A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy


“Sharing power is not the ideal of some ‘utopian’ future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.” – Mark Pesce

**

In my search to uncover blogs about copyright issues, I discovered The Human Network. Mark Pesce’s video presentation to the Personal Democracy Forum and transcript both struck me as worthy of the attention of internet community members and people interested in the new organizational structure we’ll see soon; a new structure seems a nearly necessary outcome to the victory of efficiency, a consistent human pursuit.

For example, the ideal corporate workplace is an hierarchy: you know via network or job title who is responsible for what and how they should be approached, and you also know to whom you and they are responsible. Therefore, when an assignment falls to you, you track down the people you need in order to complete the task under budget and ahead of schedule. You have to negotiate the political struggles that exist in large workplaces as people strive to either make their name or shirk any work possible without standing out as a slacker. If you do this successfully, your project will likely succeed. Situations of this type gave rise to my favorite capitalist maxim: Successful business is not about money; it’s about pooling together the correct assortment of talent to fulfill a need and the money you need to do that.

However, anyone who has worked in a corporation long enough to dry their wet ears and withdraw their big eyes knows that luck plays a larger role in whether you’re equipped to handle any given project than coordination and that the budget and schedule have as much tendency to be unmanageable as they have to be set by someone other than you. You also know that the larger a company is, the more difficult it is to find the person you’re looking for. Instead, you become complacent with your social circle within the company and rely on them to either help you complete your project or to put you on the path to a person who can probably help. Initiative, while praised, is your prerogative, and you learn thatmore often than not its only reward is hours spent tracking down a person who’s too busy to help you anyway.

And while sometimes it’s assumed that the smaller the company the more efficient because people do more tasks than their job title allows, there are obvious flaws that small businesses constantly evidence. Job-title creep breaks the ideal of division of labor and results in shoddy jobs that require more time than an expert would take. In addition, sometimes the relevant expert simply isn’t available, and the financial position of the company makes tracking down an expert either impossible of futile.

Even in the best of all corporate hierarchies, when we let go of the fallacies and human error that plague all communities and look at them at their most sublime, politics, ignorance, and misinformation exist as constant variables in the equation of efficiency that downsizing attempts to get around and networking tries to nullify. Yet they persist.

Adhocracies are communities whose networks are far less structured than hierarchies and yet are more capable of sustaining efficiency for several reasons. Examples include Wikipedia–where a crowd (hence the term crowdsourcing) generates information that, through editing, supposedly reaches an unbiased state–and open source communities such as SourceForge.

First, unlike the top-down hierarchical structures of corporations whose efficiency depends upon the trickling down of responsibility and the ability of the lower castes to find proper function-matches within their own castes (about as reliable as Malcom’s demonstration of water falling down your hand in Jurassic Park), adhocracies post jobs and users volunteer. Whether or not the job gets done on time and according to parameters is guaranteed only by the community’s ability to organize itself around a set of priorities, which, since their communication tool is the internet, specifically their website and whatever design functions are built into the core site, users tend to fulfill reliably.

Second, the pure universality exposure of posts and searchability of online communities resolves the hassle of finding the right member with the right skill set to complement your project. Rather than your cubemate Bill telling you that Janice from tech support might be able to assist you, plop your requirements into a search bar and go–as any seasoned HR personnel can tell you, if you have a specific problem and need a specific skill, you’ll find everything you need is hotword coded, thereby searchable–or let the talent pool come to you.

The end game of adhocracies is a more dynamic community layout able to complete projects more efficiently than hierarchical structures. Some problems will remain.

First, and most obvious, is human error on a small scale, including typos and erroneous information or algorithms. It exists and can only be mitigated by assuming it will occur. Wikipedia, for one, has this angle covered in more ways than by reminding you that they make no claims of accuracy. Many of the tools they have on their website including a cache of previous pages, editor tracking tools, and their editorial team all work to mitigate human error from their site. Also, the flexibility of their project (due largely to their disclaimer about accuracy but also to the community’s commitment to accuracy) allows them to update pages long after a corporate campaign would have to have moved on.

Second are the major snags that that bog down all projects. Scope creep will not disappear due to a more efficient allocation of resources. Volunteers or even whole communities biting off more than they can chew due to ambition or greed cannot be wholly mitigated.

