Socio-technical complexity is the result of the combination between social and technical aspects.
It occurs in a project when designing, managing or transforming a complex system (e.g. transforming an organization, creating a new business, designing an industrial product, etc). It is especially important in large, innovative or critical projects, involving many individuals and heterogeneous disciplines.
In these situations, people often face individual and collective difficulties in visualizing, understanding and dealing with "Complexity" within their work. It typically results in losing :
- the big picture (stepping back in space and time to understand overall structure & dynamics)
- the sense (considering multiple viewpoints, and remembering targets)
- a shared understanding, vision & mobilization among the team.
This "Complexity" can be encountered in a project at two levels :
- in the project itself (i.e. in the organization set up to carry out the project and its resources)
- in the "product" (i.e. the complex system which is designed, transformed or managed by the project).
It comes from :
- cognitive aspects (dealing with cognition, psychology, feelings, judgement, motivation of people)
- social aspects (everything related to the place & role of people within an organization, and to the social interactions between people)
- technical aspects (what is related to engineering the product and its architecture)
- and overall from the interrelations of those 3 aspects* (i.e. the necessity to insure the consistency of all aspects to succeed in the project).
e.g. when transforming an organization, the mobilization of the actors of the transformation project will strongly depend on their future functions in the target organization, or on the fit between their skills/tastes and the technical choices made during the project for the future organization!
We call this "Complexity" socio-technical complexity
, underlining its duality (both people-centric and technic-centric). However, the real name should be "socio-cognito-technical complexity"
, since cognitive aspects are generally not in the scope of socio-technical complexity.
To reduce this complexity (typically the role of Managers and/or Consultants) :
- the first challenge is to provide approaches, methods and tools allowing to build a relevant, meaningful and understandable design/architecture, without killing open-mindedness nor innovation. It allows to represent efficiently and consistently the technical aspects while considering cognitive aspects.
- the second challenge is to do it as a collaborative work within a team, in order to build a shared vision & understanding of the project (what requires strong facilitation skills, and mastery in the art of questioning), while enhancing team mobilization. It allows to advance the project while taking into account the social aspect.