Saturday, July 11, 2015

The different types of dysfunctionality in organizations

At a small company I worked at many years ago, their database had been designed by someone who had no inkling about database design. In the main database, there was a Company table.  The primary key was the email address of their main contact. If you're not a database professional - this is a really rotten design, and will cause lots of problems. And this was only one of many serious database - and other - problems they had. Overall, the organization was pretty dysfunctional, and the site was always failing. But this was "small potatoes dysfunctionality", because they didn't have resources to waste.

At another organization I worked at more recently, there was an entirely different level of dysfunctionality. Millions of dollars were spent on projects that everyone knew would eventually be cancelled, multiple people were doing a job that could have been done easily by one, and there entire armies of consultants and contractors spinning their wheels, producing nothing. It was a weird place, and I may write more about it sometime. This was big time dysfunctionality.

Of course, there were many differences between these two organizations. But the one thing that struck me most was that the second organization had few resource constraints - i.e., they had plenty of money. And THIS was a big cause of the extremely high level of dysfunctionality. If you have no constraints, all kinds of weird things happen. And people start exploiting the lack of constraints and unclear goals for their own purposes. That's why there were armies of consultants and contractors - because the vendor agencies, the companies that brought in the consultants and contractors, had very clear goals and motivations. But those were only to place as many of their employees at the organization as possible. That's why there were so many people doing so little work.

This situation reminds me of Parkinson's law - "work expands to fill the time available for its completion". Just as work expands to fill the time available for it's completion, it also expands to fill the resources - i.e. budget - available for it's completion.


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