0 comments on “Management Debt and Organizational Entropy”

Management Debt and Organizational Entropy

Do you know the fundamental value proposition of Organizational Research? This value proposition is the very reason why theoretical and empirical research in this field is done at all, why a record number of business books are published today, why magazines like Harvard Business Review exist:

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A simple as it is, this statement stayed with me for all these years. How many organizations have you seen, that are “historically grown” or outright dysfunctional instead of being planned? How many managers did you ever meet who where just administering their areas, without ever conjuring up the willpower or taking the risk to better things, to even try to sketch out a better state for their organization? Chances are, you met a lot of those.

“A planned state of an organization is more effective than an unplanned one”: This statement is a call to action, that sends you on a never-ending mission to think ahead and try things. For me, it’s a call to have a mission, to be one step ahead. To continually hone your organization.

Granted, it’s not as bold as Facebooks Mark Zuckerberg “Move fast and break things” motto. It’s more down to earth. Coming from Jürgen Hauschildt, who has been a renowned professor within the German-speaking countries, it carries special weight for me. Mr. Hauschildt specialized in “Innovation Management,” wrote a highly successful book on that subject which is with its 6th edition still in distribution today. Mr. Hauschildt was a significant proponent of empirical organizational research. He accepted no truth, just because it was theoretically plausible, everything had to be tested with hypothesis, experiments, tests and statistical analysis until proven.

Of course, that’s just basic science. But as most business books, especially the successful ones, reflect opinions and narratives, but not empirical, data-driven scientific analysis, Mr. Hauschildt’s style of work is needed today as ever.

Yet, most managers fail to take a scientific perspective of an organization. Managers are pragmatists. They do not have time to be scientists.

For Managers “betterment-now” beats “optimum-never”.

That’s all right and fair. Here is the problem with this: Most Managers do not have a holistic view or understanding of their job. They think of betterment as to solve an immediate issue – but lacking a holistic perspective, sometimes even on their part of the organization-  they tend to come up with solutions that may have severe tradeoffs in areas where they are blindsided. 

The Blind Sides of Managment

When about Organizations, we tend to think about the, what Harvard Professor Robert Kegan calls, the Exterior of an Organization. But there is more to an organization which needs to be planned:

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Quadrant 1: Exterior view of Organizations

This is what springs to mind when thinking about organizations. These are all the usual stuff we think of as managers and organizers. They are tangible, written or at least practiced rules and processes.

Quadrant 2: Exterior view of Individuals in an Organization

These are the responsibilities, roles, problems, and tasks that individuals in organizations are faced with. It is the individuals understanding of his role in an organization, her day to day job.

The individual’s view of a job is determined by Quadrant 1: All rules and processes defined have repercussions on individuals day to day work. Every intrusion that restricts the local autonomy to act impacts the way people view their job. Every purchasing guideline, every management approval, every assignment, every project, every HR regulation.

Quadrant 3: Interior view of Organizations

These are the nontangible, harder to see aspects of an organization. This Quadrant is usually described as the organizational culture, i.e., “the way we do things here.”

Organizational Culture is notoriously hard to change. According to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.”

Screenshot 2018-01-04 08.45.34

(credits for this picture goes to Torben Rick)

Yet with everything, a manager organizes and regulates, culture is changed. At the same time, Culture restricts what regulation from Quadrant 1 is being made and determines what regulation will be successful.

Quadrant 4: The “Psychology” Quadrant

The Interior view of Individuals, that’s the trickiest quadrant of them all. It’s the things that like beliefs, values, fears, and vulnerabilities that are hidden in everyone. It’s psychology, it’s neuronal science, i.e., the way the brain works.

Everything an individual does, in any quadrant of the organization, is governed by Quadrant 4. Yet managers often neglect the impacts of their actions on the psychology of people.

Historically Managers are Administrators, not Psychologists.

Why do Managers need to learn about their blind spots?

Management’s goal is to achieve optimal outcomes “in the transformation of resources into utility,” a definition used by Management thinker Fredmund Malik.

For knowledge work, that “transformation of resources into utility” can only be optimized, if managers are able to plan ahead for the next state of an organization – not on just Quadrant 1, but on all four quadrants. The individual’s state of mind might not have been critical in a command and control coal shoveling steel mill, but it sure is of central importance in today’s knowledge economy.

All the hard facts, the rules, and regulations set in Quadrant 1 determine all other Quadrants, but most the Individual, Micro level of an organization.

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Of course, all Quadrants are somewhat interdependent. Still, Quadrant 1 is much more easily changed by a rational process, as everything in it can be much better controlled and measured. The Organizational level sets the frame for each individual, where else the individual is much less powerful to change the collective, notably the lower she is on the corporate ladder.

