Unfolding plans 44 – communication and coordination

It all boils down to communication.  Fred Brooks in his excellent collection of essays entitled ‘The Mythical Man-Month’ said that the purpose of organization is to reduce the amount of communication and coordination necessary.  Note he didn’t say the role of an organization, just organization.  What a sweeping statement borne from logic.  We organise to be efficient.

I disagree, as is my privilege.  Organization is the administrative personnel or apparatus of a business according to my dictionary.  From the verb to organize which is to form as or into a whole consisting of interdependent or coordinated parts, especially for united action; to systematize; to give organic structure or character to; to enlist or attempt to enlist into a labour union.

The key words to me are united action and structure.  The purpose of organization is to come together, to provide structure in order to deliver an outcome even if that leads to an increase in communication and coordination.

What is clear from Brooks’ statement is that he is referring to organization in the context of his work which is computer programming.  In this case organization is required so that programmers and their management structure can work together efficiently and effectively.  They are organised so that the minimum amount of communication is required to get a consistent message across and in a way that the maximum output is available from the team.

Each industry uses its own language and we need to be careful that words and ideas without context can be deceiving.  Transferring an idea from one industry to another or one context to anther is no guarantee of success yet it is something that you often here.  ‘Who else has done this?’ is the clarion call of many a project.  Let’s take the work that someone else has done with all the lessons that they have learnt and parachute it into our environment.  It will save us effort and anxiety.

Yet organizations should try and solve their own problems and not someone else’s.  What works in one place is because it was tailored specifically for their particular circumstances.  No two organizations are exactly alike and so no two organisational arrangements should be either.

I do agree with Brooks in that he has clearly defined the purpose of organization for his circumstances but not that this is necessarily transferrable to others. The purpose of organization should be clear, communicable and agreed.

For a while after I had left school I would go along to the ‘Old Boys Association’ with my father.  My interest was as much to do with the relationship with him rather than any fondness for the school which had long since evaporated (fondness not school which is still there to my knowledge).  Twenty or so former pupils and teachers would meet to talk about a range of subjects.  I would rant after the meetings that they had no purpose and nothing was ever decided to which may father added that I had missed the point and that this was the purpose of the Association.  It had no other purpose than an excuse to get together.

Sometimes the purpose of organization is to increase the amount of communication and coordination required which is the very opposite of what Brooks has written.  That doesn’t make him wrong.

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