Nested Realms

As we have role descriptions using Role Interfaces, we now wish to organize them in a way that is understandable.

Complex processes will require many roles. It is difficult to conceptualize, assign, and communicate them without an inherent structure.

The science fiction writer Arthur Koestler described the notion of holons, something that is both a whole and a part (and further has said that everything is a holon, and that the universe is best described as a series of nested holons). Christopher Alexander similarly describes a notion of Wholes, or Centers, that are also both wholes and parts.

In Alexandrian terms, as a piece of space evolves according to the unfolding process, each Whole begins to differentiate into multiple Wholes. So too, an organization that evolves according to the unfolding process will differentiate, each role will start to differentiate into multiple roles. The single role of organizing a Heartbeat meeting will, over time, differentiate into multiple roles: a role for logistics, a role for recording and communicating the key takeaways from the meeting, a role for collecting feedback and making changes to the next meeting, etc. These multiple roles will all live within, and serve, the original Heartbeat Organization role, but the Heartbeat Organization role is no longer a single role, but a coherent collection of roles. We call such a coherent collection of roles a Realm.

The natural process of unfolding will lead to a differentiation of roles, and a nesting of realms. This structure will be understandable at various levels of scale.


Begin the company with a small task and a very small number of roles. At each stage where a role becomes too complex, differentiate the role into a realm, making sure not to change the interface (Purpose, Accountabilities, Client). This process of expansion and differentiation will resemble the growth and differentiation of a cell. In a similar vein, if a realm no longer needs certain roles, remove the roles that are no longer necessary, and allow the people energizing those roles to move on to other roles.

Whenever possible, make the realms small enough so that the people energizing roles within the realm can be fed by two pizzas, and organize them as if they were each small, independent service companies (Small Teams with Clear Interfaces). Choose when to differentiate a role based on the Unfolding process. Make sure each realm has a Steward role, where the Steward’s responsibility is to steward the Roles and Responsibilities process in the realm. Disaggregate the differentiation process from the capital allocation process; have a capital allocation to a realm flow through client demand.

Published May 5, 2019