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Defining Organizational Entropy

I’ve experienced different management styles, cultures, and organizational lay-outs during my professional career in large organizations. Over the years I’ve noticed several attributes of large groups that are present regardless of the organizational design.  One of these attributes is something I’ll call Organizational Entropy. I define this as a measure of disorder or randomness by which work is created within an organization.  In multi-matrixed organizations (found in large companies) this ultimately causes workers to be out of alignment.  This misalignment isn’t necessarily with organizational goals, rather it’s more so a timing alignment with other workers. The main thought is that there is a randomness to how work gets done when resources are assigned (matrixed) to multiple projects. Person A is working on project X and needs person B to help. The problem is person B is working on project Y so person A must wait.

Organizational Entropy

Does your matrixed org chart lead to organizational entropy?

I’ll break this down a little for discussion. Employees in large organizations become matrixed in one or more ways. This might be functional areas,  project assignments, or operational responsibilities. Typically, resources are added to projects but are expected to maintain their current operational responsibilities.  The Project Management Office manages project work but not support work or anything classified as “run the business”.  So ultimately there is a big challenge between project managers and functional managers in the areas of project and support workload for each employee.

In addition, resources tend to be matrixed across multiple projects.   This is where the organizational entropy is present.  When a worker needs to reach out to someone on the same project team, that person is not necessarily working on the same project at that point in time. This is creates a randomness and disorganization to the output for the project because the employee has to wait for the availability of the other employee before completing the task. You can see that in this simple model, both employees are organizationally aligned because they are working on approved projects. But their timing is not synchronized, so the project output is random. Now multiply this by 100, 200, or even more employees. Now think about the complex web of interdependencies that exist within a heavily matrixed organization. That leads to organizational entropy.

Mike Cottmeyer writes about this very issue with a different angle in his post The Problem with Big.  Mike shows how project teams become stressed when members have other competing priorities. This often results in team members becoming more focused on schedules than on the value of their output.  It’s a good read and worth your time.

To close out my thoughts on framing this concept of organizational entropy, I’ll say that it doesn’t prevent organizations from completing work. Life and work within large groups continues to move forward despite inefficiencies in process. In my mind, the challenge is how to make the system more efficient for achieving the desired end goals. I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic. Have you been involved with a company that efficiently split work between projects and run the business activities? Do you have ideas about how to reduce the amount of randomness in organizational output?