In the previous post I studied a local organizational Gap. This time I look at the whole business. From theoretical point of view these phenomena are just obvious, I found their significance by observing real organizations. This model has been helpful for understanding the product manager’s world.
I have seen this in many organizations, also in small companies. It hints, that healthy and close human interaction in an organization is a significant competitive advantage. Secondly, change is free, actually profitable – just Go and See and there will be many opportunities.
Three conflicting Interests
Every organization has three stakeholders that each have a significant Interests. There are high stakes, energy and passion. (interest with a capital I refers to the specific Interests)
The investors are playing in the capital market. They wish for a reasonable ROI and fear for losing their investment.
The customers and end users wish for a functional product for a reasonable price, and fear e.g. for bad quality and difficulties in the support.
The value adding workers wish e.g. for satisfactory working condition, a reasonable compensation and a safe future.
All three stakeholders need the organization, wishing it to stay alive and productive. All stakeholders have both long and short term interests.
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While looking around in any organization, you most probably recognize the Gap between the product management/PO and the R&D/Teams/designers. It is significant in surprisingly small organizations.
This becomes obvious when starting Scrum. The Gap has always been there. Why? What have been the workarounds earlier? Why is it important to understand the root cause? Actually there are more gaps on the value stream…
Have you ever heard the following, when taking Scrum into use:
Team: Scrum says Give us the prioritized backlog.
Product manager: Yes, but we don’t know about tech, you do. Here You have the 5-liner. Just start working.
Team: Yes, but we need to know where to start.
PM: Yes, but we can’t prioritize technical items, you have always done it.
Team: But we can not work if we don’t know the priorities for the next sprint.
PM: What’s wrong with you?
And so on…
The Gap means simply that there is too little knowledge power, too few people who would understand both technology and business. I have many many times experienced how drawing this picture on a flipboard will stop the blame war in the room, when people realize that it is the system, not us.
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I have seen product development projects used as tool to extract results from the organization. It has been chosen to solve an organizational problem. It worked in certain conditions, but when the organization grew and outside competition became harder yesterday’s solution became today’s problem.
I try to explain my point with a lifecycle of an imaginary organization. My real life example companies vary from 15 people to thousands.
Once upon a day a group of engineers started to develop a product. In the beginning everyone knew each other and there was fluent informal communication. The techno-cultural foundation was laid. The business started to grow.
Growth and the first coordination crisis
Money comes in and the organization grows. There is more coordination work, so some developers become managers. The organization develops “naturally”, creating specialized roles and competences. There are more customers and releases. Ownership of the product gradually becomes scattered. There are bottleneck resources.
At some point the “professional project management” steps in. It is solving the coordination problem, one project at a time. The project manager has permission (by role) to demand results. She becomes powerful member of the organization, getting credit for creating order and bringing money in. Often the personality of the project managers support this specialization. Portfolio management still works or is less important. Business does well.
This is a critical bifurcation point, a leadership crisis of unrealized significance . There is still an opportunity to start a Lean evolution. My example goes to the mainstream way. From the psychological perspective this is the easiest solution. It requires least personal change from the most of the people.
Gradual Scattering of the organization
Eventually there are several parallel and sequential programs going on at the same time. Each project is re-built and re-learned every time, because they surprisingly are different from the previous one. The projects becomes a separate powerful dimension of the organization.
The projects become a kind of device extracting money out of the complex and uncontrollable organization. The business management alienates from the R&D, because the real value seems to come from the project device – the development can be replaced, off-shored, outsourced. Long term development of the R&D is seen risky and difficult. Frustration and distrust grows at both sides.
You may recognize one or more of the following characteristics:
Short term rules. Quick fix. Avoid conflict. Nonproductive feedback. Gap between business, customer and development. Continuous reorg. Exploit development. Specialization and separation of responsibility. Cling to nonfunctional ERP. Clear social classes within the organization. Big power differences. Command and control. Waiting. Big plans. Wish for predictability. Slow and vague feedback. Learning and improvement don’t work. Projects compete of resources. Cost management. Number management. Measure hours. Maximize resource utilization. Knowledge and power seems always to be elsewhere.
