Links for 2010-05-01

Bookmarks I’ve shared on 2010-05-01:

A Simplified Approach to Enterprise Architecture

[bliki]Enterprise Architecture[/bliki] is one of those Humpty-Dumpty-like words that conveniently mean whatever you want them to mean.

I’ve also found that a lot of people have a violent antipathy to the term, as for them it summons up the spectre of IT geeks piling layers of jargon and obfuscation on top of their common-sense understandings of how a set of systems fit together with the business they serve. Add in a healthy dose of scepticism about the use of any jargon by someone who is trying to spend your money, and you wonder why any of us continue to use the term at all.

What I’ve found useful is to confine use of the words “Enterprise” and “Architecture” (together or apart) to those occasions when I’m talking to people from the IT world – for dealing with colleagues I resort to pictures. Although it’s incredibly tedious to manage big, comprehensive, models without specialist tools, for the level of conversation needed with most business colleagues I’ve found that fairly simple diagrams suffice.

The sort of situation I’d use this in would be to discuss with a business unit manager how changes to processes in their area would impact on the systems that support them (or conversely to explore the business impact of a technology change).

Keeping the diagram simple is an important part of making the conversation manageable – the key is to only show what is really necessary to help people make better decisions.

Here’s a generic example of the sort of thing I mean:

Generic Simplified Enterprise Architecture Diagram

Of course this also relies on segmenting the areas you work with into sufficiently small and de-coupled chunks that one person can hold the key links in their head. This is an aspect of technological architecture that is (I believe) often missed in the quest for “economies of scale” – but that’s another post!

Where to intervene in a system

Developer.* has published Places To Intervene In a System by the late Donella Meadows, with an afterword by Don Gray applying the thinking to software devleopment. Thought-provoking stuff – Meadows herself cautions that the essay is not a recipe for finding leverage points. Rather it’s an invitation to think more broadly about system change.

In summary (original numbering scheme!), places to think about intervening:

9. Numbers
8. Material stocks and flows
7. Regulating negative feedback loops
6. Driving positive feedback loops
5. Information flows
4. The rules of the system
3. The power of self-organisation
2. The goals of the system
1. The paradigm or mindset out of which the goals, rules and feedback structure arose.

[ via Johanna Rothman]

The importance of knowing what you want

Joe Ely writes about Lean Manufacturing Systems. One of the core tenets of Lean is to gather frequent feedback about the difference between what you planned to do and what you actually did, reflect on the difference and do something about it. The key thing is doing something about it. Today he tells a story about the importance of knowing what is wanted before you can take action.

This reminded me strongly of the concept of well-formed outcomes – one of the foundation stones of NLP. I find that often one of the most powerful coaching interventions is simply helping someone gain a clear view of what they want to happen and the nature of the first few steps. Something very powerful gets triggered in the unconscious mind by a clear view of what you want and many people report that change begins to happen shortly afterwards.

Models of interest

Matt is thinking about modelling the power of different interests.

I’m trying to come up with a mathematic model that allows me to expresses interests, their strengths, and how they change over time. My original thinking was simply to model what is current as most interesting and anything prior to that as less interesting on some scale. But I started asking myself questions about how interests are shaped and changed.
[…]
the model has to encompass ideas like continuity of interest. In the more realistic world where we talk about different things at once and leave and come back to topics as our interests wax and wane, well lets just say I don’t have a clear shape for this in my head yet.

In a comment I suggested that perhaps “stocks and flows” would be a useful model here…

  • Model a given topic as a “stock”.
  • Time spent thinking about the topic, effort expended on it etc. etc. drive the input “flow”
  • You could have a time-based outflow, perhaps with an exponential to model some kind of half life.

Probably the behaviour this doesn’t easily model is when a new set of interests completely and suddenly displace the old – perhaps this would be better modelled by thinking of interests as peaks (or troughs) on a fitness landscape

“Interests as attractors” seems an appealing meme!

Pattern Synchronicity

Flemming is “looking for patterns of collaboration”:http://tinyurl.com/25ecz – so I pointed him to “Blue Oxen’s”:http://www.blueoxen.org/ “CollabWiki(CollaborationCollaboratory) “:http://collab.blueoxen.net/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?HomePage

At about the same time, I was starting to wonder if patterns might be useful as part of understanding “CoachingAsKnowledgeCreation”:http://www.synesthesia.co.uk/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=CoachingAsKnowledgeCreation. I think I might get to a set of patterns around Coaching – but first (I think) I need to apply some “ActionResearch”:http://www.synesthesia.co.uk/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=ActionResearch principles to my practice in order to surface my underlying theory. I’ve a feeling that the thoughts I’m exploring at “QuestionsToGuideReflection”:http://www.synesthesia.co.uk/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=QuestionsToGuideReflection might be fruitful as a way of developing a model…

Applying the Theory Of Constraints

Real life processes are messy and complex – changing them can be risky. With this in mind I’ve started a project in the organisation where I work looking at how we can understand better the problems in our area of the business and find out where to focus our improvement efforts.
We’re using an approach based on the Theory of Constraints. Lots of people have written more eleoquently than I on the details of TOC (See links at end of article) but although labelled “theory” this is a very practical approach that helps you answer three ‘Big Questions’:

  • What are we going to change?
  • What are we going to change to?
  • How are we going to do the change?

We are still at the early stages – understanding how the area we are looking at really works – but already we’re finding that the approach is a great help in seeing what is really going on. As one of the team put it:

When you used to ask me why something didn’t work I could only say “well it’s everything” – now we understand things much better. I don’t think anyone has ever looked at these processes in this way.

That comment illustrates the double appeal to me of these methods – the diagrams and hard logic please the analytical part of my mind but beyond that there is the human benefit from working with a team to help them understand and express their issues in a systemic and systematic way. OK some of that might just be Hawthorne effect but I also believe there is something fundamentally empowering in helping people improve things that matter to them and express their issues in logical ways that can be used to influence others
Continue reading “Applying the Theory Of Constraints”

Blogs, life, systems?

Over at The Obvious? Euan is saying It’s all just stuff really ….

I was sitting on the tube today looking at the people around me thinking that we were all just lumps of stuff. The stuff that makes up the world doesn’t increase or decrease – it just gets rearranged. Ashes to ashes dust to dust.
Even on a daily basis the stuff that is us changes and gets recycled. Skin flakes off food gets converted to new skin. Even the apprently solid stuff we are made of is mostly water and that is mostly space.
What is it that holds us together and makes my pile of stuff distinguishable from everyone elses. It’sd the idea of me that sets my limits, sets my character, conditions other people’s sense of what is me.
It’s a bit like technology. The stuff is getting so cheap and common as to be meaningless. Processor power, memory, bandwidth. They all almost come free these days.
The infrastructure is increasingly in the meaning, the code, the trust, the reputation.
Without meaning it’s all just stuff and it’s getting harder to pretend that this isn’t so.

My first response, in the comments, was it’s autopoiesis!, but thinking about it there’s more, and Euan gets the essence by saying “It’s the idea of me that sets my limits, sets my character, conditions other people’s sense of what is me.”

Korzybski said that man is a time-binding animal – by that he meant that we can take ideas and discoveries from the past and build on them. What we are as individuals is as much about the culture we create as it is about the shape we fit. And a big part of that culture is how we link the ideas of others and add our own, unique, slant… is that why blogs are so popular?