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Organization Centralization can be a good thing!

My essay, “Organization in the Way: How decentralization hobbles the user experience” has just been posted to the Adaptive Path site. Readers of peterme will recognize its genesis a few posts back. I was able to evolve the piece so that it spoke to a broader concern in design and user experience. I also wrote this passage, of which I’m most proud:

Ideally, these measures would balance to create a superior product. Realistically, all of those disparate objectives often conflict, leading to one of three results: 1) “design by committee,” where, in an effort to achieve consensus, innovative impulses are dampened, 2) “design by accretion,” where products are cobbled together in a serial fashion, each department contributing without regard to what the other groups are doing, or 3) “design by gauntlet,” where projects are subject to so many approval processes that they can be stalled at any point along the way.

It sounds like I would do well to read The Mythical Man-Month as it touches on some of the same problems with projects.

  1. I read your article and I have several comments.

    One I think that you are trying to go against the trend word “decentralization” to be catchy, but that your article misrepresents what decentralization is. It is not decomposition that can be seen as silos of distributed development (that is called reductionism). Decentralization amongst other things, is the notion that self organizing structures at the edge of a network can solve complex problems in a way that artificial hierarchical constructs cannot.

    Decentralization is about bottom up organization by those closest to the work or problem space that harbors collective intelligence in the face of overwhelming complexity.

    What it is not, is an excuse for a lack of accountability or design. Integration and coordination in a decentralized structure requires empowered “hubs”. Moreover, decentralization allows for much more natural concentration of authority than does a hierarchical structure where such authority is given by fiat.

    I understand you skepticism as nowadays “all things decentralized” has become a mindless mantra of management consultants. But your article plays a little rhetorical trick, by contextually defining decentralization as silos and development without accountability, and defining centralization as the authority to make design decisions, you have debased both terms.

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