Blindsided managers let their organizations incur Managerial Debt by choosing ways of working that appear to work on an exterior level, but destroy the interior side of the organization (by undermining trust, disengaging people, treating them like children etc.):

  • Managerial Debt accrues over time: Disengagement of workers will cause products, service and finally profits to degrade over time.
  • Like accrued interests, bad managerial solutions will cause new bad managerial solutions to spring up over time
  • Unaddressed management debt increases organizational entropy overtime: Energy that is lost to the void: Filling out reports that no one needs. Doing Approvals that no one approving understands. Never working on fundamental issues but only on patching up the mistakes of the flawed organizational system

Managers need to become Engineers of all Dimensions of Human Work Environments

In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), knowledge-driven and the ever more digital world, Managers need to become just that: Engineers of human work environments.

Robert Kegan, calls this mission to built a “Deliberately Developmental Organization,” a Learning Organization. Shockingly, a learning organization needs the manager to become a teacher or Unversity decan who does two things:

  1. Set a curriculum of what is to be learned
  2. Engage in Pedagogy (the science of learning) to optimize the rate of learning

Now Managers need to get a better understanding of psychology and pedagogy, too. An even major challenge. But a challenge that can not be ignored in our times. Times, where the Agile Mindset and Agile Management Practices appear to be the way forward for organizations.

That’s a challenge that Jürgen Hauschildt,  would have eagerly taken up.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

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Sources:

 

0 comments on “Going Native: The Best Way to Link Traditional​ Companies and Start-ups”

Going Native: The Best Way to Link Traditional​ Companies and Start-ups

From a corporate perspective, the Startup world is chaotic, hard to understand, seemingly irrational and even irresponsible. Similar feelings come into play if just a unit inside a Company adopts Agile working principles, for example, an IT Unit adopting SCRUM as its project method.

It is here that the paradigm of Control & Predict meets the paradigm of Autonomy & Evolutionary Purpose. There are bound to be misunderstandings, crisis, conflicts, drama, and frustration in this interface between the traditional corporate world and the Start-up World.

Yet many Companies are rather inept dealing with this interface. A typical reaction is to assign a single point of contact (SPOC) by each supporting unit, such as IT, Logistics, Purchasing, Accounting or Legal to take care of any issue raised by the Startup. The well-meant message to the Startup is: “Do not worry. We will take care of your issues”. And so the trouble starts – boys and girls working for the startup usually:

  • Don’t know which question to ask. There are there for a mission, but the intricacies of e.g., corporate IT, Legal finesse or accounting laws are not their area of expertise nor their primary concerns. All their focus is to get a product with a viable business proposition off the ground
  • Don’t know how to formulate question, so that the experts in the supporting unit can understand it
  • Are not sure who should ask a question. In such a fluid way of working as a Start-up environment demands, responsibility can hardly be pinpointed to single person
  • Have other concerns. Yes, there might be this or that – for example – legal quirk with this or that decision, but this is often a secondary concern. Too many decisions need to be taken at a moments notice
  • Change their questions fast. Even if a question is formulated, with all the experimentation going on, there is no guarantee that the question will not be outdated tomorrow
  • Need answers real fast. A hierarchy, where there is an awareness that answers are nothing else than commitments, and commitments costs resources, needs a lot of time to come up with an answer. After all, the hierarchy is built for reliability and efficiency – not for speed and effectiveness

Giving these problems, the single point of contact model is doomed to fail.

Going Native

So what is the alternative to the SPOC model? It is not waiting for issues to be raised by someone in the Startup but integrating some co-workers deep in the Startup. Thereby those co-workers, which might be described as liaison officers, agents or advisors, stay  in the full context of the Start-up and are able:

  • to scout for issues with all their knowledge
  • to solve issues by directly addressing real or potential issues with their support unit
  • to work relive the tensions between the Supporting Unit and the Start-up

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Costs

The support unit has to dedicate the liaisons, which can be hard given that the liaisons will be the more effective, the more knowledgeable, the higher their social skills and the better their existing network is.

The Start-up has to accept an increase in their number of co-workers. If multiple supporting units do send liaisons, the number of persons to be integrated can be quite large. But Start-ups need to be close-knit teams where communication is plenty and relations are close and meaningful.

Therefore the liaisons should be integrated not into any single team of the start-up. In the open space facilities so typical of start-ups, the liaisons should have their own table. But they have the permission to change their desk to this or that team table from time to time, just like the situation demands it.

