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Sunday, December 17, 2023

A Clash of Paradigms - Using a Monolithic Mindset for a Composable Solution

I am involved in a few projects where there is an attempt to implement a composable MES by a traditional IT organization and their methods. In other words using a traditional mindset of a monolithic systems for a composable solution that requires enablement of citizen developers. Surprise - its not working out so well!

The results is a clash between tradition and innovation, which is a recurring theme. Tension is particularly pronounced with the use of the traditional waterfall approach instead of a bottom-up iterative development. While the waterfall model has been a longstanding and reliable methodology, its compatibility with the rapid pace required for composability and new digital technology raises a host of conflicts.

So much has been written and said about implementing traditional monolithic MES systems and their inherent challenges compared to the modern approach of leveraging new digital technologies that advocate for citizen development. Monolithic systems have tightly integrated architectures and demand a comprehensive understanding of complex technologies and extensive coding expertise. Developing, deploying, and maintaining these systems requires specialized skills, making it challenging for non-technical users to actively contribute or engage in the process. On the contrary, the rise of citizen development, facilitated by user-friendly low-code or no-code platforms, empowers individuals with diverse backgrounds to participate in building solution that are tailored for their need. 

This clash understandably results in a number of conflicts. I am listing them here as a cry for help - we need to transform and it feels tradition stands in our way driven by the need to manage the unexpected. Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening.
  • Rigidity in Requirements: The waterfall model and monolithic systems demands a comprehensive set of requirements upfront, often assuming a level of predictability that digital projects may not inherently possess. In the dynamic world of digital technology, user needs and expectations can evolve rapidly, leading to conflicts when rigid requirements fail to accommodate changes.
  • Limited Flexibility: Digital technology thrives on adaptability and iterative development, characteristics that stand in stark contrast to the waterfall approach's rigid structure. The inability to pivot quickly in response to emerging trends or user feedback can result in missed opportunities and stifle rapid value creation diminishing project outcomes.
  • Slow Value Creation: The sequential nature of the waterfall model can lead to prolonged development cycles. In the fast-paced digital realm, where time-to-value is critical, these delay means creating solution to requirements that have already changed and missing requirements that were not known.
  • Communication Challenges: The waterfall model emphasizes documentation and formalized communication, which may hinder the fluid and collaborative communication required in digital projects. The rapid exchange of ideas, quick decision-making, and constant feedback loops are essential elements impeded by the waterfall methodology.
  • Risk Management: Digital projects inherently carry a higher degree of uncertainty and risk that traditionalist need to get used to and embrace. The waterfall approach's linear structure is not good at mitigating unknown risks. It does not adequately address uncertainties and is poor in managing unforeseen challenges during later stages of development.
  • Human-Centricity Concerns: The waterfall model's focus on completing one phase before moving to the next results in a final product that does not fully meet the need to support the frontline operator. In the digital space human centric solutions are paramount, this misalignment can be a significant source of conflict.
I have not exactly found the magic bullet resolution in these cases and it is inherent to paradigm changes that the biggest problem lies in transforming people and organizations. Some key elements however are emerging. To bring people over to the new paradigm it is critical to combine elements of both approaches and done right will also allow for greater flexibility and adaptability. Basically ease them in to adoption of incremental and iterative development with the rational that it is less risky. Introducing collaborative goals with cross-functional teams enhances communication and aligns more closely with the collaborative nature of digital technology projects. Breaking the supplier-customer mindset also allows the introduction of citizen development to the project teams with continuous feedback loops. Identify and address issues early, being proactive to find solutions increases the sense of accomplishment, aligns with the rapid pace of digital evolution and allows for timely adjustments.

Waterfall approaches have been a cornerstone of project management and IT has a full set of "baggage" from dealing with monolithic system from the old paradigm. IT needs to get with the time and understand that they are no longer in charge of implementation but rather embrace enablement of citizen development. This will allow their companies to harness the digitally native work force to create value fast. It will ease the ongoing and inevitable IT/OT convergence and shine a light on IT as an organization than can rapidly address evolving business needs in the digital era that can show rapid creation of value.

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