Relevance and Applicability of Design Patterns to Organizational Design

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Patterns and pattern languages have been used successfully in numerous fields. For example, in addition to architecture and software engineering that have already been mentioned, patterns and pattern languages have been used in fields such as:

Therefore it would appear that, if patterns have been useful in the above mentioned fields, with special attention to the case of organizational patterns for software productivity, then organizational design may benefit from adopting patterns (and pattern languages).

The assumption is not that improbable to make, once one considers that in the field of organizational design “giving form and shape” (to organizational structures) is the primary activity; and patterns and pattern languages excel precisely in domains where “giving form and shape” is the principal design activity.

Patterns and pattern languages assist in describing and communicating about complex situations and structures. Patterns can be considered as elements of design that effectively resolve design issues by adding structure to the solution. [COPLIEN-2004] synthesizes the concept that patterns add structure to a system in order to solve a problem.

Details about how an organization is truly structured, including the informal relationships, groups, clusters, etc. that form “in the white space” (i.e. relationships not represented on organizational charts or exposed through formal interactions) remain unknown. The “real” or instrumental organization [SWIERINGA-1992] or the informal organization [KATZ-1978] is implicit, hidden and mostly undocumented.

In the fields where patterns and pattern languages have been adopted, several advantages have ensued. For example:

  • People are able to capture and share tacit knowledge;

  • communication between members of the community of practice improve;

  • increasingly complex domain problems can be described and reasoned about;

  • working solutions can be described, shared, reused and generated.

A common lexicon promotes a consistent understanding across members of the organization, and also across communities of practitioners, professionals, and scholars. The common language improves understanding about problems, and promotes creating new solutions.

The notion of “Alexandrian Pattern” can be employed to represent knowledge about organizational structures, and Pattern Languages can be successfully applied to the domain of organizational design and organizational architecture in the same way as in other domains, and as has been shown by Coplien and his colleagues in the restricted field of organizational patterns for software development.


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