kay-dynabook1Context is worth 80 IQ points.”

I’ve repeated this Alan Kay quote many times. (A little research for this post reveals that the actual quote was probably, “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points” or even, “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points”.) Alan Kay was considered by many to be the father of object oriented programing, the personal computer and the windowing graphical user interface. He was also a noted professional jazz guitarist and amateur pipe organ player—a true contemporary renaissance man!

I typically use the quote with new potential consulting clients—I like to gain as much insight into the context for the issues that have brought them to me. But there are many ways the wisdom behind the quote plays out.

The Diamond Model

Many years ago, while I was at Ernst & Young, a colleague introduced me to the Diamond Model—an analytical tool based upon the work of Richard Terry of the University of Minnesota, and expanded by my colleague, Kent Boesdorfer.


The Diamond Model suggests five interdependent dimensions to any organization: Mission, Power, Structure, Resources and Culture. Direction flows from the mission—the fundamental purpose of the organization. Mission needs Power—the ability to make and sustain decisions over time and to expend energy needed to satisfy the mission. Power is directed through structure—processes, plans, methods, reporting relationships, and so on. Structure empowers resources—anything needed to accomplish the mission. And all of this plays out in an organizational culture—the shared values and beliefs of the organization.

The Presenting Problem is Not the Real Problem!

As a diagnostic tool for identifying causes of organization issues, the hierarchical nature of Mission→Power→Structure→Resources is important. Organizational issues often manifest themselves at a lower level in that hierarchy than the source of that issue. For example, the familiar cry:

We don’t have enough resources to do this!”

will often have its roots in the methods and organizational forms through which the resources work. Fred Brooks handsomely illustrated this in his landmark book, “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering.”

Structural issues will often have root causes in Power, and Power issues will often result from issues with the Mission. And, of course, Culture can shape and even derail the accomplishment of any organizational mission!

The Need for Clarity and Alignment

All the dimensions—Mission, Power, Structure, Resources and Culture must work in alignment—mutually reinforcing each other. Here are some quick illustrations from recent client conversations.

1. Our Relationship Managers keep bumping into the Service Managers—it’s not clear who does what. Do we have the right people in the roles?

Before I assess the people, I ask about the ways the Relationship Managers and Service Managers are organized, the processes and tools they are using? I typically try to get a sense for the culture—was this organization typically siloed? Has much new blood been injected from high-maturity organizations in the last couple of years? I go back to the missions for Relationship Management and Service Management—are these clear and complementary? And I work to understand who holds the power and authority, and to what degree is that power and authority being directed toward the respective missions? Inevitably, there are multiple causal factors, the least of them being “right people in the roles.” Usually, the problems begin with the respective missions.  When those are unclear or inappropriate, everything else will tend to be dysfunctional.

2. We’ve experimented with Agile methods, and had some success, but it just isn’t taking off in our environment. Do we have the right Agile methods?

So, here is an apparently structural problem looking for a structural solution. Rather than be drawn into that rat hole, I probe into the organization’s mission and power. Agile really does represent a very different philosophy about understanding and solving business problems. Most often, Agile methods are introduced as an experiment, but the steps are never taken to reexamine the mission of the organization, and the way initiatives are governed and controlled. This significantly limits the power of the new technology (Agile methods) and confuses any ability to deploy those methods. Changing methods will not make a difference (though it might move the proverbial ‘bump under the carpet.’)

3. We’ve implemented a new IT Governance Board, but the business leaders who were appointed to it are sending low level substitutes and decisions are not being made. How should we adjust the governance model?

The Diamond Model suggests that we first look at the mission for the IT Governance Board—does that make clear to the senior business executives why the governance body exists? In the case I’m referring to here, the mission was never clarified, and business leaders never understood that the governance body they had been drafted into was a business decision-making body that would govern the allocation of significant funds and resources across several business units. Once this was clarified, the executives began to take the governance model seriously, and engaged appropriately.

So, Structure is the context for Resources. Power shapes the context for Structure. Mission sets the context for Power. And Culture shapes everything an organization is trying to achieve—sometimes for the better, but not always!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

My thanks to former colleague Sheila Smith, Omega Point Consulting, for her remarkable filing system and ability to surface documents written nearly 25 years ago!

Note: My next on-line BRMP Course is being held across 3 Mondays—April 14, 21 and 28, 2014. For details, please click here.

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