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Think and Talk About Work Differently

November 24, 2016

I want to see more companies innovating everywhere and at all levels.

 

Developing real organizational maturity is a prerequisite, and part of the path towards making corporate innovation business as usual is thinking about work and workflows differently.

 

You’ll start seeing meaningful and valuable innovation once you can start seeing what’s happening in your workflows. I used to say ‘in order to be agile you have to get lean.’ I was talking about organizational maturity.

 

Maturity in Management Systems

 

Maturity in a management system means that leaders — who are not ‘doing the work’ —  have deep insight into what’s happening from an effective coordination and support perspective.

 

For example a senior manager can ask,

 

"How effectively am I spending money on that operation?"

 

They can get answers with flow efficiency, predictability, throughput metrics easily, all by measuring lead time. 


Or, an analysis of spending on a function — like expensive developers — can be compared to portion of time spent on a workflow in development (or where only those expensive skills are used).

 

These kinds of measures and reports are becoming more common as companies implement enterprise services planning methods.

 

Communication in Management Systems

 

It's pretty common for team-level people to gripe about what senior managers are doing, blaming politics or selfishness or even stupidity. It should be obviously not true, and some other reason for an apparent disconnect between management decisions and the needs of team-level people must be the cause.

 

In my experience any perceived disconnect is usually caused by a lack of communication and messaging from leadership and senior managers. They do know what they're doing but the context, criteria and purpose for decisions are not shared with the rest of the people.

 

On the other hand, often the actually bad decisions caused by a disconnect are due to a lack of transparency into the work. It's not because people are hiding things, it's because the multiple states a work item could be in are not identified in a meaningful way and therefore nobody is measuring and reporting this. This information is necessary to provide transparency into what is happening to people who aren't there 'doing the work'.

 

Traditional management systems essentially estimate dates, duration and spending for work items and track adherence and variation to the estimates. This is only relevant if you want to evaluate your prediction capability.

 

A mature organization has a system in place where the necessary information is fed back up the workflow and back up the decision-making hierarchy. It identifies a way to collect and format necessary information and has channels to deliver the info early enough to shape better decisions.
 

How to Increase Organizational Maturity

 

The best part about making changes and increasing organizational maturity is that you can start with a practice or tool that doesn't require bullying or babying to implement, one where the people who will implement it agree to or are even eager and willing. The transformation can unfold without much incident. 

 

This is the start of process innovation up and down the value streams and end-to-end in the workflows. Once a threshold of progress is made on different fronts the ability to limit work-in-process emerges.

 

An organization that can limit WIP has made room in the workflow, creating the freedom to select the next project to start from a pool of options. You’ll be able to insert better ideas, more valuable options for investing your resources, into the value stream and get a higher return of investments you’re already committed to making (your knowledge worker’s salaries and benefits, etc.).

 

Corporate innovation becomes business as usual when you can start work on something better without disrupting the pulse or cadence of the workflow. 

 

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