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coordination - getting it together

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Like many concepts (including peace and freedom) it is easier to define coordination negatively rather than positively. 

Coordination is often invisible, and we can only recognize it in its absence.  Thus in an orchestral concert, we may wonder what role the conductor plays, and we could only discover this by trying to do without a conductor.


lack of coordination - symptoms

organization mechanisms

1994 coordination book


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Challenges of Coordination

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In our experience, coordination is one of the things that people in organizations find most difficult. They typically combine four things.
exaggerated expectations of what can (or should) be achieved, in terms of synergy and integration
limited or fixed notions of how coordination can (or should) be achieved
resistance to coordination by other people
inability to pay attention to coordination when it's done effectively

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Lack of Coordination - the Symptoms

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Lack of coordination forces itself on our attention
when you have to wait nearly an hour to change trains because the timetables are not synchronized
when there is no date within the next three months on which all six members of a committee are available for a meeting
when you have to stay in all day because you don’t know exactly what time the gasman is coming
when you find that you and your partner have both sent Christmas cards (from both of you) to the same people
when someone makes an arrangement on your behalf, causing you to be double-booked
when an exciting new venture is cancelled in the belief that a key resource is lacking, just as the required resource becomes available elsewhere in the organization
when the repairman brings the wrong replacement
when tactical voting results in the wrong candidate being elected
(the list is endless …)

Many people are capable of organizing their lives in a chaotic way - double booking themselves and mislaying important documents - even without any help from anybody else.

One of the most poignant and elegant examples of lack of coordination is in a story by O. Henry.  An impoverished couple, desperate to find Christmas presents for one another.  He sells his father’s watch to buy combs for her hair; she sells her hair to buy a chain for his watch.

There are some key symptoms of poor coordination.
Delay - waiting - work-in-progress
Duplication - waste of effort or demand - redundancy - overlap
Confusion - cross purposes - incommensurate data - misunderstanding
Lost data - gaps - poor utilization of resources - missed opportunities
Inflexibility - prematurely frozen protocols - obsolete standards - stagnation

Lack of coordination may be felt as inefficiency and lost opportunity.  Where successful advancement or investment requires liaison, lack of liaison prevents real or lasting change.

Although a good organization is robust enough to withstand imperfect coordination, there is a level of coordination below which the organization is no longer viable.  This is particularly visible when a new organization is created through merger.  A merger has a cost, which is justified in terms of expected synergies, economies of scale, economies of scope, or whatever.  Achieving these benefits requires coordination between the merged organizations.  If the expected synergy is not realised, this is usually because of unanticipated difficulties in coordination.  Incompatible cultures, incompatible systems, incompatible business operations.  In the 1980s, a merger between two of the largest building societies in the UK (equivalent to savings and loan institutions in the US) was called off, because the costs of aligning the computer information systems would have been prohibitive.

A lack of coordination is sometimes called a contradiction.  This is not a logical contradiction, but an organizational or social or interpersonal contradiction.  The process of coordination can then be thought of as the prevention or (more usually) the removal of contradictions.

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Coordination Mechanisms in Organizations

veryard projects > coordination > organization mechanisms

Minzberg (1979) defined six coordination mechanisms. In my 1994 book, I extended this to eight, as follows.
Suitable for
Organization Style
Standardize Skills Professional Bureaucracy Stable and predictable Complex
Standardize Procedures Machine Bureaucracy Simple
Standardize Norms (Indoctrination) Missionary Diverse
Standardize Inputs (Common Components) Engineering Culture Moderately Dynamic Complex
Standardize Through Tools Complex
Mutual Adjustment (Collaboration) Adhocracy Dynamic or unpredictable Complex
Direct Supervision (Centralization) Simple Structure Simple
Standardize Outputs (Divisionalization) Divisional Form Multiple Diverse

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Coordination Book

veryard projects > coordination > book

In 1994, I published a book on Information Coordination. Large parts of this book have been made obsolete by technological advances, and the book itself is out of print, but large parts of it are still valid.
more detailed reviewmore detailed review
Ten years ago, many people believed that one data model should be enough. It was only a matter of time before proper data administration disciplines and procedures would spread through the software industry, before Information Architects would impose rational data structures across the modern corporation, and all corporate information systems would be brought under this control.

