customer experience. I consult in this area so I’m happy to tell you that you might not be meeting your regulatory obligations unless you are both managing information according to certain standards and able to attest to the accuracy of that information.  

But why view this as an information problem? How is this different to “just focusing on the technology”? I’ve seen many initiatives fail with a retrospective 20-20 hindsight assessment that they failed because they only focused on the technology. It’s true that initiatives must focus on more than just the technology. Great – we should do that. We should also avoid using negations to describe what we should do. You can’t focus on “not the technology” you have to focus on something specific. Equally, you can’t use “the business” for shorthand. There isn’t such a thing.  

Just like only focusing on the technology will give poor outcomes. Only focusing on the information will give poor outcomes.  

This idea that a kind of functional excellence in information management is holding organisations back is a fallacy. The real problems have nothing to do with a lack of functional excellence in a seperate information function. The real issues are general management, accountability for details, mis-investment in technology, and apathy at the margin.

Everybody likes to say that “the business owns the information”. This is absolutely true. Why are we even talking about this? We can reinforce our message by saying “the information isn’t owned by IT”. Again, this is absolutely fine. I personally could imagine an organisation where “information is owned by IT”. This seems sacrilegious and against all good information management principles but I don’t see why an organisation wouldn’t be allowed to operate this way. IT is in fact part of this mythical amalgamation known as “the business” and IT does stand for “information technology”. You could interpret information technology to mean the techniques and tools to manage information. And you tend to only manage things you own. Perhaps the IT department would make a good custodian for all an organisation’s information assets.  In fact, in many organisations this is the case. The only thing missing is recognition that data in one of those pesky little details you your IT department has been building capability in for years without due recognition.  

When I started work my payslips were hand-written by a clerk in payroll. That process was owned by the head of payroll. The accountability for delivering my payslip was with the head of payroll but the responsibility for creating the payslip was with that clerk. We’ve all heard this language before. But the fact is, today an IT system prints my payslip. If the printer breaks a tech support person fixes it. Often they don’t know how to fix the problem – so they learn. If the system crashes when they try to run payroll you can bet the email will say “payroll has been delayed because of a computer issue”. The person who needs to fix this issue might have only started in the job the day before – so they’ll have to learn many things before they can fix it – so they’ll start learning those things. And yet, the “business owner” for that system is still the head of payroll.  

In the information management world, that ownership of the payroll system is a different beast to the ownership and accuracy of the payroll information itself. This is a powerful concept in information management. It’s particularly powerful for information assets that have a more complex lifecycle than payroll information. But so what? We have all the accountability for getting payroll right that we need. Even for more complex information assets, if accountability is in place for the outcomes that rely on that information what more accountability do we need?  Just as “… including accuracy of data”.

The truth is that when we manage accountability for outcomes many organisations have operated on an implicit assumption that that accountability excluded the data. Somehow the data was determined to be just another one of those minor details that were considered above the general management discipline where accountability is defined. So the only change is to explicitly change this implicit assumption that accountability excludes data details.

So I guess what I’m saying is…

“Data is everybody’s responsibility”

Technology can change what it means to manage

A16z Podcast: Engineering a Revolution at Work | Andreessen Horowitz: “today’s cloud-based tools change the role of managers”

Including this:

“Theses are the things to me that are just these huge cultural shifts in how you manage an organisation.  What your role of a manager is in a meeting is no longer to be reported to.  Because frankly if you want to know, you should just go to the place that everybody on the team is already using to keep track of there information.  When you get everybody together it shouldn’t be to argue the pros and cons of how the information was gathered, or is it the right number, or is the number pivoted the right way.  We wall agree, this is the number, is it good or bad?  What should we do as an organisation to change that number?”

Given the premise of this blog, and the time I’ve spend in information management, to see the idea that technology can effect what it means to manage is always pleasing.

And this:

“It’s not that you’re going to look at a 15 page status report and say ‘how can I do a 15 page status report in this tool?” or look at this giant tracking spreadsheet and say ‘how do I do this in a tablet?’.  What’s happening is new tools… The tools are now five years old, or at the very least two or three years old, and all of the sudden we’re seeing this explosion in new approaches to the work products themselves and that’s what’s particularly exciting right now… There’s enough experience with the form factor to say now we don’t just have to do it the old way.”


Information-enabled business transformation: Moving Beyond Information Management

Now that data scientists and cloud BI are going mainstream (a nice overview of trends here: we are finally seeing information management evolve into information-enabled business transformation.  

This is an important evolution from my perspective.  To be able to use some solid IM foundational capabilities as building blocks for true business transformation is my main interest in IM.  I’ve been learning IM approaches for the last 3-4 years specifically with this in mind.  

