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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Which do we need the most, Project Managers or Line Managers?

Should we organize around the delivery of products or along the structure of our organization? Which organizational paradigm is the most effective or efficient?

This is a question that most managers struggle with regularly. At least when they are asked to "re-organize" their respective organizations.

In Europe (and I suspect elsewhere) this has led to a huge growth in what I would call Hybrid organizations. Also known as "Matrix organizations". These are organizations where managers try to blend delivery-focused (project) organizations with hierarchical-focused organizations (the line organization).

Which organization is better?

Just this week I had an argument with a colleague about this. Which of this organizational paradigms is better? It is my view that both of these options, actually all three (if you count the matrix organization) represent a fundamental lack of understanding of how knowledge work happens and how it gets done.

The Hierarchy-focused organization is based on the principles that we need to have someone to "manage" the worker. As if the worker herself would not be able to make decisions about allocation of resources or conflict resolution without the contribution of a higher manager.

The Project-focused organization is based on a similar principle, the principle that the worker cannot make execution-relevant decisions herself. For example, which piece of work to do first, or where to get some necessary information.

The Matrix organization may be based on both of these ideas, i.e., that the worker cannot do any type of decisions herself...

I believe these principles (and the associated practices) are wrong. I believe that we can have organizations that are focused on delivering concrete products / services to the customers without having to have any of these layers to "manage the work and the worker".

Why should we have Project Managers and other interesting arguments...

My colleague was arguing that we don't need Project Managers in an organization because they don't deliver anything. "They are overhead that produces no value outside coordination" he said. Sure, I can buy that, but what do line managers do that cannot be classified in the same way? The answer is nothing. Line manager's work is mostly overhead as well. They don't - on their own - deliver anything to the end customer, and do mostly coordination work (for example: coordination of performance reviews).

So the question is: If we believe that Project Managers "add no value" to a knowledge organization, why do we have line managers?

What do you think would be my colleagues answer to that question?

Photo credit: miuenski @ flickr

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at 16:25 | 1 comments
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to change an organization without changing its culture - a breakthrough concept

A few weeks ago while attending #AgileSlovenia I listened to Stephen Parry (aka @LeanVoices) talk about Climate at work, what he called "Work Climate".

He explained that, as he worked with many different organizations, he found that some organization were easier to change than others. Some organizations were able to adapt faster to new ideas, and listen to customers better than others. No news here. I've seen that myself.

The breakthrough for me was when he described the concept of Work Climate as a way to understand why some organizations are much faster at adopting new ideas, faster, and more enthusiastically than others.

The model describes how some entrenched behaviors, policies, and expectations allow (or prevent) an organization to adopt a new idea. The two most extreme classifications of Work Climate according to Stephen were: Mass Production, and Customer Value Enterprise.

In the Mass Production Work Climate, it is very hard to bring in agile because the system (aka the organization) will reject it actively

In the Mass Production Work Climate, it is very hard to bring in agile because the system (aka the organization) will reject it actively, because it goes against the prevailing Work Climate. An example is: decisions must be made at the top of the organization, not at the operational level, therefore making any change of process a very slow and complex endeavour.

In the Customer Value Enterprise Work Climate it will be much easier to introduce Agile because people already expect to be able to change their processes, and experiment with different approaches.

The key is to have an approach that allow us to change the Work Climate from Mass Production towards Customer Value Enterprise. How do I do that? This is where Stephen's ideas are a real breakthrough. Through his experience he has developed approaches that help us analyse and assess the current Work Climate at different levels (Teams, organizations, departments), and then methods to work with these organizations to change the climate. Added bonus: we can measure that the change is happening through a validated survey!

Work Climate is not Culture. Culture changes slowly, Work Climate changes quickly with the right approach. I know that because I've seen it change in hours of a reorganization being announced: from super active to totally locked down. This concept of Work Climate is the breakthrough for me in #AgileSlovenia, the conference in the sunny side of the Alps :)

Work Climate is a much better model to understand changes in organizations than the fuzzy, hazy, difficult concept of culture. I'm really interested in experimenting with these ideas.

at 08:00 | 3 comments
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Five signs your meetings are a waste of time!

Ever wondered why you just had a meeting? and what was the value from the time used? Or why meetings are organized the way they are? Here are 5 sure signs that tell you a meeting you just had was a waste of time:

Sign 1: The solution/outcome for that meeting is available to everyone before the meeting happens

Often meetings are just rituals. The results are known in advance. Perhaps the manager just wants to get everybody's "buy in". In the end the meeting did not generate any insights or brought up a point of view that was not previously considered. If you exit the meeting with a decision that was made before you entered the meeting you know you have just wasted one hour! (or more...)

Sign 2: When different ideas are presented, the goal is to chose between the different ideas instead of...

Some times, however you are on the verge of an insight. A new idea - not previously considered - is presented, but then the conversation changes from approval for a pre-propsed decision to an argument about which idea is the better option. At this point the conversation turns into a debate, and typically the manager wins that debate, because after all he is the manager.

Sign 3: You feel less energized at the end of the meeting than you did at the start

In the rare times when you actually want to attend a meeting, you often leave that meeting with less energy than you started. If you feel like this you know that meeting was purely a waste of time (or worse...)

Sign 4: Someone asks: "who will document the results of this meeting?"

Meetings are often decision points in the process of getting some work done (more on that below). But the problem is that the decision is not really made in meetings, as stated in Sign 1, those decisions are pre-made. Even before the meeting starts. Because of this, the "owner" of that decision knows that there will be debate and discussion in the future. In preparation for that future debate he asks: "who will write the meeting minutes and document this decision?". A sure sign the meeting was a waste of time. If not yet, it will become clear when the decision is contested in the future...

Sign 5: You had a meeting to make a decision

What are meetings for? If you answer: "to make decisions", you know they are a waste of time. Meetings are very poor choice for a decision making process, however they could have a productive use: "to generate possible decision OPTIONS". Yes, in a meeting you have intelligent people together in the same time-space, if you don't plan to use their creativity, ingenuity and imagination why do you even have them there? If you don't plan to use their creativity, ingenuity and imagination then you can be sure the meeting is a waste of time!

Meetings: The silver lining

Finally I wanted to leave you with one sign that tells you that a meeting was NOT a waste of time: When you leave a meeting with more questions than you started with. If that is the case you can be sure that the meeting was NOT a waste of time. When was the last time that happened? Photo Credit: Celestine Chua @ flickr

at 14:31 | 1 comments
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