Designing Roles and Smart Organizations

October 26, 2009

Roles is a key concept in social and organizational studies and is a hot topic in these application areas; Enterprise Role Management (ERM), Role Engineering Assessment (REA), Role Life-cycle Management (RLM), Social Networking for Business, Business Process Management (BPM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Holistic Design of Active Knowledge Architectures. The definition of identity, authentication, authorization, accessibility, and traceability are security needs driving this growing interest.

In most IT applications authorization is isolated from the tasks, the enabling methods and data. Roles and role-specific workplaces with tasks and views, are not supported. Coherence, coordination and collaboration are poorly supported. Workplaces are programmed and can not be designed in context-rich workspaces. Roles operate in workspaces created by work-centric and situated knowledge.

In this post we therefore look at the benefits of designing roles in context-rich workspaces. How structured roles and work-centric knowledge form the basis for a new form of smart organization. A smart organization of service-teams must be able to design and engineer roles and workspaces as projects evolve to capture practical rules and methods. Agile project teams with clear responsibilities and rules for providing services to each other should be designed as part of project design.

Organizational Forms

Most large enterprises are mixtures of several organizational structures. Most industries practice hierarchic management, networked business, cross-functional planning and coordination teams, and matrices to ease alignment of resources across projects. The forms and dependent methods are listed in the table.

Organizational Structure

Dependant Methods

The hierarchical organization

Business relations, contracts, control, communication and corporate planning

Decision-making, managing policies, human resources and

Managing costs, accounting, budgeting and strategic plans

 Partners and suppliers networking, providing capabilities and capacities

The network organization

Controlling planning and driving value-chains and responsibilities

Supporting concurrency by connecting roles across disciplines and systems

Managing project collaboration and control, and supplier communications

Building cross-functional teams for project execution and management

The matrix organization

Managing requirements and functional needs across projects

Enabling reporting to multiple peers and coordination across teams

Matching activities and work processes with a pool of human resources

Managing experiences and portfolios across systems and disciplines

Cross-functional teams

Exploitation of shared knowledge, partner systems and components

Definition and exchange of properties, parameters and data

Development of common views and services for work management

Managing collaboration and learning across systems and disciplines


Changing roles and organizational forms tend to create confusion among employees and problems with use of IT systems. Companies therefore as a rule practice a mixture of hierarchies and matrices in overall operations, while business projects and development and delivery processes operate networks and teams. 

Common Needs

It is agreed that roles are key to secure quality management, but roles are also fundamental for effective collaboration, innovation, project design and integrated operations. Roles enable these capabilities:

  1. Clear responsibilities for work and task execution
  2. Proven methods for traceable information flow, data quality and knowledge sharing
  3. Identified ownership to data, properties and parameters, and engineering methods
  4. Work processes for managing organizational and human resources
  5. Collaborative services product, process and system design and engineering
  6. Basis for developing new methods for competence and skill management
  7. Basis for new methods of implementing proactive work management
  8. Capabilities for designing and operating customer-configurable product platforms
  9. Capabilities enabling life-cycle situation-driven workspace design and engineering

These enhancements are proven in several pilots developed with industry. The practical case described below when fully deployed will give great savings and realize points 8 and 9.

A Practical Example

To illustrate the importance of designing roles let us look at a pilot built for a Seat Heat (SH) system manufacturer in the automotive industry. The goal of our pilot is to configure customer solutions for a car brand delivery contract at the customer site, and within hours configure the seat heat system, calculate parameters and the price. This involves aligning the specifications and the design parameters with the suppliers of the basic components. The seat heat supplier uses CAD and KBE systems to support functional and 3D design and for producing 2D geometric layouts. The pilot emphasis is on knowledge sharing with the supplier of heat producers. The SH supplier in the pilot, see figure, is a wire manufacturer.

SH Design and Production

The roles designed in collaboration with the customer, the seat manufacturer and seat heat suppliers were:

  • The product manager has overall responsibility for all product families designed to meet customer and brand requirements, and for innovation to grow markets and customer satisfaction
  • The chief product designer is overall responsible for customer product families and for approving any modifications, for the product design team systems and resources, and for customer and supplier communication and collaboration
  • The customer responsible is responsible for a given manufacturer and brand, so the supplier has as many roles assigned as the number of customer brands. Requirements and design constraints are received and analyzed, Agrees specifications with customer and the seat heat design team
  • The product family designer is in charge of designing seat heat systems as parameterized products to meet customer and brand requirements and constraints. Configurable product platform is easily adapted and extended to support customer and supplier data and knowledge sharing
  • The supplier responsible shares design methods and configurable component models with suppliers, and configures a collaborative workspace for balancing specifications, constraints and design parameters with the suppliers
  • The product architect is responsible for modeling and adapting product models in collaboration with the customer business team, and the configurable component models shared with suppliers
Seat Heat Design Roles

Seat Heat Design Roles

If these design activities were to be performed manually then there would have been at least five more roles in each designer team. Now, designing with CAD and KBE the teams are discipline oriented. Work coordination and data communication with customers and suppliers is the root cause of many errors. Designing the roles described and supporting collaborative workspaces and workplaces met the goal.

The Service Team Organization

To meet critical life-cycle needs we introduce the Service Team Organization. It allows projects to design and clearly define responsibilities for all life-cycle services including remote monitoring, preventive maintenance and modifications. An example of a service-team organization is shown in the figure below. Each of these core teams provides a set of services to the other teams.

Each team has at least five roles. The team manager role is responsible for planning and team performance. The team architect for designing and integrating services and adapting the team workspace. The service engineering role for composing and testing services. The team service providers deliver the team core service to the other teams, and the controller role is responsible for security, validation and service management.  These roles may be performed by one and the same person, but more likely by two or more people also taking care of similar tasks in parallel networks and projects. Most engineering discipline teams will have many service engineers with responsibilities for different methods and parameters, and a role responsible for inter- and intra-team work processes.

