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Zooming Out - From Systems to Conway's Law
Episode 31st April 2022 • Loving Legacy • Richard Bown
00:00:00 00:08:15

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I look at the organisation and its impact on your systems - remember that systems are not just what you build or have built for you, it's also the people. Conway's Law and continuous learning can help us make sense of digital transformation.


Understand that your business needs are met not as a whole, but by individuals and departments. Those individuals and departments shape the systems they use - they create them all the time. Your IT systems and your IT systems change process had better recognise this.


I quote Melvin Conway: "Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure."

"the most important thing you can do before taking on a new software or IT project as an organisation is to zoom out" RB



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s written by Melvin Conway in:


This year, I've been feeling a lot of emotions through connecting to certain projects. And these are the only true measures of success, I would say of your system or IT projects if users can achieve But they want to achieve with less effort than they would normally put through a manual process, then you've got something that works as a system. That's great. As I said, in the last episode, the system, whether it be an IT system or paper system, a manual system is inherently always a human system. It has been created by some developers or person or persons, then it's up to the operators, people who use the system to make sense of it and start working with it. Usually systems don't get used as intended by the developers. However, the workarounds that the users put in become part of the way it works going forward. That is now the system. Thinking about this in the context of what I rent to date, in combination with the real world experiences I've seen around me, and some of my most recent experiences, has underlined my belief in two fundamental principles which define the relationship of humans and their software IT systems. Firstly, that Conway's law applies in all circumstances. And secondly, in our increasingly automated and systematised world, the most effective way a user or system can feel comfortable, truly comfortable with the system is to develop their own strategies to survive and prosper with that system. Understanding a little bit more about what Conway's Law has to do with IT systems change. It's very rare for an organisation to really design a system for optimal usefulness or utility. In a company. Good enough is good enough, imperfect is good enough. And we don't go into a typical transformation project and accompany with the idea that we're going to redesign the way we work. As we are familiar with projects, or run a project to replace the websites, or run a project to implement a new CRM or a data warehouse or people management system. These are projects and they fit into our mental model of how a piece of work should look. However, projects essentially changes to it landscape, never run in a vacuum. They run with people in your organisation, they connect to other systems, they potentially replace other systems. So when you consider a project, consider not just the business value, which deliver but also the impact it has on your existing systems. To support that, it's vital to ensure that your team has the tools to work with transformational change. So some strategies for working in 21st century can include digital language, understanding the technology that's been deployed, how to talk about organisational culture and how to be involved in a project. A good project manager will ensure that the right people are at the table, but they are not responsible for the level of comfort these people have with what has been discussed, neither should they be the employer should support those people and enable them to interact effectively in a project structure and to understand what their contribution should be. These two aspects of transformational change it projects provide the key to democratising systems change, and ensuring that you get more value out of your IT spend. So the next time you're considering it or systems project, just stop for a moment and consider what this means to your systems as well as what it means to your staff. How can you make sure that everyone is on the same page and you get the most value out of this change? And this is what I'll be pursuing in the next episode of automation for the nation. This is Richard Bown, wishing you Goodbye and good luck.



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