Ralf BürgerTidbits TOC > Self-Organized

Controlled vs. Self-Organized


When in a technical development organization the existing processes get heavyweight and complex, then replace them by basic efficient rules for individual responsibility, like replacing a technically overloaded intersection with a simple roundabout.


At a public traffic intersection self-organization fails when the traffic gets really heavy. Then the priority-to-the-right rule can make you wait forever, having hundreds other behind you. When this happens often, then the intersection typically gets upgraded by a set of traffic lights.

At any intersection with traffic lights there will be no discussion and no failure, because the traffic lights control the traffic and must be respected. So controlling is a good thing, unless you keep waiting for minutes in the middle of the night without any traffic.

The traffic lights can be upgraded by cameras or induction loops to detect cars, so that they control upon real demand. A further upgrade can be done for bicycles and pedestrians or upcoming traffic.

With every upgrade it gets more and more complicate, while it still has to be a failsafe system. It also gets more and more expensive and dependent on electrical power and risk of failure.



At a roundabout only some simple and basic rules are given. It is mainly that all drive in the same direction and that you enter at a gap. Usually it works out really fine, because there are simple decisions only.

At least it is simple enough to be understood by everyone driving a car, like the priority-to-the-right rule at an intersection - but the roundabout still works pretty good when the situation scales.

Intersections without traffic lights as well as roundabouts can both be considered being self-organized, by everyone taking decisions that may affect all, based on simple rules. Well, purists may not consider it being really self-organized, because the rules are given and can not be completely freely defined by the participants. But "self-organized" does not mean "anarchy", which in fact does not work for long. Some rules always must exist. It is rather the point whether people can take decisions on their own or the system decides everything for them.



So when you start blowing up existing rule sets and processes next time, then please have this picture in mind, and build more roundabouts for your teams! Self-organization gives control to the people, which usually works better than trying to control everything by a huge ruleset of a complex system. One possibility is to offer >processes as best practices< to the teams, from which they can decide to reuse what helps most.