Therefore, what’s truly at stake in the discussion between hierarchies and adhocracies is the way in which projects are managed. This situation is not, though I enjoy Mark’s rhetoric, a meeting of the finite and infinite, but rather a clash between an old paradigm and a new one where the business world is awaiting a widespread shift from one to the other. If we assume that these stated management problems will continue even after the widespread adoption of the new project management paradigm, are we left with the cataclysm Mark discussed in the linked entry? No; rather, we’re left with an old question which wants to guarantee security in an endeavor (That is, Who is responsible for completing the project?) to a question that seems to have less though actually implies more security (Namely, Can the project be accomplished?).

Having said that, I must admit that I see the inherent power shift to which he’s referring, and I must assume that those in power will resist the necessary transference. For all the badgering about Communism that techies and internet junkies receive, the paradigm into which we’re moving is community-based. However, when you hear about the power of communities to organize themselves and complete a task, do not think about Stalinist Russia, which was in itself an hierarchical power structure where responsibility trickled down from, well, Stalin. Instead, imagine a thousand separate and independently functioning Craigslists where DNSs define the national lines and Google checks all the passports. Somewhere in one of these communities, someone posts, “I need y” and a multitude responds, first from within the community and then from without, “I can supply y” and the poster is left to pick out of the responses who he’ll trust to fill his need including but not limited to accepting all offers for help.

Money, along with other project limitations, will and must exist and sets limits to the amount of effort a community contributes to any particular project. For nonprofits, which most adhocracies are today, the community acts on passion and does all things at all times. As the paradigm shift occurs, however, money will become a prime concern for adhocracies as people become professional rather than volunteer, as we can see occurring with Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk and on Craigslist itself. In these instances the efficiencies of adhocracies remain and yet the community’s desire to do all things is severely limited by their desire to eat and to guarantee such necessities as housing.

Because adhocracies will accomplish tasks more efficiently than an hierarchical management structure, money will become an issue. I will not engage in the folly so early on as to think that such communism will mount outside the bounds of the internet; we have seen that it will not. Also, such communism is not done in the name of communism as an ideal but rather, as it stands now with nonprofits, for passion, and later, as corporations adopt adhocracy as a management style, for money.

This exact issue will demand the power shift that Mark mentioned, a shift of power from the hands of managers into the hands of the community, or, for rhetoric a lay readership may more readily appreciate, a shift from facetime to efficacy. The community will demand and have the power to secure absolute transparency within corporation as they have with the current nonprofits, especially when their efforts are combined with other communities whose sole stated purpose will be to establish said transparency; the adhocracies currently in existence have already set the tone for what users will expect from new communities in the future. The power and efficiency of adhocracies come from hyperawareness and hypervigilance spawned by a community’s open access to all relevant information, keeping account of all aspects within a company; thus, force will shift from the hands of managers, who for the large part will cease to exist, into the hands of the communities crunching and reviewing the numbers.

I have no doubt, as we have already seen, that managers will fight the elimination of their class at large. However, the shift of business from a worse to better solution will facilitate the shift over and despite their moaning. But don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge them their moment of complaint. Managers are people who have spent their entire lives developing a set of skills that in one fell swoop will become obsolete, and I pity the frustration that moment must cause. But happen it will, if only in the pursuit of efficiency.

I expect a class of community analysts to rise up in place of managers. Their main function will be–rather than spurring workers to get the project done, for that will happen of its own accord do to the nature of an adhocracy–to make sure that the resources are available within the community to solve the problem put before it. This will not be a source of governance but rather a source of publicity, or rather of recruitment. Multiple communities with the same aim already exist, and competition between online communities will rise as management structures shift into the new paradigm. Community projects will be posted and completed with little or no oversight, drastically reducing the overhead cost of corporations in addition to the simple benefit of efficiency increase brought about by shifting from an hierarchy to an adhocracy.

What will happen to governmental hierarchies… well, that’s another fun question. But that’s for another time and another post.

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Criticism, Workplace

One response to “A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy

  1. Amos

    Hmmmm… I’m the first to comment. When was this posted? July 10th? 20 days ago? For shame, those who are intimidated by complexity! 🙂

    Actually… smoke’s coming out my ears, too.

    Anyway!

    Talk about community and the organization of it is a pet topic of mine, though I’m not exactly up to snuff on how all that’s going in the most modern world. Some of the stuff discussed here is inspiring, to say the least. Here’s hoping… Long live information and access to it.

    I do very much like the reclaimation of the term “communism”. For too long, anything that even smells slightly of it has been villified. And that’s a shame.

    And the end of managers? The end of “The Man”? As young Anakin Skywalker might’ve said… “Yipee!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s