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InfoQ Homepage Articles Social + Lean = Agile

Social + Lean = Agile

In today’s increasingly dynamic business environment, organizations must continuously adapt to survive. Ironically, change management has become a major bottleneck. Inefficient offline reviews are disconnected from daily operations and unresponsive to evolving requirements. Organizations’ need a practical mechanism for managing controlled variance and change in-flight to break the logjam.

This paper provides a foundation for understanding Enterprise Agility as it relates to Information Systems. It identifies modern impediments and highlights the role of technology empowered business-users as the agents of change. It does not espouse a specific development methodology, rather, it suggests Social Collaboration combined with Lean Integration as technology enablers for Enterprise Agility.

It's important to note upfront that technology does not make a company agile. Enterprise Agility is the measure of an organization’s overall responsiveness to its environment.

Many factors temper Enterprise Agility, including: business size; resources; industry regulations; etc. Change impacts people and their daily operations and the relative adoption of change is a function of an organization's culture. However, technology can impede or facilitate enterprise agility.

The more flexible an organization’s systems infrastructure, the better it can support desired or necessary change. This does not imply that all things are in flux all the time nor does it require a reduction in governance. From a systems perspective, Enterprise Agility is about mitigating structural impediments to variance and change.

While the definition is straightforward, it suggests a fundamental rethink of information architecture.

The last forty years of mainstream business computing brought tremendous efficiencies through standardization, but this was predicated on relatively static models of processes, data, and capabilities. The legacy of automation is the embedded static schemas found across the enterprise, which makes change within and across systems difficult. It is ironic that after decades of process improvement the least automated and efficient aspect of business operations is change management despite best intentions of widespread methodologies like ITIL.

The modern systems infrastructure simply wasn’t designed to adapt. For all the investments in technology and best practices, change itself is still a largely manual process conducted offline detached from the related systems and activities.

This is evidenced by ‘exceptions’ and by expensive corporate change management programs [1]. The problem with this approach is that approved change is delivered long after the request, if at all, resulting in lost initiative and lost business value – this is the paradox of the Red Queen, " takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place" [13].

Moreover, studies have shown that process improvement programs tend to stagnate [2], giving rise to shadow systems that compound the Agility problem.

Ironically, change management programs have become the chokepoint for Enterprise Agility, an inefficient rate-limiter.

While controls are important, gratuitous controls stifle problem solving and innovation. Tremendous value can be released by simply empowering people with greater discretion to meet business objectives [1, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Where compliance dictates specific procedures, technology can support ‘release valves’ to allow in-flight approvals for variance and change so neither time nor value is lost, and accountability is preserved.

Given the complexity of the modern Enterprise as a distributed System of Systems [3]. IT agility necessitates a holistic approach; rip-and-replace is untenable. This suggests a flexible collaboration layer that enables dynamic interoperability between people and data, capabilities and policies.

A Mandate for Change

At the boundaries of the enterprise, where interactions between customers, partners and co-workers take place, the environment is increasingly frenetic.

Global competition is driving a new customer-centric era. Organizations must find ways to efficiently satisfy individual requirements [4]. This represents a phase change from the age of standardization to the age of specialization.

While some sectors are more dynamic than others (e.g. defense/intelligence, healthcare, retail, technology, etc.), no industry escapes the mandate for Enterprise Agility. The “Topple Rate” [5] of Fortune 500 companies is now only 15 years and curving downwards.

The Enterprise needs a new form of Collaboration Architecture to engage people [6] with the latitude to improvise, while providing for transparency, governance and audit [14, 15].

The Network is the People

Rigid operations are anti-social! They are emblematic of non-responsive bureaucracies best captured by the Dilbert comic series.

Fixed procedures alienate people from their work, squandering human ingenuity. According to Deloitte’s Center for the Edge [5], 80% of employees are unengaged at work!

Following a linear process regardless of circumstances is nonsensical. We can’t anticipate all scenarios; an unrelated chain of events can impact best laid plans.

DILBERT © 1999 Scott Adams. Used by permission of Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

Rather than focusing on standard procedures, people need the authority to flexibly meet corporate objectives. People need to be able to respond to the environment, to adjust plans to keep goals in sight.

The scale of unleveraged human capital reveals a tremendous opportunity to tap the enterprise cognitive surplus [7]. After all, businesses are socio-technical systems. Technology may connect, automate, and report, but people are the agents of change. The Network is the People!

Impediments to Change – You can’t get there from here

Business sustainability requires agility; however rigid systems infrastructure is a straitjacket on the Enterprise.

The 20th century automation technologies that enabled tremendous efficiencies [8] now inhibit the effectiveness of 21st century networked collaboration [16, 17, 18]. The standardization of business processes removed human discretion, problem solving, and innovation.

