Enterprise Social Networks : another productivity lever

I have been working in the IT industry for the last 20 years and I’ve witnessed that company or activities within companies go through different stages according to the same pattern.

A paradigm is adopted and then the productivity increases up until it reaches a plateau. Then a new paradigm/innovation model is adopted, put in place and act as a lever to increase productivity again until it reaches another plateau.

After the start-up mode, the industrialisation phase and the agile project management, ESN are just another lever of productivity in the organisation. Each phase and lever have their objectives, organisation, management mode and limitations : here is the full story …

1. Start-up mode

Objective : build something that works.

Organisation : Few people, few processes, no real management, running on VC money, no real focus on generating value.

Management : During that phase, the type of management is heroic management. Most of the time, the best developer has been promoted as manager and is able to do anything : fix a critical production problem, contribute to the validation / quality effort, operational support etc …

Engagement : People compensate the lack of organisation with a very high level of commitment. Since there is not so much structure, people are pretty close to each others, to the customer and they have a clear understanding of what is their contribution. They are able to make sense out of their work and there is a strong feeling of belonging. The successes achieved during that stage are a genuine fuel for people motivation for the years to come. This is the golden era. I have been lucky enough to join a start-up that went successfully through this phase and the level of engagement and dedication I’ve found was amazing.

Limitations : unless you are lucky enough to work only with super smart, super social and super business oriented people, very soon you reach the plateau of productivity where it becomes clear that something must be done as the organisation can no longer cope with the business requirements. It’s time to introduce the first lever of productivity : industrialisation.

2. Industrialisation

Objectives : control, quality and predictability. After the fun and enthusiasm of the first phase, this is a bit of passion killer. Yet, it is necessary.

Organisation : Division of work. Industrialisation encompasses rationalisation, processes, quality, support, packaging etc … One needs to be able to rationalise the organisation to optimise the throughputs. Predictability is required regarding what can be delivered when to the customers. Processes are required to ensure for quality. Supplementary resources are required to document, package, run and support the solution.

Management : the management mode is controlling management. In this phase, managers are keys : they are responsible to ensure that processes are applied and they are made responsible for their team activity. They also centralise both incoming and outgoing communication.

Engagement : This is a hard time for people engagement. While setting up processes and rationalisation many layers of control are injected into the organisation. In addition, placing  managers at the very heart of the organisation they can develop an obnoxious feeling of self-importance : this is a usual suspects as motivation killer amongst knowledge workers.

Summary : This is the most risky stage, the one I’ve seen the most organisation failing with. To mitigate risks, balance is necessary. The questions one should ask on a regular basis are : do we have a clear understanding on the ROI of what we are implementing ? How much control are we putting in place ? Don’t we risk to strangle innovation, engagement ? Aren’t we building some bloated structure / systems / business model / strategy / product ?

Limitations : Yet again, a new productivity plateau is reached, the one of industrialisation limits. Massive efforts are spent for a business value that we have trouble evaluating. Engagement is lost within the work force. The fun of the start-up phase is long gone. The second lever is required : agility

3. Agile Project Management

Objective : alignment on business objectives. While industrialisation devotes many effort in setting up a context to be able to scale efforts, agility concentrates on removing stocks and producing just-in-time value. While allowing to absorb the constant business changes, agility still delivers production quality product released in short iterations.

Organisation : Team is self managed. Agility puts a strong focus on effort sustainability and the goal is not to work more but to produce more business value out of the efforts. It takes some power out of the hands of the managers to put them back into the team hands.

Pre-requisite : In software development, agility requires solid industrialisation foundations such as automated quality checks throughout all development phases. People think of open source projects as casual social activity by utopian software developers. You would be surprised with the level of standards, quality, and documentation that are required to contribute to an open source project. There is no shortcuts : quality products require hard work and discipline.

Management : The manager’s role changes here : her main role is to make sure things happen, that the team is given clear priorities and put in the best conditions to deliver business value and quality. This is a real challenge for managers to go from industrialisation management mode (control) towards this management mode.

Limitations : Soon again a new plateau is reached as agility productivity improvement reach the limits of the silo organisation. People lose time searching for information, different perspectives are not mixed often enough and innovation stagnates, people still don’t have a clear enough value of their contribution.  The third lever of productivity is required : come in the networked organisation and the Enterprise Social Networks.

4. Enterprise Social Networks

Objective : Leverage the continuous flow of information in the networked enterprise to generate value.

Organisation : networked. Providing knowledge workers with collaborative platforms is the best way to ensure for knowledge capture. People no longer spend 30% of their time looking for information. Social platforms based on professional profile are a great tool to localize experts to solve problems. Real time updates are fantastic for business intelligence and crisis management. Transverse communities break down silos. People in different parts of the organisations didn’t have a chance to exchange and communicate previously  : ESN provide them with this opportunity. They can exchange perspective of the business problems they are trying to solve. The confrontation of these different point of view, skills and knowledge is the best way to make innovation happen.

Management : Management mode is post heroic and egoless management. Managers are now facilitator : they make sure their people have all they need to get things done and get out-of-the-way.

Engagement : People now have many different inputs, not only manager’s. They are able to visualize the company big picture merging views from different actors of the company, not via the sole official corporate communication. They have tools to harness knowledge. They are able to be pro-active in terms of innovation (process, products etc …). Lastly, knowledge workers are much more confronted to the reality as the distance between them and the final customer has considerably reduced thanks to these tools. Engagement is back and this is a another fun stage.

With these social networks, we are just leveraging another lever of the enterprise productivity. We may hit another plateau at some stage but before that we have to leverage this paradigm and benefit from the productivity gain.

(click to enlarge)


  1. Thanks for sharing this post with the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community, Cecil. I can’t argue with your description of Enterprise Social Networks and their value to mature organizations; however, I think it’s important to remember that 2.0 technologies can be leveraged during every phase of the organizational life cycle, beginning with start ups.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, SMinOrgs

  2. Hi Courtney,

    Many thanks for your comment. I understand the confusion. Of course, Start-ups are good candidate to use Social Networks to get things done. This post just relates what I’ve observed during my carreer in which I’ve seen these stages : I worked in a start-up in 2004-2007, than I’ve started applying agile project management methodologies (Scrum) and now I see how social networks change the way work on a daily basis.

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