A parable of business change: Turning prey into predators

Every part of IT is optimized for the company you support right now. Change, however, is complicated

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The eyes have it

More radical measures were needed. I consulted privately with an expert in predation at the University of Minnesota, who pointed out that almost universally, predators rely on binocular vision so that they can accurately fix on their prey, while prey rely on a wider field of view so that they can spot predators early. Armed with this insight, I approached my client and explained the plan.

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"No more gene splicing," she told me in no uncertain terms. Instead, we agreed to a longer but less painful process: selective breeding. I didn't complain. A consulting engagement that lasts decades is, in my trade, a good thing.

We accomplished our goal. The result was creepy-looking but effective, and my clients were able to catch all the squirrels they could eat.

Sadly, that was more than the number of squirrels they could digest. As it turns out, the deer digestive tract is optimized for extracting nutrients from vegetable matter, not meat. I proposed a GI-tract reengineering project to deal with this challenge, but by then, my client had had enough.

Coevolved systems

OK, it's a ridiculous example, but it illustrates an important point: Every organism and every organization are the results of a process of coevolution, in which all of the component parts converge to a state where they support and reinforce each other.

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In the case of organisms, it's purely evolutionary. In the case of organizations, someone generally designs the big pieces -- the "core processes," to use the industry's preferred phrase -- but that's just the beginning. Middle managers, supervisors, and often frontline employees do the rest, figuring out solutions for handling all the gaps, exceptions, and situations business planners never thought of.

Every part of a deer is optimized for deer-ness. Every part of your IT organization is optimized for whatever style of IT provisioning fits the actual company you support right now.

And your company? As an old saying has it, every organization is perfectly designed to deliver the results it actually gets.

As everyone's partner in collaboratively designing and planning business change, it isn't enough to figure out a new business process and the software needed to support it.

Depending on the change, you might need to take into account all manner of structural factors as well, including how the company is organized, its facilities, its governance, its accounting systems, and how everyone in the company, from top to bottom, is compensated -- not just how much, but for what.

Think change is complicated for white-tailed deer? If you want a serious migraine, think through all the different moving parts that will have to change if your organization is to be different tomorrow than it was yesterday.

[ This content first appeared in different form in Bare Bones Change Management: What you shouldn't not do, Bob Lewis, 2010 ]

This story, "A parable of business change: Turning prey into predators," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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