Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Loosely Coupled Systems

"Loosely Coupled Systems" is a concept coming back into vogue through new research on organizations and designing computer systems. It was originally developed by K. E. Weick in his research on education systems. His paper, "Educational Systems as Loosely Coupled Systems" was originally published in 1976. The article is available online here.

The following are responses to "Loosely Coupled Systems" posted on the Energy Bulletin.

Summary of the Weick paper
Keith Rollag, Babson College
In this paper Weick uses the US educational system as an example of how loosely coupled systems are both prevalent and important for organizational function. Understanding an organization as a loose coupling of actors, rewards, and technology may help better explain how organizations adapt to their environments and survive amidst uncertainties.

Weick observes that manifests of loosely coupled systems often are:
* situations where several means can produce the same result
* lack of coordination
* absence of regulations
* highly connect networks with very slow feedback times

While these manifests appear negative, they actually may help the organization by:
* allowing the organization to temporarily persist through rapid environmental fluctuations
* improving the organization's sensitivity to the environment
* allowing local adaptations and creative solutions to develop
* allow sub-system breakdown without damaging the entire organization
* allow more self-determination by actors

In general, loosely coupled systems probably are cheaper to coordinate, but are very difficult to systematically change.
(no date)

Loosely Coupled: A Term Worth Understanding
John Hagel, Viewpoint
Loosely coupled - if you’re a technology person, chances are pretty good that you are familiar with the term. If you’re a business manager, you’re probably at a loss when confronted with this term. Yet, this is a term that will reshape the business world in profound ways over the next several decades.

... A good working definition: loosely coupled is an attribute of systems, referring to an approach to designing interfaces across modules to reduce the interdependencies across modules or components – in particular, reducing the risk that changes within one module will create unanticipated changes within other modules. This approach specifically seeks to increase flexibility in adding modules, replacing modules and changing operations within individual modules. ...

Three things stand out from this definition. First, it assumes a modular approach to design. Second, it values flexibility. Third, it seeks to increase flexibility by focusing on design of interfaces.

This concept is widely practiced in computing architectures.

... But the notion of loose coupling doesn’t stop there. It also begins to reshape organizational design and behavior. Think about the organizational equivalent of component-based software or modular product design. Rather than traditional hierarchies driven by command and control management styles, we are likely to see relatively independent organizational modules brought together to perform one set of processes and then different arrangements of modules to perform other processes.
(October 9, 2002)
More on loosely connected computer systems:

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