Networks of influence, direction, and power. How the work gets shaped.
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The Open IT Project

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This is the nineteenth of a (roughly) weekly series of emails

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This week's unit is about networks of influence, direction, and power. How the work gets shaped.


There are three structures that exist within all organisations, through which work is directed.


First is the most obvious structure, the classic pyramid hierarchy of formal power. In Open IT, we want to invert that hierarchy, as a servant to the work, not a master. This means distributing authority as close to the work as possible, empowering teams to operate with autonomy.

invert the hierarchy 

IT is an extreme example of the general principle that the further authority is removed in levels of hierarchy from the actual work, the less likely they are to have the technical understanding of the decisions to be made.  A good example of this is the superiority of peer review and self-certification of change over CABs or Change Managers approving changes.  Another obvious example is Agile, which is based on self-organising teams.


A second structure is the network of influence, which has strong nodes amongst loosely coupled groups. The nodes are the respected individual influencers, who are often not in the formal hierarchy. It tends to be a meritocracy, a respect for people's mastery of the work. Again IT is an extreme example of this, where we give high status to technical masters. Organisations formalise some of that influence in whatever you call groups based on common expertise: guilds, chapters, communities of practice…. In Open IT, we recognise this status in the Shu-Ha-Ri model.


A third structure* is the value network which is typically a multi-directional less-structured network of co-creating independent agents. Often the value streams are modeled as a linear flow, which can be an oversimplification.  The linear flow model is appropriate within IT for the development-to-production delivery value stream (hence DevOps), but it is not a good model for design and build, which tends to be much messier. People's roles within the value networks give them a third form of influence over how the work gets done: product owners, process owners, gatekeepers, architects, and of course practitioners - the creators of value.



To change how we work, we need to engage and think about all three structures.


🌸 Start with changing the way managers are managing, to Open Management. This unlocks all that follows.

🌸 Then improve the value network: let the people doing the work - in fact all stakeholders - design the work.

🌸 Engage the influence network to approve and promote improvements.

🌸 Only then should we think about changing the formal organisational structure. For pity's sake, stop trying to force change through reorgs. Structural change should lag other changes, after we have experimented with virtual teams to confirm a better structure, then ask for the change.


All this happens incrementally, locally, experimentally. Big-bang change is one of the worst dysfunctions of management.  Iterate through the above sequence regularly to create continual improvement of how you work.


* We got these three structures from Niels Pflaeging




You can comment and discuss about this week's unit of Open IT in the related LinkedIn post.


 Additional study materials 

  1. Read about Pflaeging's Organisational Physics, where we got the idea for the three structures.
  2. I'm assuming you know about DevOps. If not, a good book is Accelerate [affiliate link], from Nicole Forsgren et al. Or the DevOps KoolAid, the massive best seller novel, The Phoenix Project [affiliate link] by Gene Kim et al.
  3. If you want to go deep on networks, an interesting concept influencing the IT philosophers is Promise Theory from Mark Burgess.  Or here is a summary that is a bit less chewy.
  4. Posts from our website:  
    1. Kill the CAB, from Rob's old blog, The IT SKeptic
    2. Remember SHu-Ha-Ri?
    3. Flows and networks
  5. This week's recommended book is Reinventing Organizations [affiliate link] by Frederick Laloux.  For two reasons: (1) it's absolutely the seminal classic on better ways of working which remarkably we haven't recommend yet, and (2) it talks about hierarchy, influence, and value. I suspect I was saving it for Unit 40 when we talk about Teal, but let's have it now.

 Experiments you can try

Some things you can try during the week to test or reinforce the ideas.

Spot the big influencers who aren't high in the official hierarchy.

And spot those who have a great deal of control over value flows.

Find out how many bad changes the CAB prevented in the last 12 months. And how long it adds to change lead times.


(If you've got an idea for a good experiment, let us know)

Back in Unit 17 when we talked about the Eighth Waste of Lean (underutilised potential of people), Antonio Valle dropped this bombshell on the associated LinkedIn post


It was year 2016 when I wrote a post for my blog called "The X Muda" (google translator does a wide range of weird things with the word Muda, but here is the link to the translation. I was thinking on Friction as the 10th form of waste...


I replied :

Wow. Amazing. You are so right about Friction as a waste. I love it. I wish I read that seven years ago. Even with the internet knowledge spreads slowly, especially for lazy readers like me. Now I wait for the Ninth [form of waste that he implies but does not specify]. I hope it has to do with Beethoven.



That's unit nineteen of the Open IT Project series. 


Next week we look at preventing Dead Cat Syndrome


See you then. 

Rob and Cherry



See all the previous study emails in this series here.

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