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Author's profile photo Cory Coley-Christakos

Why Aggregation is as Bad for People as it is for Programming

When SAP founder Hasso Plattner took the main stage at SAPPHIRE NOW this week, I expected him to talk about HANA. What I didn’t expect expect was for Clayton Christensen to pick up on Hasso’s theme and apply it to the Future of Work, calling it one of the most important concepts of management.

I was eagerly anticipating Hasso Plattner’s keynote with Clayton Christensen this week, expecting a head-on discussion about the innovator’s dilemma that SAP is facing. Hasso positioned SAP’s radical change as happening “on the inside”, through the data model and HANA, in a way that is non-disruptive to customers.  HANA simplifies the architecture, allowing companies to do things never before possible.  As Hasso said, “Simplify everything, so we can do anything” is not just a marketing slogan.

Much of this simplification comes from the elimination of hierarchies and totals (aggregates), enabled by the in-memory data.  No longer must programmers attempt to anticipate the needs and questions of users via pre-built hierarchies for reporting, and no longer must users be stifled by pre-defined information availability. All data is available for reporting, simulation, predictive modeling, etc.  Total flexibility.

There’s a parallel here to organizational design, as Christensen pointed out. Almost every successful company is formed based on a customer’s need for a job to be done. As the company grows, it adopts structure and hierarchy – with departments that are responsible for various aspects of the job to be done. As these become aggregated into boxes on an org chart, we are in effect aggregating people, and begin to lose the relationship between the people and the job to be done. Eventually, loss of focus on the job to be done causes organizations to lose differentiation.

Christensen’s proposal echoes the Future of Work principles we heard from others this week – i.e. we need the flexibility to reorganize on the fly in response to jobs to be done – and he calls it one of the most important concepts of management.

For a great summary of the full talk, see Paul Baur’s post and look for the video replay to be available here.

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