It is the liaison’s job to make themselves useful to the start-up, to seek meaningful work where the start-up team might not be able to identify it and be instrumental in solving it.

Conclusion: Time to move, HQ!

I think that going native is a very good option – after all, the agile way start-ups are working, with lots of experimentation and engagement, lights a way for the corporate world to change.

It is the corporate units that got to integrate into the new world of working- not vice versa.

“Going Native” allows this. It is challenging for the leadership of the support unit to be faced with this new way of working, that provides so much autonomy and decision making authority to the liaisons. But this is exactly what needs to be learned to survive in the digital age.

This is what I think. What do you think?

___

Sources:

  • Kotter, John “Accelerate” 2014 – gives a good hunch what it takes to lead a conventional, command and control organization (first “operating system”) and simultaneously a second agile one (second operating system)

Special thanks to Holger Balderhaar for making me rethink my position on Kotter’s 2nd Operating system.

 

1 comment on “76 Agile Workouts & A Fish”

76 Agile Workouts & A Fish

The number of Agile organizational practices can leave you bedazzled: What is this practice for? When to apply it? What is the primary target of the practice? Here is a map that should provide some orientation.

Why use Agile Practices?

Agile practices work like your personal fitness work-outs: They change the organization over time if deliberately practiced. They increase organizational fitness over time. In other words: They increase the maturity level of an organization over time.

Thereby, they are offering a bottom-up avenue to organizational change: Pragmatic change which can be initiated by everyone in the organization, not just high ranking managers. There are only really two ways how an individual without management power can change an organization:

  1. By changing her personal attitude, work style and behaviors or
  2. by proposing, trying out and adopting new practices how to collaborate with others.

Sources of Agile Work-outs

A lot of people have recognized the value of Agile Work-outs, for example:

And there are many more sources of Agile Methods. Just take the king of all Agile project methods, SCRUM, which contains dozens of practices which can be used even outside the context of projects and in an organizational context instead. Like the “Daily Stand-up Meeting” with its three round-robin questions to every team member:”What did you do? What will you do? What are your problems?”.

It is possible to extract practices of Self-Managed Organizations such as Holacracy or Sociocracy, too. Just like SCRUM, these are systems of management which rely on some practices and principles. Why not reusing some of these practices in different contexts?

A Map of Agile Work-outs

The number Agile Work-outs can leave you bedazzled (some online source can be found in Resources). Here is my attempt to bring some order into this chaos by ordering them by three criteria:

  1. Maturity Level of an Organization: In the last post I came up with a “Capability Maturity Matrix for Liberated Organizations,” a simple 4 level ranking that provides orientation about the maturity level, that the work-out should be best used in. Basically, the higher the maturity level, the more decentralized decision making is.
  2. Severity: A somewhat subjective measure of risk and the number of requirements this work-out has. Severity has some correlation to the potential benefit this workout might have, but benefits really depend a lot on situative factors, where else increased severity represents the chance that the work-out will fail and backfire.
  3. Category: These are loosely based on criteria used to describe classical management theories, such as those of Peter Drucker or Fredmund Malik.

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As Agile Workouts come from many sources,  in many flavors,  and in plenty of variations there are no standardized names. As I drill down the Agile Workouts by category, you will find a short description in the tables below. For more detailed references, please check out the “Resources” page.

Agile Workouts for Control

Hundred years ago, the Art of Organizing had been described by Max Weber as seeking an optimal balance between specialization and coordination: The more you specialize, the more the need for and the costs of coordination increases.

In more liberated, self-managed companies, the need for coordination remains, but coordination is achieved by other means. While Coordination is decentralized, the most potent form of coordination, control, remains necessary.

Control is achieved by a multitude of factors, as for example managerial oversight, social control by co-workers which crowds-out managerial control, target agreements, and Meeting routines. And control can be enhanced explicitly by adopting one of the Agile work-outs listed in the table below.

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I won’t explain every single Agile Work-out. But I hope you get a hunch what the work-out is about from reading the short description in the table. To find out more, you have to refer to the listed source.

Instead, I will just mention my favored Work-put in each category. In the Control-Category, I really like Self-service targets, as it invites people to reflect, think about what they can achieve on their own, and creates more commitment than goals set by superiors.

Agile Workouts for Feedback

To paraphrase Harvard Professor and developmental psychologist Robert Kegan: “A learning organization is an organization saturated with learning.” Every feedback given is a learning opportunity.

Giving positive feedback might happen too seldom, but is easy to do. Providing feedback that criticizes is much harder and requires a relationship built on trust.

