Co-ordination

Every organized human activity … gives rise to two fundamental and opposing requirements: the division of labor into various tasks to be performed and the coordination of these tasks to accomplish the activity. The structure of an organization can be defined simply as the sum total of the ways in which it divides its labor into distinct tasks and the achieves coordination among them. [1] {emphisis in original}

A service architecture therefore needs to:

  • identify the grouping of activities as service systems, linked by services
  • identify the co-ordination among them

Mintzberg continues by identifying five co-ordination mechanisms:

  1. Mutual adjustment
  2. Direct supervision
  3. Standardisation of work processes
  4. Standardisation of outputs
  5. Standardisation of skills

Although these are not exclusive mechanisms, each style will be associated with different organisational structure types as identified by Mitzberg. For example, standardisation of skills is associated with a Professional Bureaucracy, while standardisation of work processes will be associated with a Machine Bureaucracy.

Co-ordination, although essential to business organisation, is not something that people do well [2]. Individuals are good at negotiating on the division of work, but poor at providing the on-going communications necessary to enable negotiations on integration.

Some researchers suggest that cognitive overload may be involved:

[S]implification and filtering are necessary for people to coordinate [3]

Co-ordination can be understood at different (hierarchical) levels. At one level we see two teams co-ordinating - say development and implementation teams. At a lower level we may look at the use of a particular spreadsheet for tracking issues, and used in the status meeting held each afternoon for the week before release.

Artifacts assist in co-ordination.

"Consider the relationship between the cartographer who created [a] chart and the navigator who uses it as one kind of "collaborative manipulation." Every time someone plots a position on the chart, it is a collaboration with the cartographer. Even though the full computation is distributed across space and time and social organization, it is only accomplished by the cartographer and the navigator collaboratively manipulating the computational artifacts of this world. The cartographer could not anticipate where on the chart a ship might be, but had strong expectations about the nature of the procedures that would be used to plot the position and constructed the chart in such a way that those procedures would in fact work." [4]

The status of artifacts depends on the models followed. Actor-network Theory treats artifacts as actors, and therefore equivalent in status to humans, while Activity Theory rejects this, almost on moral grounds [5]. It could be suggested that the real relationship in the Hutchins example is between the cartographer and the navigator (and only mediated by the chart), which would support the Activity Theory approach.

The approach to artifacts can be objective (artifact centric) or subjective (actor centric).

"Resource flexibility and coordination flexibility determine feasible product strategies [6]

Strategic flexibility is widely understood to mean an organisation's ability to respond to a dynamic environment [6]. Resource flexibility is greater when there is a larger range of alternative uses for resources, costs of switching are low, and time to switch is low (op cit.). Coordination flexibility is to capability to redefine product strategies, reconfigure chains of resources and redeploy resources effectively (op. cit.).

The essence of coordination is the 'way in which subdivided functions and interests are resynthesised' [7 in ((Sanchez1995))]


Reinertsen [8] provides an interesting analysis of how service delivery differs from manufacturing. Reinertsen's comparison is between manufacturing and product design, but most of the analysis and arguments regarding product design also relate to other services. Apparently independent of Malone [9], Reinertsen identifies lessons from Computer Science in managing demand in Operating Systems as applicable for managing demand for services, and avoiding many simplified solutions suitable only for manufacturing.

In particular, we need to know the cost of delay to correctly schedule activities.

Services - Non-repetitive, high variability, non-homogenous flows. Use Queueing theory, computer OS design, the Internet. Economics, traffic flow theory, maneuver warfare. [8] In military, peer to peer co-ordination more important that top to bottom command systems. Decision closure time. Some of the very smart work done in (IT) product design is applicable to process design.


Service Science Analysis

As well as co-ordination for resource allocation, control of resources can act as a service control (co-ordination) mechanism. For example, allocation of more (or alternatively reduction) of funds, equipment and/or personnel can influence the delivery of services.

In a market situation, price can act as a co-ordination mechanism, with an increase in price signalling scarcity (for example).


Related Material

Wikipedia — Channel coordination


References
1. Mintzberg, H. 1979, The Structuring of Organizations, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs.
2. Heath, C. & Staudenmayer, N. 2000, 'Coordination neglect: How lay theories of organising complicate coordination in organizations', Research in Organizational Behaviour, vol. 22, pp. 155-193.
3. Weick, K.E. 1995, Sensemaking in Organizations, Sage, Thousands Oaks, CA. p72.
4. Hutchins, E. (1987). Metaphors for interface design. ICS Report 8703. La Jolla: University of California, San Diego.
5. Nardi, B.A. 1995, 'Studying context: A comparison of Activity Theory, Situated Action Models, and Distributed Cognition', in B.A. Nardi (ed.), Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction, MIT Press.
6. Sanchez R. (1995) Strategic flexibility in product competition, Strategic Management Journal Summer 1995; 16, Special Issue.
7. Andrews, K. R. (1980) The Concept of Corporate Strategy, Irwin, Homewood, IL.
8. Reinertsen, D. 2009. Second Generation Lean Product Development: From Cargo Cult to Science, Web Presentation - http://www.infoq.com/presentations/2nd-gen-lean
9. Malone, T.W. & Crowston, K. 1994, 'The interdisciplinary study of coordination', ACM Computing Surveys, vol. 26, no. 1.
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