For many years information technology focused itself on automating processes. My distant memories of studying SSADM at University were of an approach that looked at the current reality and tried to map that into a system. In my defence, University was a very long time ago and I wasn’t necessarily paying attention.

In recent years we have moved somewhat from thinking about mechanising manual processes to developing products that address user needs. That’s great but there appears to be a constant battle between what are a users’ needs, what are their wants, do those two things intersect, and will anyone actually bloody well use the product in the end anyhow?

The Lean Startup principle of “the pivot” appears to state that the whole trick to product management is to randomly put things in front of people until they find something that is useful which you may not have even thought of. It’s a good way for some startups to build businesses, but I do wonder if we are mostly suffering from the view through the rear-view mirror of survivorship bias.

But here’s the thing. After nearly three decades of a PC on every workplace desktop, are our larger organizations actually re-gearing themselves for how best to work in a mobile/cloud/digital/IT/computer (delete as fashionably appropriate) environment? Or are we still, essentially, using the SSADM approach of making technology streamline and automate our current working practices? Because if it’s the latter, then we are likely to continually confuse efficiency with effectiveness; having tools that enable me to efficiently deal with loads more people to get something done isn’t actually effective.

And here we get to the nub of the issue: whilst everybody kind of knows that technology alone isn’t the answer to all of this, the gritty stuff of changing the ways in which people interact and behave always looks too hard in comparison to rolling out the latest socially-enabled multi-channel mobile platform for inter- and intra-organizational collaboration and sharing app. For iOS and Android.

Back at the time when electricity was just becoming available to power factories, factories experienced a drop in productivity as they electrified. They implemented change in their power source, but left the organization of their factories pretty much untouched. It took a couple of decades for organizations to realise that the value from electrically-powered factories would only really come when those factories were re-organized to fit patterns that were optimized for electric power.

That reorganization was partly about people, but one imagines was mostly about physical layout and the ordering of inanimate objects, because that’s what factories produced. The challenges for reorganization of knowledge-based organizations go to the source of that knowledge: the people and their networks and interactions. Addressing that “soft” stuff is still seen as very (if not too) hard…

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