Org Chart 2.0: Built for User Experience Systems

I believe we are about to see the birth of a new business organization - one that is optimized for complex systems of problems and solutions, rather than based on silos focused on specific functions, and which treats user experience as a core organizational axis rather than a meddlesome add-on. Call it Org Chart 2.0.

Today’s companies are largely structured with Org Chart 1.0: silos of knowledge and product offerings (segmented by customer type, price point, technology, etc.). We have had this structure for decades, even centuries, and there are good reasons for it: it helps drive efficiency of development and decision-making, focus on customer segments and competitors, it makes the chain of command and (in theory) accountability clear, and so on.

Unfortunately this type of organizational structure is quite poor at dealing with complex systems and systemic-level problems. And this is becoming increasingly untenable for several reasons:

  1. User experience design challenges the ability of organizations to cross silos: user experiences run rough-shod over org charts. Why? Because many elements go into making a user experience that from the user’s point of view should all be seamless and to an extent indistinguishable. Users don’t really care if the e-commerce portion of your website is created by a different group than the informational areas of the site, and from a brand point of view you should be ensuring that both areas of your site speak with the same brand voice. Now multiply that across your products (hardware, software), collateral, packaging and out-of-box experience, call-center, point-of-sale displays and materials, sales staff, and so on. That’s how user experience gets created.
  2. Companies now need to deliver whole “solutions” rather than old-fashioned products. User experience design is just one example of this. More and more companies must pull together complex networks of partners, acquisitions and vendors in order to create and sell these solutions. No-one today is as vertically integrated as Henry Ford’s River Rouge manufacturing plant, where iron ore came in at one end and finished cars went out the other. Being nimble, global and adaptive in hyper-competitive and dynamic markets has forced dis-aggregation of capabilities and resources.
  3. Customers are more complex than they used to be (or more likely it’s simply that our old models of market segments and personas did not allow for human nature and its self-contradictions). This makes understanding them and addressing them with offerings more nuanced and multi-faceted. A one-size-fits-all shrink-wrapped product on the shelf at Best Buy or Walmart is not going to cut it any more.

The strain is showing on the traditional silo’d organizational structure. I believe we will soon see the emergence of new companies formed in this environment and they will look quite different than what we have seen for the last decades. For these companies, thinking systemically and about user experience will be as natural as breathing. They will treat complex systems as inherent to their structure and creators of value, rather than as headaches to be avoided and territories to be fought over by silo’d clans.

What could a Business Organization 2.0 look like?

Instead of business units these companies will have “experience units”, which manage the end to end experience. Instead of focusing on products and technologies, they will be focused on the “invisible” system that connects the various products and customer touchpoints together. They will welcome outside vendors and partners as enablers rather than disdaining them as “not invented here”, and see themselves as being modular entities that can fluidly adapt to chaning market dynamics and customer needs. Customer input will be voraciously sought after and taken in, and customer participation in shaping the company and its offerings will be routine rather than the exception.

I’m sure there are many time-honored and well-established reasons why these things don’t make sense, and why Org Chart 1.0 is better. But the fact is that the world is changing and we need to think about new business organizational structures to adapt.

So what do you think? Are there any companies you see emerging that have these traits?