For example, see the following overview of typical information services (starting from the bottom of the stack) building into information-enabled capabilities (at the top of the stack).  This was created back in 2012 as part of the process of developing the SMS Management & Technology Information and Data Management (IDM) service catalogue:

IDM Overview for Overview Appendix  New Diagrams v0 1


It’s a little hard to read the “knowledge books” at the top of the stack that are the information-enabled capabilities that I thought would be important at the time.  

They are:

  • Collaborative risk management
  • Information-embedded products
  • Customer touch-point information integrity
  • Market-making technology
  • Integrated performance reporting
  • Value-added compliance
  • Dynamic product configuration / pricing
  • Yield management
  • Budget integrity (budgeting and forecasting + prediction + event-based assumption validation)
  • Extend time horizon of decision making
  • Agile Innovation 

Technology-enabled Markets

Technology-augmented markets are the ‘why’ of technology implementations. This component of the MWT Model provides purpose, direction, and insight into technology-enabled business transformation projects. Implementation of an information system which doesn’t also transform management practices into a highly transparent market-based approach will not longer deliver competitive advantage.

The types of technologies currently being deployed to manage procurement and spend management are only the tip of the iceberg. Information technology solutions which provide for both market-based optimisation and demand forecasting (not just planning) will dramatically strip waste from organisations over the next 5 – 10 years.


Blog posts relating to Technology-enabled Markets: 

  • Nine of world’s biggest banks join to form blockchain partnership LONDON Nine of the world’s biggest banks including Goldman Sachs and Barclays have joined forces with New York-based financial tech firm R3 to create a framework for using blockchain technology in the markets, the firm said on Tuesday. Commonwealth Bank of course joined earlier. from:
  • Interesting Times at Westpac – Dave Curran, CIO I would have loved to have seen the presentation that’s been given some positive press here.  Westpac are putting some meat around their transformation agenda after having learnt from the experiences of other banks. Many of these large scale transformation programs (think ERPs, CRMs, core systems replacements, etc) have a tendency to teach the organisation about ...
  • Cloud-First Policies vs. The Real Impact of Cloud What a slow process it is to watch jurisdictions implement “cloud first” policies.  State and federal governments are all doing it and in the end they all look pretty similar.  Some might say it’s a policy of considered common sense, or a policy not to exclude the obvious.  At least the process is getting done. ...
  • Another example of Market-based Management: Kanban As an Economic Bargaining System for Portfolio Management Principles “1. Introduce a common unit of currency – must be scarce” “2. Provide a marketplace for buyers to bid on units of supply using common unit of currency” “3. Provide just-in-time information to promote market liquidity”
  • Industrialised Adhocracy and The Future of Work Excellent overview on Industrialised Adhocracy and The Future of Work:
  • Rats participating the markets Okay, so this has the scientific due diligence of an art installation rather than an actual proof of utility.  But it shows why market-based management is so important.   One project is Michael Marcovici’s Rat Trader. The book describes the training of laboratory rats to trade in foreign exchange and commodity futures markets. Marcovici says the ...
  • Market Stereotypes Once you start looking for market stereotypes you can see them everywhere:   Market Stereotype Description  Examples Competitive game Gaming performance where team’s are made of individuals with similar goals Sales team leaderboards  Cooperative game Gaming performance where only team performance matters but individual team members contribute in different ways  Collaborativeworkforcemanagement  Discovery & scoring Add discovery of information by scoring of information and collective curation elancer  Redundant production Make more ...
  • Game Dynamics and Internal Market Making I like the idea that Seth Priebatsch is ‘determined to build a game layer on top of the world’ in the same way I like Jane McGonigal’s work to save the world with games. Seth says in his TEDxBoston talk linked above that while the last 10 years have been about ‘building the social ...
  • Does the enterprise architecture really ‘contain’ the organisation? Is the enterprise architecture a town plan?  I’m not sure I agree with the idea that the enterprise architecture is analogous to a town plan.  For example, under the work-in-progress ‘Coherent Enterprise Archiecture’ (CEA) e-book maintained here, the follow definition applies: “The CEA strategy to lay out the Notional and holistic enterprise master plan ...


Information Management in a Process-based Management Paradigm

I conducted a very interesting experiment this week.  I presented a basic information management roadmap workshop at a business process management (BPM) conference.  It went quite well and I think (and know from feedback) that most people got something of value out of it.  That’s not to say it didn’t have the awkwardness of an information management guy presenting to a process-focused audience.  It was a challenge.  

But it was really an experiment in cross-dicipline workshopping.  I have very little interest in promoting information management as a function these days.  I agree that the part of most organisations that ensures that information is invested in as an asset simply doesn’t exist (hint: it isn’t I.T.) but I’m more interested in what I call “capability engineering”.

