Gradual Versus Abrupt Reorganizations

Anton Kolotilin (UNSW Sydney)
Hongyi Li (UNSW Sydney)

Abstract: Should organizations reorganize gradually or abruptly? Why do some software applications periodically undergo major, disruptive overhauls? We model how to adapt the design of complicated systems in response to continuous pressure to change. The key premise is that design interdependencies may impede adaptation: adjustment of maladapted design elements may cause painful dislocations elsewhere in the system. We show that for sufficiently complicated systems, optimal adaptation may involve abrupt reorganizations, where (in periodic episodes) the designer allows maladapted elements to accumulate up to a critical mass before deleting them altogether. Such abrupt reorganizations are associated with sudden reductions in functionality, technical debt, and overall performance.