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Thinking Small about your IT organization: Mosaic vs. Monolith

by Mark P. McDonald  |  October 7, 2011  |  1 Comment

The IT organization structure is more than boxes in an organization chart.  The IT organization and the decisions it contains have a significant influence on IT performance, capability and process.  How you are organized also represents the way you think about IT.

Leaders are thinking about their organizations in new ways, replacing monolithic IT structures based on technical silos with new structures, teams and jobs that are smaller in unit size but geared toward agility, speed and responsiveness.  Understanding the different ways in which people think about their IT organization is an important first step in re-imaging new ways of thinking about IT — including ‘small’ thinking.

BIG IT views the IT organization as the single source of technology skills and abilities.  IT is a monolith within the organization, structured and supported by pillars of architecture, technology decisions, infrastructure and the like.  BIG thinking in IT organizes these resources into technical based silos around either a particular class of technology or technology solution.  Data center group, SAP group, CRM Group, etc. are elements of big thinking in IT.

BIG IT views the people as the scarce resource.  People are the reason behind the assumption of a fixed supply of IT.  They are also the reason behind the way IT works, manages and controls itself.  In BIG IT the work flows to the people more often than the people coming to the work.  That results in management that concentrates on conformance to process rather than creation of value.

Medium IT adopts much of this big thinking and transforms people into services and services into sourcing arrangements.  Instead of an SAP team, there is a contract with people offshore who do the same thing.  Medium IT organizations think that they are doing something different under the guise/buzzword or multi sourcing, IS Lite, ISCO, or Lean IT, but in reality its just more of ‘do more for less’ thinking that dominates medium IT organization.

Medium IT is not sustainable in the long run. Medium thinking creates a ‘hollow’ IT organization which has an organizational structure to cover the IT landscape but it does not have/control the resources necessary to deliver on that structure.  Organizationally, medium IT is a little like a mansion that has all of the rooms, but just the first floor finished.

Thinking Small about IT means thinking differently about resources.  Thinking small recognizes that resources create value when they are in motion and create cost when they are tied down to large, long and high-risk projects.  Those who are thinking small about IT, see the organization not in terms of skill-based silos, but as teams that combine, collaborate and contribute rather than require control, coordination and management oversight.

The figure below offers a graphic comparison of the different ways of thinking about your IT organization.

Break the monolith into pieces and then create a mosaic

From a “Thinking Small” perspective, the IT organization is a mosaic where each piece creates value on its own, but taken together can quickly scale to tackle complex challenges easily.   This is a model that scales from a lean IT organization of less than 100 to a global IT organization of thousands like the CIO at Deutsche Bank described at last year’s Gartner Symposium in Cannes France.  The key is not in how you draw the boxes on the org chart, but rather how you define your resources and the ways in which they come together.

Thinking small – thinking roles not jobs

Thinking small about the IT organization means thinking in terms of people playing roles rather than having defined jobs.  Medium and Large IT thinking often compartmentalizes people into dozens of roles and levels.  Think of all the variations of the role ‘analyst’ and you get an idea.  Specific jobs mean specific job assignments, that job does this.  Specific job assignments create rigidity, hierarchy and structure that bear limited connection to the flow of work that is coming in.  Sure people will join project teams, but if you have every heard them compare or complain about job titles you know what I mean.

Thinking small involves giving people roles.  In one case a CIO eliminated more than 38 job titles to come down to a set of eight roles: developer, analyst, relationship manager, project manager, operations, infrastructure, architect, team lead.  He uses these roles as the basis for forming teams in response to ever changing requests rather than creating organizational structures.

Thinking small, thinking about how you can do more and faster with less management

Thinking small involves changing the IT organization’s ‘manager to staff’ ratio.  Fixed jobs and finite teams each require managers with the appropriate span of control. For some IT organization the ratio of managers to staff has become 1:8 or 1:12 – reflecting a requirement for significant management oversight.  But why?  Well because in most cases ever team needs a leader/manager and managers need managers etc.  Count the number of levels in your IT organization from the bottom to the top, if its more than four then you are living a large IT model.

Thinking small involves reflecting on what managers in IT really do.  In most cases they are expediters, issue resolvers, conflict coaches as their teams face too much multi-tasking generating resource tensions that require ‘management’.  The result is unnecessary oversight created not by the organization, but by a limited ability to prioritize.  One IT organization reformed IT governance and PPM practices to give people a single task at a single time.  They were then able to expand the manager to staff ratio from an average of 1:8 to 1:20.  What happened of the managers?  Well they became contributors raising the organizations productive capacity by more than 20% with no impact on the budget.

Making the mosaic

How you define your roles and manager requirements are two examples of ‘thinking small’ about IT and the IT organization.  In both cases, small thinking is focused on raising flexibility, productivity and performance, not cutting the size of IT.  That is important to keep in mind, because when you shatter a monolith to create a mosaic you really notice when you are missing a piece.

Think small my friends.

Mark McDonald and Anthony Bradley are the co-authors of a new book:  The Social Organiztion: how to use social media to tap the collective genius of your customers and employees. Please check it out.

Category: it-governance  leadership  lean-thinking  management  re-imagine-it  small-it  

Tags: cio-leadership  it-organization  lean-thinking  small-it  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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