[Quote] We should not expect an application to work in environments for which its assumptions are not valid

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EliGoldratt

We should not expect an application to work in environments for which its assumptions are not valid

Eliyahu M. Goldratt

As you may have noticed, that’s a quote I often use to talk about change and, in particular, about social technologies in the workspace. But I’m sur anyone could find many situations in which its relevant in his own context. Most of all when people think that technology alone will solve problems whose causes have an organizational, managerial or human nature.

Goldratt’s words originally apply to production management systems, what relates more to ERP or MRP than social collaboration softwares. But the lesson learned and the philosophy are quite similar. In Goldratt’s case it was about a new production management model which needed the implementation of a specific software.

What businesses expect from technology is, of course, an instant improvement of production. But it never happens that easily. Software only does what it’s told to do : it needs to be set up. Most of all, software does nothing but showing else than showing happens in a physical flow and changing the flow (speed, stock, batch size….) according to what the software says means a disturbing change for those who were used to legacy approaches. Despite on the logical and mathematical promise of tremendous improvement, very few people got the message. Very few were able to believe that decisions that looked so absurd in the context of the legacy system could lead to any improvement.

Social Collaboration is nothing but a new production model

In brief, implementing a new production system requires to adopt the philosophy that comes with first. And not only the philosophy (I can already hear voices saying “I’m here for business, I don’t care about philosophy”). In fact the philosophy determines the work environment, the context, the system. A new philosophy implies new way to make calculations, to manage stocks and an accounting model based on flows and not costs. Once things were designed and measure in a new way that was closer to reality, and only then, it was possible to see the benefits of Goldratt’s approach.

That’s where production management meets collaboration (social or not) : it’s only a new production model, that is more about intangible flows.

Literally speaking, Goldratt says that we should not expect and application to “work”. I’d rather say “deliver the expected outcomes”. As a matter of fact the application will work but if it’s used in an irrelevant way, to do things it’s not designed for or to go against its philosophy it will improve nothing. It will even create new issues without solving the old ones. In an environment where the assumptions that leaded to design the application are not valid, the software will always be used for the wrong things, in the wrong way. Or it won’t be used at all.

So what are the assumptions any social collaboration solution relies on ? The ones without which its value proposition becomes null and void ?

• A certain degree of autonomy in decisions and actions for any user.

• Trust in others, colleagues, superiors, subordinates and peer that makes transparency possible and allow of expect a return on participation/contribution

• The ability to intervene and participate anytime, any way : to take a stand, improve things, suggest.

• Being and feeling secure about the consequences of one’s actions, being judged on relevance, not on political/hierarchical criteria.

• Flexibility in how one allocates his time to non-vertical and directly productive activities but to transverse and ad hoc ones.

• The ability to talk and get in touch with anyone, regardless to hierarchical positions and some degree of disintermediation in relationships.

Social software assumptions are not valid in most businesses

•Being recognized for what one does, not only related to his assigned work but to how he contributes to make others successful.

• Digital skills and literacy in a business context (what can’t be deducted from being able to share photos and like content on Facebook).

• Operation models (procedure, processes etc…) embedding a social dimension (participation, contribution, feedback loops…)

• Work evaluation models that hoes not prevent one for helping others.

• Managers being exemplary regarding to these new practices, having adopting new work postures, being comfortable with the technology in question.

• A work environment made “secure” by an appropriate governance and even job descriptions that clearly tell what’s expected, what’s not allowed.

This list is far from being exhaustive and I’ll add your own suggestions to it with pleasure.

That’s the reason why Facebook and its likes seduce consumers while the same people don’t get social collaboration and any will to change work practices. Once they enter the workspace, internauts become employees and their set of reference changes.

Software won’t create the human conditions of its success

What demolishes the too shared belief according to which technology creates the conditions of its success. It’s wrong in manufacturing resources planning and it’s even more wrong when participation, engagement and self exposure in a business context are at stake.

So I take advantage of this post to advise you to read the whole work of Goldratt where you’ll find interesting stuff on transforming organizations and management and a lot of food for thought that usually lacks in the “web and social” literature. And there’s not better start than with The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement that’s also a storytelling masterpiece.