My work on the ManageWithoutThem Management Model has – among other themes – determined that information management IS management.  The process-based management paradigm has enormous value but is basically being eroded by technological advancements and network intelligence that puts outcomes (and in particular information outcomes) ahead of the processes that produce them.

The very idea of a business process management (BPM) workshop disturbs me slightly.  As does an information management (IM) workshop.  I’m more interested in developing hard-to-replicate business capabilities that combine people, process, information, and technology.  

The whole concept of BPM conferences, information management conferences, and any other conference based on a functional view of organisations is completely at odds with the capability-based governance view that says: start with what you want to be able to do for your customers or with your assets and decide who is responsible – and then let them coordinate across functions.

For those that requested the workshop materials the slides and hand-outs are below: 



NSW Govt blames IT systems for caseworker shortfall – Software – Technology – News –

Business impact of information management 101:

NSW Govt blames IT systems for caseworker shortfall – Software – Technology – News –

“NSW’s Department of Families and Community Services (FACS) has blamed dodgy data for public confusion over its caseworker numbers.

The NSW Parliament’s upper house is currently investigating claims FACS minister Pru Goward intentionally mislead parliament by claiming that the number of social welfare caseworkers the department employed remained steady, when an independent report showed that in fact about 300 of these positions remained unfilled.”

Architecture Versus Management?

I’m increasingly seeing the management and architecture disciplines as being in a race to control organisations.  Both groups show behaviours that suggest they are trying to extend their own discipline to encompass more of the organisation.  Equally, both groups work hard to exclude areas they are not comfortable with from their responsibilities.  Architects want to control the organisation by controlling knowledge of the structure and value streams at all levels, while avoiding execution issues.  The management profession wants to control the organisation by controlling resources, while avoiding responsibility for technical issues.

Both the architecture and the management professions reveal their desires to control the organisation by the manner in which they grow the scope of their approach through ever increasing extensions of their disciplines.  The management discipline has grown from supervision, to general management, to strategic management, to change management, and to all of the business unit focused sub-disciplines that form the structure of a management degree (finance, HR, etc).  Conversely, architecture has grown from a technical discipline to include information architecture, solution architecture, business architecture, and information architecture.

Christopher Alexander popularised – if his ideas can be considered popular – the idea of generative sequences.  In essence, a generative sequence is the process of taking a structure and changing it through a series of structure preserving transformations. After each transformation the whole structure is then evaluated to determine if the transformation has – more or less subjectively – improved the structure.  This process is repeated.  Alexander also defines the so-called structure preserving transformations that are applicable at each step.

This is an interesting analogy to decision making in organisations.  Each time a decision is made the structure of the organisation changes.  Structure in this case may refer to anything: including the attitude of an individual team-member, the next task to focus on, or even quite literally a change in the organisation’s structure as we usually use that term.

What is interesting is that from both the manager’s point of view and the architect’s point of view the details of that structural transformation are only selectively considered.  Because managers are generally outcome focused, each transformation or decision is evaluated based on its perceived contribution to outcomes.  These outcomes may be long or short-term, or they might be project-focused, or they might relate to the entire organisation – but it’s the outcome that’s important.

While management is primarily concerned with outcomes, the architect is concerned with structure as a whole.  When decisions are made they not only impact the progress towards goals but they may also potentially impact other structural elements of the organisation.  Rather than a distinction between long or short-term time horizons, or between technical and business domains, the distinction between architecting and managing is generally about outcomes versus structure.

Currently, it’s difficult for architects to evaluate the impact of a transformation in terms of the progress towards desired outcomes because a comprehensive view of the desired outcomes is rarely shared, documented, or linked to the structural elements as defined by the architect.  Similarly, it is difficult for a manager to utilise the models created by the architect to make decisions because the models which describe the structure use technical language and contain much that is irrelevant to decision making.

This battle is not yet won, of course.  To be a successful architect you must manage carefully, and to be a successful manager you most certainly need to be an architect of sorts.  The MWT Model is driven from the theory that this battle will and is ultimately changing the practice of management itself.  This may be seen as victory going to the architects but is more likely to mean that successful architects will no longer be able to choose what issues they avoid.

While this might be interesting to professionals on both sides of the battle I’m just as interested in how important this is to the organisations that we work in.  As I’ve said before, I believe good IT is structural – when you implement an HR system that enables you to re-deploy some employees in the HR branch of the org chart, you should really hang that HR capability embedded in the IT system in their place.

As these structural IT changes are increasingly differentiating organisations and brokering their relationships with customers it is ever more important that organisations can effectively operate and enhance these technology-enabled capabilities.  Both managers and architects currently struggle to achieve this and in the organisation of the future (now?) it’s really the only game.


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