In my last post I discussed the common practice of painting over the cracks in the way we work. If we are not going to hide our problems then what are we going to do about them? The most common and obvious approach is to try and solve the problem, this might involve repairing the damaged part of the wall so that it is “as good as new” we may even try to reinforce it in an attempt to stop it happening again. The problem may be solved but our reinforcements may create there own problems requiring further solutions. Complexity escalates exponentially. If you apply this to an organisational problem you can see how attempts at solving individual problems can contribute to the mess we are in. If we continually add complexity to solve problems we can quickly loose sight of our real purpose as a fixer rather than a creator.
Ackoff says that we shouldn’t be solving problems we should be dissolving them: “Dissolution: to redesign either the entity that has the problem or mess, or its environment, in such a way as to eliminate the problem or mess and enable the system involved to do better in the future than the best it can do today, in a word, to idealize.”
Separating an organisation into functional departments on the basis of division of labour is likely to increase productivity of that function because the purpose of the department is to produce as much of that function as possible. For years developers maximised the amount of code they produced, unfortunately this also meant maximising bugs, complexity and unused features. Agile development attempts to solve these problems by introducing practices that improve the quality of the code but also attempts to dissolve the problem by learning more about the customer and only producing the features that they really need and fulfil a purpose. This is done by validating stories with the user directly a practice that is often hindered by organisational structure and politics.
So what if most problems are created by unnecessary complexity? Consider for a moment an organisation without managers, goals, targets, appraisals, proxy users, controls or reports. All that would be left would be people with a common purpose and the freedom to work out better ways of achieving that purpose. It may not scale but may also dissolve the need to scale.