What is “Organizational Engineering”?

In some systems-engineering circles, there is a sub-discipline that is labeled as “Enterprise Systems Engineering.” The reasoning is straightforward: an enterprise (company, business, organization) is a sociotechnical system of people, process, and technology. As noted in an earlier posting, we should design, implement, and operate such systems with great care and intentionality, if we are to maximize their desired emergent characteristics and behaviors while minimizing their undesired ones.

However, this terminology carries some semantic baggage. To most people (especially in North America), “Enterprise Systems” constitutes information technology for business, and “Systems Engineering” encompasses designing and administrating computer networks. To many other people, “Systems Engineering” is synonymous with massive technical projects in aerospace and defense.

Therefore, as appropriate, intuitive, and attractive as its construction might be, “Enterprise Systems Engineering” fights what may be a losing battle against general preconception.

I’ve recently been drawn to the label, “Organizational Engineering.” It’s nicely and concisely descriptive: the intentional, methodical design of organizations. It bypasses the preconceptions about “Enterprise Systems,” “Systems Engineering,” and even “system” by avoiding such terminology.

Furthermore, I appreciate the commonality between “organization” and “organism.” Although it is helpful to model an organization as a complex, sociotechnical system of systems, I also find many useful analogies when describing it as an artificial life form: it has a technical component that must be intentionally designed and an organic component that must be intentionally cultivated.

An organization (enterprise) is essentially any purpose-driven, collaborative human undertaking: a company, a hospital, a professional society, a hobby club – or an industry, market, society, economy, or government. All are sociotechnical systems (artificial life forms) whose efficiency, effectiveness, reliability, sustainability, flexibility, and scalability can be improved through Organizational Engineering.

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