IT – A race against complexity

Do you work in IT and feel that things really really need to work better in your squad, team or company?

Software development is a important part of my life since nearly seven years now. I love technology but from an entrepreneurial point of view I´m also interested in how to achieve great business results. In my Blog „T.R.O. Think Tank“ I will give you some fresh new insights on how to improve your innovation capabilities & productivity by talking about topics far of the road of today’s mainstream consultant booklets.

A race against complexity

  • Deliver it more secure / stable
  • Deliver it with lower costs / risks
  • Deliver it with better performance
  • Deliver it following industry specific guidelines
  • Deliver it faster (more often)
  • Deliver it better aligned to our customers interest
  • Deliver it lean and let us check our assumptions on real customers
  • Deliver it by integrating new third-party services

New demands on IT-centric companies come up almost every year and disrupt the status quo. With each new demand the complexity in software development grows constantly. It’s getting harder and harder for established IT organisations to deliver software appropriate to their business needs without accepting the need for continuous „deep change“.

But what is „deep change“? Most companies fail in changing themselves when faced with new circumstances. They lack a deeper understanding of how multi-layered change can be to overcome the rising complexity. Most of all the delivery of existing demands suffers due to badly executed change (or better: complexity) management.

All of my past experiences have guided me to my current point of view:

„Software development is a race against rising complexity and the crucial part of overcoming this complexity is not better technology but empowered people!“

Technology“ is only a hipper word for „tool“, which means something to support certain human behaviors. So a new tool is only as good, as the people using it. Technology has to fit people’s needs, but it can’t be a solution by itself.

Working in software development is a highly collaborative task. A huge amount of people (developers, managers, business analysts, operators, etc.) are required to develop / maintain big software systems.

Good Collaboration needs at least two things. First of all a kind of „organisational structure“ is required. Everybody needs to know their own functional responsibilities and those of other people. But in addition to that (and this is often the missing piece) you also need a „culture„. A culture defines the more implicit expectations people have while collaborating towards common goals. Culture is more about „how“, while „organisation“ is more about „what“.

From an organisations point of view a developer can be responsible for „development and maintenance of an specific application“. This leaves a lot of space for interpretation of the way somebody might actually be living this role. If he’s out of work, does he wait until his team lead asks him to start new tasks? Does it tell something about whether this person is motivated to collaborate with his/her teammates? Will a developer challenge functional requirements or implement useless features when told to? All of these questions can`t be answered by an organisational chart. That is where culture wants to deliver transparency and a common understanding of our „style of working“. Culture ensures that everybody has a shared view of where to go and what to expect. This helps us to always optimize our personal practices towards our colleges while keeping autonomy high.

But don´t mix up „culture“ with „processes“. Processes are always needed for great collaboration, but when complexity get`s to high additional processes will only kill your efficiency and innovation. The challenge consists of reducing process overhead while strengthening the company culture. Today „culture“ wins over „process“ due to higher flexibility and adaptability but comes at a price…

To give you a better idea of the differences, take „Scrum“ as an popular example for organisation and „software craftsmanship“ for culture. Scrum is more about roles and workflows*, while Software Craftmanship is more about attitude and habits that one developer practices and also expects from others. For an example on technology take „microservices“. All these three sections are perfectly in balance to each other. There are highly isolated applications reducing complexity for self-organized cross-functional agile teams. These teams work with high autonomy due to a intrinsic dedication to their products, their software quality and on good collaboration inside the team and to its functional owners.

Happy End? „Culture“ was the missing piece to world freedom? Nope, except that so far only a small number of companies are seriously talking about culture it still is not the whole picture.

„Culture“ alone provides only a shared understanding which still needs the right people who are attracted to this specific mindset. Telling everybody about your „new hip company culture“ will only give you a sceptical glance from people with other mindsets. People are motivated by vastly different things and therefore see our world through very different eyes. Finding / Holding the people with the mindset matching your desired culture is really the missing piece which today’s companies fail to attain. Most (IT) companies not even recognize that there’s more out there than „technical / soft skills“ when developing their current employees and recruiting new ones…

They overlook the crucial role of people’s mindsets and culture on their company’s overall success. Everybody is busy talking about new technologies and adopting agile organisation structures, but missing to speak about „cultural and mindset change“ only leads to new problems. You are destroying your old warm farmhouse to build a world trade center on top of it without ensuring an appropriate ground for such a large skyscraper.

„To master complexity (in IT) empowered people are your key to success!“

This means having the right people, fitting the right culture, in the right organisation enabled to use the right technologies. Only with all four sections of change in balance which are matching your level of collaborative complexity you can win the race! Today’s IT companies are working at the leading edge of complexity which forces them to understand the rules of collaborative complexity. That`s what the T.R.O. Think Tank is about.

„Evolve companies and also society to be at their best in a world of rising collaborative complexity!“

  1. Think about the mindset your people need
  2. Think about the culture you want to grow on top of it
  3. Think about the organisational structure matching it
  4. Use technology to empower it

T.R.O. Quader (2)

Want to start your race against complexity? Start thinking about people’s different mindsets and see you in A spiral dynamics introduction.

Key Takeaways

  • Everytime people work together towards a common goal we have to think about „collaborative complexity“
  • Depending on the degree of „collaborative complexity“ we have to make changes in four sections (people, culture, organisation, technology)
  • All four sections are interconnected to each other and one can only be changed while the others are kept in balance
  • „people“ and „culture“ are the foundation for „organisation“ and „technology“
  • Most companies fail to change due to a missing understanding of these relations
  • IT is becoming the industry with the highest „collaborative complexity“ and has a special need for „deep change“ to adapt to these new circumstances


* You are right, scrum is not only about roles and workflows but in reality unfortunately most people do only recognize these part of scrum. Due to this general missunderstanding „Software Craftmanship“ was born with it`s exclusive focus on „culture“.

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