Information and Hierarchy

Published by Lex on

Organizations, at their core, are essentially an information hierarchy, and information rarely respects hierarchy.

Yet, information systems are designed with an embedded hierarchical structure.   Unsurprisingly this structure blocks natural information flow.

There is a mismatch in the approach to information system design. Access to information is top down. Individuals at the top of the pyramid have permission to see the most information.  However, a lot of the information is generated at lower levels of the organization. 

Individuals in the middle of the organization process information from both higher and lower levels of the organization. The middle of the organization is the translation layer and they generate even more information. This  creates an information glut in the middle of organization. The information in the middle may flow up, down, sideways or not move at all.

One of the reasons that agile methods are effective for managing projects is that they break down information hierarchy and allow information to flow more freely with fewer filters. 

However, agile information flows don’t necessarily scale well across a larger enterprise. If information is too orderly it is likely that you are missing something and if information is too chaotic (more like nature) that becomes difficult to channel.

One of the recent trends in information systems is the creation of channels. Channels are a big part of programs like Slack and Microsoft Teams where individuals can follow certain channels of information of interest to them or their job.

Channels are great for funneling information (or water) in a certain direction. While this is great in theory, most information is cross channel in nature. Unlike water, the same  information can be in multiple locations at the same time.

This is an extremely powerful property. The same information can be a resource for lots of different people with different perspectives leading to unexpected outcomes.