Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Cybernetic View

#bizarch One of the Six Views of Business Architecture is the Management View or Cybernetic View. To understand this view, let's start by asking what kind of thing management is.

One way of thinking about management is as a particular bundle of capabilities, such as planning, resource allocation, monitoring and control. These capabilities can be mobilized according to some routine schedule of activity (for example, the annual budget cycle), or in response to various events inside and outside the enterprise. So we can view management from a Capability viewpoint, or from an Activity viewpoint.

Another way of thinking about management is as a particular bundle of role and responsibilities. These may be presented as a hierarchy or matrix, although such depictions are usually highly simplistic. Management responsibilities may be controlled by a select group of senior staff, with "manager" or "director" or "officer" in their job title. Alternatively, they may be wholly or partially distributed to other staff along with various operational responsibilities. In any case, the real (defacto) distribution of roles and responsibilities is usually much more subtle and flexible than the official (orgchart) distribution. (cf The Four Organizations of Lord Brown.)

We may therefore view management at different levels of abstraction - either specifying the concrete division of responsibilities between named roles or even named individuals, or merely identifying the total set of responsibilities without allocating them to specific roles.

Both the Capability view of management and the Responsibility view of management are useful, but neither of these viewpoints really captures what is distinctive about management. Instead, we need to turn to a systems view of management, inspired by such thinkers as W. Ross Ashby, Russell Ackoff, Stafford Beer and Gregory Bateson. Let's call this the Cybernetic View.

The Cybernetic View is based on the idea of goal-directed behaviour, based on feedback and feedforward loops. This is elaborated into various frameworks, including Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Model.

A conventional interpretation of the Viable Systems Model is that it models an organization from the viewpoint of a neutral and all-seeing observer. The cybernetic literature can be divided into First-Order Cybernetics, which accepts this interpretation, and Second-Order Cybernetics, in which the position of the observer is itself problematic.

Bateson's work on Second-Order Cybernetics has directly or indirectly inspired many generations of management and organization scientists, including Chris Argyris, Donald Schön, Kenwyn Smith and Peter Senge, and I have used many of their ideas in my own framework for Organizational Intelligence. Some researchers are currently exploring Third-Order Cybernetics, but this is not yet mainstream.

The Cybernetic View should also embrace Robert Rosen's concept of Anticipatory Systems -
"A system containing a predictive model of itself and/or its environment, which allows it to change state at an instant in accord with the model's predictions pertaining to a later instant." [Source: Wikipedia]

The Cybernetic View provides a useful complement to a conventional process view. As I pointed out in my post on Collaboration Impact Zones, AS-IS models can often be incomplete descriptions of reality, because they fail to document all the informal communication and coordination mechanisms that keep the business running. One way to discover these missing elements is to analyse the AS-IS models according to cybernetic or statistical principles, which may allow us to infer the existence of some coordination mechanism, even though we don't have any visible evidence of coordination taking place.


See also my earlier post Organizations as Brains.

My booklet on Business Architecture Viewpoints is now available in draft on the LeanPub platform. http://leanpub.com/businessarchitecture-viewpoints/


Important note - I haven't read all of these papers myself yet, so I'm putting them here for my own reference as well as yours. Update: Professor Vidgen kindly dug out a paper he wrote ages ago. 

Sabine Buckl, Florian Matthes, Christian M Schweda, A viable system perspective on enterprise architecture management. 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems Man and Cybernetics (2009)

Sabine Buckl, Florian Matthes, Christian M Schweda, The Fractal Organization: From an Enterprise Architecture Point of View (Jan 2011)

Gil Regev, Ian Alexander, Alain Wegmann, Use Cases and Misuse Cases Model the Regulatory Roles of Business Processes. Business Process Management Journal, "Goal-oriented business process modelling" Guest Editors: Ilia Bider and Paul Johannesson Volume 11 Number 6 2005 pages 695-708

Richard Vidgen, Cybernetics and business processes: using the viable system model to develop an enterprise process architecture. Knowledge and Process Management, 1998.

Anders Jensen-Waud, Paradoxes in EA and Systems Research (April 2010)

Mohammad Esmaeil Zadeh, Gary Millar and Edward Lewis. Mapping the Enterprise Architecture Principles in TOGAF to the Cybernetic Concepts--An Exploratory Study (2012 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences)

Mohammad Esmaeil Zadeh, Gary Millar and Edward Lewis. Reinterpreting TOGAF’s Enterprise Architecture Principles Using a Cybernetic Lens (Journal of Enterprise Architecture, May 2012)

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