Businesses have to overcome this structural barrier; systems need to support a looser form of organization that accommodates variance and change. Enterprise Agility requires a shift from standardized transactions to dynamic interactions.

Social needs to be integrated into process itself, it has to be able to direct the flow otherwise it is simply chatter that is ultimately still dependant on conventional change management schemes. Processes need to become 2-way conversations.

Social Collaboration + Lean Integration = Enterprise Agility

Enterprise Social Collaboration is not about liberation, it’s about optimizing work [9]. It’s about giving people joint-custody of their activities so they can co-author processes on-the-fly, using authorized discretion to best meet business goals in a transparent and auditable fashion.

Lean Integration is about matching system resources to business needs [19] - just the right information, at the right time, to the right people. Lean Integration leverages late-binding to ensure its response is always targeted for each interaction.

In combination the two provide for an integrated feedback loop [11] where the system both responds in context and enables process participants, based on authority, to 'negotiate' system requirements for their circumstances. This new form of 'integrated' collaboration supports real-time alignment of all stakeholders around business goals.

Instead of being a subject of a fixed process, a human API, people need to be able to engage the business owners that define default requirements, and IT, which develops capabilities and maintains underlying systems, and seek in-flight approvals for changes that help them solve a problem, win or maintain a customer, or otherwise innovate for the company. Dan Pink has described how such autonomy can improve job satisfaction by addressing people's “intrinsic motivations” [10].

Time for Change

While the Web introduced the notion of self-directed navigation of linked content, popular social sites facilitate distributed collaboration, and consumer apps have introduced the notion of context-awareness, there hasn’t been a unified approach to Information System Agility.

To achieve a more fluid model of work it is necessary to re-think information systems architecture. Using same old methods and expecting different results is what Einstein called the definition of insanity.

We need software architecture to support a looser form of application design that is not just modular, but can be contextualized and adaptive. IT already supports distributed data and systems; it’s time to decentralize control.

This is the first article of a two part series. It was intended to get people thinking about infrastructure issues that constrain operational flexibility and to introduce some concepts that the author feel is key to any solution. In the next article, the Author will describe his solution to further the discussion.

About the Author

Dave Duggal, Founder and Managing Director, Consilience International LLC, the developer of the Ideate Framework™ ( Dave is a proven business leader who has made a career of building, growing and turning around companies over the last twenty years. The outspoken entrepreneur has been interviewed on Dateline NBC and presented at TED6. He is author of several academic papers on web-style software architecture, an inventor of a patent pending software framework, and has presented at many industry conferences. His passion for addressing fundamental business challenges was the genesis for his latest venture, Consilience International, which he founded with William Malyk in 2009. The company’s Ideate Framework provides an EnterpriseWeb – a flexible interoperability layer for real-time integration and collaboration – so businesses can better manage variance and change. 


1. Sameer Patel, July 7, 2011, “Why Exception Handling Should be the Rule”, Blog.

2. Satya S. Chakravorty, Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2010, “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong”, Article.

3. Stafford Beer, 1972, “Brain of the Firm”, Book.

4. The Corporate Executive Board Company, 2010, “The Future of Corporate IT”, Report.

5. John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Duleesha Kulasooriya, Dan Elbert, Deloitte’s Center for the Edge Deloitte Development LLC, 2010, “The Shift Index”, Report.

6. Geoffrey Moore, TCG Advisors, AIIM, 2011, “Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT”, Report.

7. Frederick W. Taylor, 1911, “The Principles of Scientific Management”, Book.

8. Clay Shirky, 2010, “Cognitive Surplus”, Book.

9. Tom Davenport, Harvard Business Review, November 8, 2010, “Want Value From Social? Add Structure”, Blog.

10. Daniel H. Pink, 2011, “Drive”, Book.

11. Thomas Goetz, Wired Magazine, June 19, 2011, “Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops”, Article.

12. Jim Sinur, Gartner, Inc., July 21, 2011, “What Kind of Gear is Needed for Social BPM?”, Blog.

13. Lewis Carol, 1871, "Through the Looking-Glass", Book.

14. Tom Graves, September 14, 2011, "Enterprise Canvas as service-viability checklist", Blog.

15. Tom Graves, April 3, 2011, "Agility needs a backbone", Blog.

16. Ray Wang, Constellation Group, June19, 2011, "Why Enterprise Software Sucks", Conference Presentation.

17. Tom Byrne, InformationWeek, June 02, 2011, "Enterprise 2.0 B.S. List", Article.

18. Aaron Levie, TechCrunch, July 11, 2011, "Building An Enterprise Software Company That Doesn’t Suck", Article.

19. David Lyle, John G. Schmidt, May 2010, "Lean Integration", Book

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