There are some problems that are impossible to solve. For example, is it more important that we have flexibility in a time of rapid change to deal with customer demands, or that we have greater structures to prevent stupid mistakes?
The question itself is contrived, since we clearly need both structure AND flexibility. Yet within almost every IT and software development shop in the world, the battle between these two forces plays out in a variety of ways.
No matter where one sets the imaginary scale between these two poles, there are going to be challenges from the side that gets less attention. In fact, the very notion of “balance” between these two is also an illusion. Instead, it is a perpetually oscillating system, moving between one and the other based on choices.
Some common polarities within IT include:
- Structure and Flexibility
- Internal and External focus
- Short Term and Long Term
- Speed to Market and Quality
This PowerPoint slide deck represents how I made sense of the structure-flexibility polarity, based on the work of Barry Johnson and Polarity Management Associates.