Adopting a network perspective changes how we see the world and our place in it. In this post we look at how that applies to organizations and their design.
Revolutions in thought have been part of our human development, from Copernicus’ unveiling how the sun does not revolve around the earth to Darwin’s theory of evolution, through to Quantum Mechanics. With every new discovery, we have to adjust our understanding of our world and how it works.
An illuminating article in Scientific American explains how our understanding of our world is shifting thanks to Network research. We can no longer think of ourselves as isolated individuals because we are all essentially connected in networks. Humans are a social species. The implications of this are profound for every aspect of our lives.
Management and Network Thinking
Several companies now offer software to map networks of conversations in organizations to highlight how people’s behaviour often does not match the formal descriptions of organigrams. (See for example Network Perspective in Poland.)
At Intelligent Management, we have for some time now incorporated the information from Network Theory into an approach to operations and organizational design. We call the design the Network of Projects. This is the natural direction from 20 years of applying a methodology based on Deming’s Theory of Profound Knowledge and Constraint Management. A truly systemic approach to organizations recognizes that organizations are inherently networks, and this emerges clearly when we organize the work of an organization around projects. (See our books ‘Sechel: Logic, language and tools to manage any organization as a network’ and ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization).
When we understand how everything an organization does can be thought of in terms of repetitive projects and new projects, we can identify hubs and nodes among resources as well as hubs and nodes among the projects themselves. When managed as a network, no aspect of the organization is separate or siloed off. Within this approach, effective Project Management becomes critical (see Critical Chain.)
Network thinking and acting, with a network-styled organization, changes the perception of human interaction from a traditional hierarchy to something much more contemporary and appropriate. The “hierarchy” becomes one of responsibility for increasingly complex levels of projects. The CEO becomes the ‘Project Manager of the Project Managers’ and people’s contributions can be valued in terms of their competencies or their ability to manage projects or both at the same time.
Every time an organization tries to improve, whether it be through a Quality System or other means, but it does not move out of the artificial barriers of silos, it will inevitably achieve fundamentally less than it could. Unveiling the truly network nature of an organization and managing it accordingly is what unleashes its real potential.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint that has sold in over 20 countries. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.