Service teams are responsible for designing, performing and managing patterns of repetitive practices, deducing pragmatic methods and supporting views to create customized workspaces and services. Teams are structures of individual roles and capabilities and should be based on best-practice knowledge.

The Service Team Organization

 Extensive team collaboration is therefore needed to improve and simplify design and system engineering practices. Conceptual design of product platforms based on configurable components with configuration and modularization rules and structures of design and performance parameters is best performed in concert with project and product teams with assigned tasks and responsibilities for these entities. 

Workspaces and Collaboration

Workspaces are composed of role definitions, tasks, information structures and views, and implements knowledge models as work-driven contexts, enabling agile workplace and services configuration. Agile workspaces are the key to smart organizations and products. Individual workspaces may deal with just one method and be limited to just one task-pattern, but they are dependent on the overall product model and local situations. This applies to most creative workspaces The roles and workspaces in seat heat design is a good example. A change in the wire specifications can cause a complete system redesign and increased price, and could therefore violate the signing of the contract.

In workspaces supporting complex collaborative work engineers will always build many dependencies affecting many roles. Balancing solutions among disciplines and systems is therefore a complex activity requiring holistic design of the product, the roles, the processes and the workspaces. Smart product systems interact with most other systems, creating and resolving dependencies. Dependencies concern parameter values, functionality, performance and usability issues, and adjusting configuration and modularization rules for adaptive design and manufacturing.

 The figure below illustrates the complexity that project and product designers must understand and manage. If we are to get more business value from developing networking platforms, these concerns should be modeled. Three layers of project architecture should be built and managed: a discipline and cross-functional team layer on top, a services layer, and a data management layer at the bottom.

Layered Role-oriented Architecture

Layered Role-oriented Architecture

Now, most conceptual and functional design relationships and dependencies should be modeled as task-patterns between these layers to give roles freedom to calculate, balance, normalize and manage parameter values, and develop and maintain practical methods and configuration and variant rules. The big questions in order to achieve simplicity, agility and adaptability are:

  1. Which roles and responsibilities, service teams and workspaces should be designed?
  2. Which services are needed, and how to compose them from practical and formal methods?
  3. Which tasks to deal with data complexity, handling discipline, project, company and global needs?
  4. Which tasks and methods apply to control workspace configuration and service composition?

Answers are found by simultaneously designing roles, tasks, and information, and configuration, modularization and design parameter values and rules. Roles must find practical methods to control the dependencies among the rule sets. The main principles for designing roles are thus deciding which tasks, then which information structures are needed, and finally which critical parameter values control workspace configuration and management. If many roles and workspaces can be designed into a higher level role, then this will simplify agile work planning and management. Nesting of roles should be avoided as it can result in cyclic non-deterministic rules.

Collaboration means knowledge sharing, and role-specific workspaces. An Active Knowledge Architecture acts as a knowledge reflector among engineers, designers and managers. All roles involved will contribute to the architecture and benefit from the model-configured services it produces and controls. Specific roles must be defined as project work progresses. Agile roles and workspaces, and powerful viewing hold promises to make IT a truly dynamic multi-medium.

Designing for Agility

Role design is influenced by a growing number of factors besides social, behavioral and cultural norms and habits, factors such as: work-centric knowledge, competences, skills, experiences, and ability to handle unforeseen situations. These are reasons why roles must be designed and adapted as projects progress. Roles and visual language are central in holistic design of project workspaces, as illustrated in the figure below. Roles enable projects to capitalize on experiences and in analyzing and exploiting data collected from life-cycle situations. Traceability, predictability, adaptive engineering and autonomous knowledge management and reuse can be implemented, simplified, and applied for life-cycle management.

IRTV modeling of Roles and Workspaces

IRTV modeling of Roles and Workspaces

 The importance of roles and role-oriented patterns of collaboration to agree on language, design rules, parameters, and value ranges are key to model-based and situation-driven solutions. As these entities change with customers it is vital that they can be designed and managed in an active knowledge architecture, and that roles and workspaces affected are agile, self-managing entities.


Industry needs to design roles and role structures, such as project and cross-functional teams, discipline groups and service-teams to be able to capture, express and share mission critical data and knowledge as constellations of reflective work-centric views. This enhances learning and collaboration by activating the intrinsic capabilities of situated knowledge, and simplifies modeling of enterprise knowledge architectures. Early generation of executable workplaces means user involvement, and access to experiences and past solutions. Model-based and situation-driven work execution and modeling is integrated from the simplest method to coherent project life-cycles. This saves big numbers of hours and project costs.

Value and Asset Management is currently based mostly on financial capital while human, relational and technological capital is hard to measure plan with and manage. With roles and smart organizations this will change. The biggest and lowest hanging apple is the capability of reusing architectures and workplaces.

Competence and skill management have been successfully implemented in some industries. The problems have been to create, update and apply competence and skill profiles, composed of knowledge elements and tasks. All roles and employees need to have profiles designed and maintained, and services to compare and match role and employee profiles. Designing roles and work-centric workspaces this is no longer a tedious task, involving manual updating of profiles. Profile updating can be done automatically. 

Composing best performance teams is, however, more than a technical challenge, Attitudes and team-spirit and the ability to motivate people is for certain tasks a more important capability than technical excellence. . With role-oriented knowledge architecture workers are able to capture pragmatic logic, turning practice into working methods. This implies that Methods Engineering may become an industry discipline. Developing and managing data and knowledge classes, categories and families is facilitated. This means knowledge architectures will be a valuable asset. The future holds some exiting opportunities. 


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