Work Flows Inward

Work (i.e. pears) flowing into a pear processing plant. organization is in place and has been doing work long enough that it can introspect about its structure and workings. There is some management pecking order or hierarchical decision-making structure in the organizational network. Work instructions flow through this structure, with the possibility that each role makes decisions, adds constraints, or works to carry out decisions within some set of constraints.

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An organization must seek a structure that best insures that the most authoritative roles make the decisions and carry out the work that adds value directly to the product.

Some centralized control and direction are necessary. During software production, the work bottleneck of a system should be at the center of its communication and control structure. If the communication center of the organization generates work more than it does work, then organization performance can become unpredictable and sporadic. The developer is already sensitized to market needs through FireWalls and GateKeeper (no centralized role need fill this function).

Look at the following grid that depicts the directed flow of communication in an organization (see HowThePatternsCameToUs). In this organization, there is a core of roles at the center that initiate interactions across the spectrum of most of the other roles:


Yet this core receives very little input from the rest of the roles in the organization. And this core is rife with management roles (Team Leader, Manager, Lead Assembler). It has an overloaded center, and work requests flow outward from this center, diffusing across the other roles. Core roles make work.

Katz & Kahn's analysis of organizations shows that the exercise of control is not a zero-sum game [BibRef-KatzKahn1978, p. 314].


Work should flow in to developer from stakeholders, especially customers. Work should not flow out from managers.

You should not put managers at the center of the communication grid: they will become overloaded and make decisions that are less well-considered, and they will make decisions that don't take day-to-day dynamics into account.

Consider the following picture, where work flows from the roles across the organization to the roles at the center: Developer, Architect, Ambassador. There is a healthy distribution of inward-directed inputs. And in large part, the central roles do work, not make work.


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The result is an organization whose communication grid has more points below the diagonal than above it (as in the second figure above).

The work should focus at the center of the process; the center of the process should focus on value-added activities (DeveloperControlsProcess).

But consider this interaction grid:


Superficially, the graph appears to show a WorkFlowsInward pattern. But in fact, most of the interactions directed from outlying roles to the developer were of an imperative nature rather than an informative nature. The developer role was being pulled in many directions, and the organization health suffered greatly.

Organizations run by professional managers tend to have repeatable business processes, but don't seem to reach the same productivity plateaus of organizations run by engineers. In programmer-centric organizations, the value-added roles are at the center of the process (DeveloperControlsProcess; ArchitectAlsoImplements). The manager should facilitate and support these roles and their work (PatronRole; FireWalls).

Mackenzie characterizes this pattern using M-curves, that model the percentage of task processes of each task process law level (planning, directing, and execution) as a function of the classification. [BibRef-Mackenzie1986]
The rationale is supported with empirical observations from existing projects.

The broad goal of this pattern is to separate overhead work from central work; DayCare is another pattern with a similar intent.

The ManagerRole should still make day-to-day decisions for the business process, and pursuant to their responsibility to "keep the pests away" (FireWalls).

In his new work, The Nature of Order, Christopher Alexander speaks of gradients as one of the 15 structural properties of whole systems that emerge naturally in a process of local adaptation. In WorkFlowsInward, there should be a natural gradient of information flow toward the developer: the "center" of the organization — both in the sense of the social network diagrams, and in the sense that Alexander uses the term "center" to describe a prominent feature of a system.