As database technology improved, it would no longer be necessary to have artificial technical differences between the “logical” and “physical” data models.  Indeed, operational databases would soon be so large and powerful that it would be unnecessary to pipe data into separate data warehouses for decision-support purposes, and off-line archiving would be a thing of the past.

Furthermore, transition from Old to New – for example during the implementation of new software systems or ways of working – was thought of as a brief period of disruption and interruption to normal service, rather than itself being a normal and indeed permanent state of affairs.

Although many large companies had tried and failed to build and implement a single corporate data model, this was usually attributed to technical shortcomings – which greater dedication and the next wave of tools would surely overcome.

It was against this background that I wrote a book on Information Coordination, which was published in 1994.  Instead of a single corporate data model, I offered a vision of a differentiated set of coordinated data models. Since I had been working within the CASE world, the book was primarily addressed to the users and suppliers of CASE tools.  At that time, I still saw this community as situated at the leading edge of IT systems development.

But things had already started to change before the book came out. The book was quickly overtaken by technology – especially CORBA and other developments in open distributed processing.  By 1994, I was heavily involved in research in this area – working with people who had already started thinking about the business and technological consequences of the World Wide Web and Web Services.  The overall vision of the Information Coordination book was, I believed, more valid than ever – but a lot of the technical detail was now obsolete.  I wanted to completely rewrite the book – to bring it into line with rapidly changing technology – but the technology was changing too fast for me to write it all down.

In many ways, despite the continued rush of new products, the situation today has somewhat stabilized.  The argument for several models is much better understood, and there is growing tool support for the various mappings that are required between them.  Perhaps the time is now ripe for me to produce an entirely new book on Information Coordination.

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Coordination Book - Download

veryard projects > coordination > download

Chapter 1
Tension and Information Systems

Business Process Reengineering

Information model coordination

Complex system development

Chapter 2
This chapter introduces the general concept of coordination, and describes some of the views and models of coordination to be developed further in later chapters. 

After attempting to define what coordination is (and isn’t), we consider three main theories of how coordination works: hierarchies, markets and networks. 

Then we look specifically at the coordination of information systems and projects.

General Concepts (pdf)

Information Concepts (pdf)

Now we know what coordination is, why (and how much) we want it, and (broadly) how it can be achieved.

Now we are ready to look at the concepts and techniques of information coordination, creating and managing the underlying information models for (i) scoping and coordination of projects, and (ii) scoping and coordination of systems.

The next two chapters will look at planning and scoping of projects and systems, and therefore at the scoping of information models.

Chapter 3
Top-Down versus Organic Planning (html)

Exchange Planning

Infrastructure and its Cost-Justification (html)

Chapter 4
In this chapter, we discuss the development, maintenance and use of strategic information models, known as information architectures, for the purposes of information systems planning. 

The scopes of projects, systems and data stores can be derived from these architectures, using techniques such as clustering.

Information Architecture(pdf) 

Scoping by Clustering(pdf)

see also Business Relationship Clustering (html)

In the following chapters, we shall see how the system development projects, scoped using these techniques, can progress in parallel with well-managed inter-project interactions, and how the systems and data stores themselves, also scoped using these techniques, can be implemented and operated as integrated yet independent modules.  The better the planning and scoping, the easier will this coordination be.
Chapter 5
In this chapter, we discuss the coordination within and between information system development projects.
Chapter 6
Our goal in this chapter is to implement and maintain coherent structures of information systems - Operations or Production.
Chapter 7
Model Mgt
This chapter shows some of the requirements and patterns for mapping data between multiple models. Data Mapping (pdf)

see also Data Mapping and Translation  (html)

Chapter 8
This final chapter is about the management and administration of coordination. It includes some guidelines on suitable coordination mechanisms, and the implementation of organizational and technical support for coordination. It also covers such related as quality management. Increasing formality: cultural and political issues

Measuring, controlling & implementing coordination


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This page last updated on September 11th, 2001
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