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My favorite of this category is Moving Motivators. A Card based, simple game where everyone ranks value and simultaneously explains her reasoning. In a second round, everyone explains how a particular change would impact her values. This is a great way to get to know one another, discuss a proposed initiative. It will pay dividends to every team over a long time.

Agile Workouts for Learning

Learning is, arguably, the most central thing in an Agile Organization or a Start-up. Naturally, there are lots of Workouts centered on Learning.

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My favorite is Pairing and Job Shadowing. Two people working on a single task or job can give surprising insights, productivity improvements and creates ideas on a personal level. Its apparent inefficiency is what makes it so compelling. Pairing is the crucial ingredient to agile software development approaches as eXtreme Programming, but it works fine outside software development, too.

Agile Workouts for Organizing

Organizing means structuring work. And if there are less and fewer ways a manager can do that competently, there need to be agile exercises that help structure work on the meta level.

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Here I choose Mirroring. Just identifying a customer for an organizational entity, creating a clear line of sight from the coworkers to the customer creates the impetus to want to work for the benefit of the customer in every co-worker. Humans really want to do good for others. Often the way we organize is an obstruction to that.

Agile Workouts for Meetings

Where is the place where collective intelligence happens? It is the Meeting. Isn’t it shocking how little thought is given to organizations about how meetings are run?

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I have an emotional attachment to “Benefits & Concerns,” as I have practiced that since I joined Capgemini Ernst & Young in 2001. I still use it. Nowadays, my favorite is Liberating Structures, which provides Meeting structures that couldn’t be more elaborate and simple.

Agile Workouts for Transparency

Transparency acts as a fertilizer to innovation: The more, the merrier.

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I admit I am a transparency freak. I like them all! But if I need to choose, I go for KANBAN for its universal usefulness and supplement it with Trello, an App for any distributed teams and/or Jira, for bigger teams.

Agile Workouts for Decision Making

Who calls the shots? With increasing maturity of the organization, decision making is more and more decentralized. These Work-outs highlight how.

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My favorite is the Delegation Board.

But what I really want to try someday is the real fancy stuff”Believability weighted decision making.”

Agile Workouts for Human Resources

There are no norms for classifying Agile Workouts from other Organizational practices. Out of the plethora of HR practices, I found this bunch especially interesting.

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I really admire doing things in HR based on data, just as described in Lazlo Bocks, who is the HR director of Google, book. Therefore my favorite work-out is Candidate Testing by giving out small and tests that are relevant to the position, that the applicant is supposed to solve. This allows so much more profound insights than any number of interviews by any number of people. It is indeed astonishing how much we oversee by talking to people and how much we reveal if we see a person working to solve a problem.

Agile Workouts for Projects

Well, there are a lot of project methods and methods for projects out there. I won’t include them here, except the two significant Methodologies of SCRUM and conventional Waterfall projects. Both methods contain innumerable amounts of work-outs themselves.  But this Blog is focused on the organizational side of Agile.

I think there are enough sites covering agile or any other type of project management – and too few sites covering management structures and routine that allow such excellent Methods like SCRUM to shine.  SCRUM runs optimally is embedded in a maturity level 3 organization. The trouble is, so many companies on level 1 and 2 try SCRUM and find it hard to digest.

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I like to highlight Value Poker here, as it is an excellent way for people to engage and delivers – empirically – the 2nd best accuracy of all estimating methods, behind the much more resource, time and effort intensive Delphi Method.

 

And what about the fish?

Ok, you have been served the 76 Agile Work-outs. Now you want the fish, don’t you?

As so often, headlines can be sooooo overpromising and underdelivering.  So here is my slightly fishy disclaimer:

  • Work-outs should be deliberately practiced and repeated. Do not expect one hit wonders. You need to practice, with deliberation and over time
  • Do not command a team to use a work-out. Propose it, try it, invite feedback and adapt.
  • Some work-outs work better in conjunction with others
  • Do not do too many workouts. You want your organization to work and not become a circus, I guess. Unless your organization is a circus. Hm.
  • You want to know why a particular Work-out is attributed to a particular Maturity level or severity? There is about zero academic rigidity beyond my personal judgment. So take it with a pinch of salt.

Finally, take your time to choose work-outs from higher maturity levels if your organization is still at a low level. Think of your role like being a Gardner of the organization:  Give things – like e.g. trust – time to grow.

This is what I think. What do you think?

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Note: I have excluded Innovation Techniques(e.g. 6 Hats, Design Thinking)  and Coaching Techniques from this post.  Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what is an agile management workout, and what is an innovation or coaching techniques, tough.

Sources can be found on the Sources and (revamped) Resources page.