Personally, I’m no great fan of committees.  Oh, they go by many names.  Virtual teams, cross functional teams, functional groups, even alliances.  At the end of the day, though, a group of people with no common management held together by someone’s vision of a goal is still a committee.

In the world of IT Simplification, where you examine the portfolio of applications in an area and decide which ones will survive and which ones will be phased out, you need someone to own the decision rights for this process.  There will be hard choices to make.  Someone’s favorite tool will die, and some tool that someone hates will become the corporate standard.

Traditionally, the area of simplification has been ad-hoc.  Teams have been created out of stakeholders in a specific area, and perhaps that is the only way that it works.  What I’m considering: how much of that team should be ‘standing.’  In other words, should specific organizational roles be automatically identified to be part of a group of people responsible for Simplification in a specific area?

The problem with this is that applications skewer the organization in ways that no heirarchy can predict or defend against.  One app can have implications to marketing and sales, another to marketing and operations, another to R&D and support.  It is possible, nay LIKELY, that an application’s reach will end up drawing two or more people into a committee to simplify, where both have the titular responsibility for Simplification.

And when you invite two chefs into the kitchen, an argument is inevitable. 

On the other hand, if you don’t identify roles to automatically be part of the group, you run the risk that no one will actually own simplification for a heirarchy.

Perhaps Simplification should ONLY be owned at the CIO / Corporate IT level.  Heck, I don’t know.  It’s a puzzle at the moment.

If anyone has opinions, please share.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

4 thoughts on “Can a committee simplify anything?”
  1. Hello Nick,

    your ideas about committees rings true for many people, however it is the advantages of many minds problem solving that is the power of a committee.

    for example i have a System.Runtime.InteropServices.COMException (0x80040154): Class not registered problem.

    and i may table this problem with a fellow member of the committee (say …yourself), now I’m new to programming so have know idea why im getting this error except that i have maskedit objects on the form i’m trying to open.

    committee members may like to assist a fellow memeber by explaining how i can register this maskedit class on a  different machine.

  2. Hello Roland,

    A well formed committee either performs an analysis that an individual cannot, politically perform, or makes a decision that requires the buy-in from business leaders that have not been ordered to make it.  Examples include a committee to improve quality processes across teams, or a committee to investigate reports of fiduciary incompetence, or a committee to recommend which of a series of unrelated but conflicting business strategies should be pursued.  

    The scenario you present is a community, not a committee.  In MS IT, we have informal communities created by self-identification (subscription to mailing lists, mostly).  If I have a COM exception, I send an e-mail to one of the mailing lists, say C-sharp-talk, and somewhere around 500 C-sharp programmers get the message within a few minutes.  A few dozen will read it within the hour, and one or two may respond.

    That is the power of community.  It is important, valuable, even vital… but completely beside the point. 🙂

  3. Sorry – don’t know my URL.

    There ia a theory that speaks of the balanced wisdom of a group of people being better/superior than the judgement of an individual. I prefer consensus where possible and do a lot to struggle to achieve it, but maybe that is a British trait, and could be one of our major weaknesses as well as a strength.

    Clearly I value paradox too.

  4. Hello Peter,

    I agree with consensus.  I love it.  When it can be achieved, it is far and away the best way to get things done, and I’m learning all kinds of fun tricks for making it happen.

    On the other hand, consensus is not always possible.  If June and Tom work for different VPs, have different ways of being measured, and care about different things, it is quite possible that there is no good reason for them to agree.  What if Tom is being hard-headed?  Should June give in?  What if the direction that Tom would take us has a less-than-optimal result?  

    Hard-headedness cannot be the key to success.  At some point, there has to actually be recognition of a good idea for what it is… good for the company, even when someone powerful may lose face.

    And that is where committees fail.  A committee is not able to create a decision that would allow a powerful person to lose face.

    Only a leader can get past that, by reaching out to all the key stakeholders, drawing them in, and getting buy-in.  Sometimes heros emerge who are in a committee, but who take that leadership role.  Those people are the key folks that an organzation should never lose.  They are rare.

    Other times, the team has no hero.  If a committee is the approach, and no leader steps up, then consensus cannot be achieved.  In that case, the best thing to do is dissolve the committee and create a team, with a leader, and a resposibility, and let them go.  

    Then, the person who steps up has the ‘air cover’ they need to make the tough calls and stand by them.  Only then, can they reach past our ‘hard headed Tom’ and do what is right for the company.

    Simplification projects are filled with these situations.  It is the norm, not the exception.  That is my conundrum.

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