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What digital leaders can learn from Melvin Conway and the LAPD

Is your company its own worst enemy when it comes to delivering great experience?

Your ability to engage and delight customers and prospects may be falling short because you’re tripping over your own organizational feet. Perhaps it’s time to take strategic action on change management.

At DCG, we believe so strongly in the value of change management that we’ve identified the practice as one of the ten core competencies that organizations must have for effective customer experience management (CEM). In a new DCG Insight Brief entitled Beyond Technology: Aligning People and Processes for Customer Experience (free download with registration), Tim Walters explains why great customer experience hinges on organizational change:

DCG believes that the inability or unwillingness to make the requisite internal people and process changes is the primary reason that marketers and their brands have so far struggled to master CEM. When firms adopt new technologies for CEM but retain the old structures, roles, habits, and key performance indicators (KPIs), consumers are bound to be unimpressed.

One difficulty with change management, Tim writes, is that any organization is naturally constrained by itself – by its own “bones,” by its own design, by its own landscape. He uses Conway’s Law as a reference point. In 1967, Dr. Melvin Conway observed that “Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” In other words, companies tend to create systems that mirror their own communication structures.

Tim’s analysis bring to mind a piece entitled How Aerial Surveillance Has Changed Policing – and Crime – in Los Angeles, published in the New York Times Magazine in March 2016. Author Geoff Manaugh writes a fascinating account of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) program for above-the-city crime control, detection, and intervention. He describes how a city’s physical attributes – its layout, architecture, even its geological foundations – shape its crime types and patterns.

“Cities get the types of crime their design calls for. . . . Tunnel jobs are almost unimaginable in granite-based Manhattan, for example, but the soft sedimentary rocks of Los Angeles – a former seabed – make it more susceptible to subterranean crime. Infrastructure also plays a major role in permitting or preventing entire classes of criminal activity. The construction of the city’s freeway system in the 1960s helped to instigate a later spike in bank-crime activity by offering easy getaways from financial institutions constructed at the confluence of onramps and offramps.”

Consider an analogy to customer experience management.

Just as crime patterns in Los Angeles are influenced by its cityscape, the experience we deliver to our customers can be deeply influenced by our organizational landscape. The Marketing Tower is over there, a few blocks away from the Post-Sales Support Arena and across town from the GDPR Innovation Station. Despite best efforts at delivering great customer experience, it’s very difficult when the bones of the organization, long established, constraint the organization’s ability to actually do so. Customers can only get the experience that’s possible with the existing infrastructure.

Conway’s Law and LA’s crimescape illustrate why organizational change management is essential for true innovation in customer experience. Leaders must enable their companies to step away from established communication structures and organizational concrete. In his analysis, Tim suggests that “break down the silos,” while a popular battle cry, is largely impractical for most organizations. He explains why customer journey management is a realistic starting point, and he outlines ways to make progress with people and process, on top of a solid technical foundation. The point is that change is essential – and it can be manageable and effective without being a big corporate initiative that only ever-so-slowly moves the needle on customer happiness.

For more about change management as foundational for CEM and digital transformation, read Connie Moore’s exploration of change management as a core competency for customer experience management and Cathy McKnight’s post on the relationship between organizational readiness and change management.  Search for “change management” in the search box in the upper right corner of our web pages for a complete listing of resources on the topic.

Contact us if you have questions about change management within your organization. We’d be happy to talk through starting points, roadmaps, and resources.


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