You can not solve political problems with technology

Politics will kill a project far faster than anything else. I can speak from a position of knowledge since I’m an employee of a giant acquisition company, and I’ve seen my fair share of “system integration” attempts.

Let me justify this statement with a little thought experiment.

Melvin Conway introduced Conway’s Law in 1968 to express his observation that “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organization”.

Essentially, people will build systems around themselves.

As a consequence, integrating different systems necessarily introduces political problems because now you have forced people to work together, and they may not necessarily like each other.

For example, I’ve seen situations where different groups within an organization (i.e. Accounting and Marketing) have two separate ldap authentication server or two separate windows domain servers.

Now suppose, you have a CTO demand that these two group integrate their systems because the CFO of the company had a spreadsheet that showed huge cost savings associated with integrating their systems.

Unfortunately, you can only understand so much about your organization from a spreadsheet.

These groups know about each others existence, and they also know about their IT structure. Yet, they did not try to integrate their systems on their own. This suggests that someone in these different departments know something that the CTO and CFO don’t.

In this case, the CTO and CFO don’t realize that Marketing and Accounting built their systems this particular because they have huge beef with each other.

For illustration sake, let’s suppose we have Ange as the director of Marketing, and Bryan as the director of Accounting. Suppose that Ange and Bryan do not get along, and do as much as possible to “protect” their respective groups from the other person. That would lead them to create an IT infrastructure that separated themselves from each other.

This situation creates a type of “cold war” between the groups, but still enables them to work together for the benefit of the larger company.

However, the moment the CTO forced them to integrate their systems that “cold war” turns into a “hot war”. Also, those personal problems don’t go away if a third party does the integration on behalf of the two groups. If anything that third party simply gets caught in the cross-fire, or ends up having to act as peacemaker.

Ultimately, you can’t really solve political problems with technology. I’ve never been to business school, but I hear that one of the first things you learn is that most mergers fail through cultural incompatibility between acquirer and acquiree. Having worked with our various subsidiaries, I understand why that is the case.

Personally, I believe that you really have to solve the human problem first before you ever try to integrate systems. If you can’t solve that problem then the only alternative is to simply fire your entire management team and hire completely new people.


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