A place to share ideas, thoughts,
best practices, and questions about KM in
a government environment
December 17, 2009 at 5:27 pm #87422
At what point does an Enterprise grow too complex for human based governance?
Technology evolves faster today than ever before in history. The complexity curve is pitching steeply upwards over time. Data standards, interoperability, getting all the relevant info to the decision table in time for decisions to be made... seem increasingly out of reach using legacy human systems of communication.
Nothing is better than the human brain at interpreting context. How do we sustain our ability to draw necessary raw material and associated details from the enterprise, and get that information - in a digestible format and timely manner - to the people who need to make the decisions?
December 17, 2009 at 10:02 pm #87432
David, great question! I think there are several tools that help provide the framework.
One example is identifying and disseminating decision-maker priorities. This should be part of a formal process involving responsibilities to review and modify the priorities. The operational warfighting community would call these Commander's Critical Information Requirements. Their are also priorities specific to intel and friendly forces. I am unaware of similar priorities related to business.
I think when it comes to data, information, and decisions, "the enterprise" is not as pertinent as data/information sources and data/information consumers. The BTA, for instance, would include Congress and GAO in one or both of those categories. So a framework which identifies information requirements and where that information comes from is also useful to ensure responsibilities are known and understood to feed the decision-makers.
Concerning your top-line question, I would say the more complex, the more human governance is required. IT is an enabler, but even if there are large amounts of data/information, the IT should then identify the exceptions which require human intervention/decisions.
I look forward to seeing other responses. Thanks for posting this.
December 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm #87430
Tony - I appreciate your reference to data sources and data consumers. I also see the value in your comments about identifying and disseminating decision maker priorities.
To some extent, I see competence among our leadership in this area. The sheer volume of strategic plans, CCIR's, capstone documents and enterprise metrics suggests that our leadership is at least trying to get the word out about those high level priorities.
Yet, I'm still struggling with a specific problem. I still feel short a coordinating mechanism. My career has required me to wander through the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, the VA, etc. I find pockets of excellence everywhere. Good people with good ideas and home-grown or sub-optimized implementation strategies. To line them all up presents a picture of a DoD hemorrhaging resources.
There is often nothing standard about the "standards" chosen by one group or another. Leaders decide to commission the build of an IT system based on Commander's intent in a direction that is oh so close to the direction already chosen or soon-to-be chosen by another (possibly another Service or agency within the same Service) group.
If these groups or the leaders who funded them had consulted a master blue print or something similar during the design phase of their effort, the cost of interoperability and things like financial visibility, personnel visibility, etc. across diverse segments of DoD real estate would be negligible.The benefits exponential.
Let me try a metaphor: New York City is home to 8.5 million people. Change and complexity is a way of life there. If a Developer wants to put up a new building, they must navigate a gauntlet of zoning requirements, permits, planning boards, etc. These mechanisms exist to make sure that 1. The living experience endorsed by city leadership is protected (no goofy, pink and green, dome shaped, glass buildings in placed where they don't belong), and that fire, safety, utility, etc codes are adhered to. These codes are stored and distributed via the City's Master plan.
The DoD must apply privacy, security, data standards, etc to every technology build (similar to New York's fire and safety codes). We use no convention like a Master Plan to store and distribute our standards, codes, design principles, etc.
The best of us can't possibly know and recall all of a city's building codes or a Business IT systems design standards. Isn't technology or some mechanism like a master plan (coupled with a human based due diligence support process) a necessary aid once the complexity of the enterprise exceeds the human capacity to recall the details?
December 18, 2009 at 4:17 am #87428
David, Tony - You've started a great thread here. Complexity in government is a critical area for focus. I have watched very large, intricate organizations approach gridlock as the number of factors, decisions, and decision makers continues to increase. I agree with you David, something's gotta change.
Let me respond on a couple of vectors, to see what might resonate.
Collaboration (Opportunistic, Directed). This solution is increasingly sought by and/or recommended for large orgs w/ silo problems. If knowledge exchange is mission critical (battlefield, space shuttle), the channels are likely to be open. But if exchange is not mission critical, managers may be left to their own devices. I think the example alludes to this. Even if managers wanted to share and collaborate, they likely don't have a mechanism.
Smaller Scale. Silos themselves derive from scale and complexity. Smaller organizations with more granular scope and fewer decision points have fewer variables to manage. Would that not argue for smaller, autonomous teams in cases where external variables are creating decision gridlock? (The IT term for runaway phase switching under load is "thrashing" .. which seems to apply.)
Complex Adaptive Systems. This relatively new field of study would call for 4 conditions for a complex entity (like an org) to 'learn' from complex environments and create 'emergent outcomes': (1) cognitive diversity, (2) connection, (3) member interdependence and (4) adaptability. Creating learning teams or 'cells' with these characteristics could help.
Finding SME's. This ability was once an open switch in my play book, until I discovered Twitter. Are you guys using this technology? Essentially, it allows subject matter experts (SME's) to find one another quickly and easily on the open net. Sounds like a formula for accelerated innovation to me -
In summary, I generally do NOT advocate "one size fits all", but I'm always looking for trends that are common across orgs, markets and in the case of Government, agencies. Broad synergies could certainly contribute to greater leverage.
Looking forward to further insights -
December 18, 2009 at 7:36 pm #87426
Chirs (and others),
Here in Nova Scotia, Canada we have several pilot projects underway looking at the application of complexity principles to sensemaking using Dave Snowden's methods. Goggle him if you want. If you want to know more, drop me a note. There are a number of complexity people out there who have an interest in government organization that we follow. I'm sure there are others.
December 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm #87424
A great topic for discussion!
A technology aspect to this: do any have some thoughts or experience on how to best meld flexible, informal social networking technology (wikis, blogs, Facebook type) with more formal, structured content management systems (e.g. SharePoint) in Government?
Given our experience at State (where we are applying both new social media apps and SharePoint, mostly inside the firewall), the optimal mix can take some time to sort out.
Also, at what point does one "graduate" from a "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach in testing various new technologies, and for efficiency's sake decide on a smaller set of standardized tools or one common platform?
Appreciate any comments folks might offer! Maybe a good question for the upcoming KM 2010 conference in D.C. next spring!
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