Market saturation and the productivity crisis
Now the product (family) is growing old. And there is competition. The business management is facing a situation where the portfolio management is very difficult because of the complicated product and organization; lack of transparency and flexibility.
Even in this situation, I have seen the management to grab the tool that used to work, trying desperately to improve the project management. This is very painful for the project managers.
My point here is, that in product development you may do excellent “conventional” projects, and fail. Even fail because the projects have been successful.
My vote for the one word root cause would be overspecialization.
Please comment and share experiences, I have not emptied this subject.
Why do people and organizations do what they do? What is the wisdom in the stupidity? Making sense of this helps to find primary questions, root causes or basic assumptions. Knowing those helps to make synthesis and applicable new solutions. And it helps to be merciful towards oneself and others. I will be blogging about models that I have found useful.
First I want to present two jewels of organizational thinking, real diamonds. They point out sources of knowledge waste in product development organizations. Originally they were presented in the book Ward, A., 2006. Lean Product and Process Development, Lean Enterprise Institute. The book contains really careful and valuable thinking. It is mandatory reading for anyone working with organizations.
1. Sources of knowledge waste are:
- Wishful thinking
2. In relation to Scatter Ward explicitly mentions:
- Whenever you separate Knowledge, Responsibility, Action and Feedback, there will be knowledge waste.
These are easy to keep in mind – you will see them everywhere.
Wishful Thinking is of course wasting knowledge, resources and money in huge lumps. It also makes you to choose organizational models, that cause Scatter. Scatter in time and space is causing Handover, which is the massive observable source of knowledge waste. And Scatter makes you loose the ability to decide – real power is always elsewhere.
Obviously wishful thinking comes from ignorance, complacency and fear; not knowing or not admitting, increased by loss of knowledge. A vicious circle.
From this perspective, doesn’t it seem obvious that learning together is the medicine? Seek wisdom, go and see. Having yet another strong management role, separate, does not solve the problem. Power lies with the knowledge!
Please check how Vasco Duarte’s blog PMI and the meta-planning process looks from this perspective.
Just to give some food for thought I list the specific knowledge wastes under the three major ones (italics my brainstorming).
- Wishful Thinking
- Discarded knowledge
- Testing to specification. (Interesting explicit mention by Ward!)
- Physical, social and skill Barriers
- Distance, time differences, data formats
- Culture, language and organizational culture
- Busying oneself
- High power differences – “classes”
- Continuous organizational change
- Overspecialization – narrow roles and competencies
- Poor tools and processes
- Mechanical or narrow information channels
- Manual duplication
- Poor communication tools
- Physical, social and skill Barriers
- Useless information
- Extraneous documentation and communication, Lost knowledge, False information
- Milestone, investment decision, technical decision, …
- Meeting scheduling, resources, …
- Plans, specs, information, comments, permission …
- Test results, bug fixes, dependent components, integration, service from tool provider/IT, …
- Useless information
Just writing down a small and simple idea I got while looking John Seddon http://vimeo.com/4670102
Overspecialization is extremely common, and expensive to overcome once established. It has often grown to the extent that everyone in the organization feels helpless in front of it. Changing this requires widening both roles and knowledge.
Culture and knowledge are accumulated from small real incidents. The following could be one practical piece in building wider knowledge and new culture by small steps.
Overspecialization is supported by the basic assumptions of the culture, like:
- it is more efficient and safe that people do only things they know already (realized and expressed)
- bottlenecks are handled by external resource planning (realized and expressed)
- features delivered is value, knowledge and quality is not (realized but denied)
- avoiding conflict to keep people (=me) happy is more important than organization’s needs (realized but denied)
Overspecialization accumulates by repeating automatically the pattern:
I as the designer with skills limited to MyArea need to implement something that touches YourArea. I add a request to Your backlog and wait. I work to get priority in Your queue. Then you make your change and it hopefully works with mine. Maybe some iteration is needed to finalize.
- I own MyArea, you own YourArea
- I learned the external behavior, “interface”, of YourArea
- Maybe the changes in YourArea were done more safely and efficiently from YourArea perspective. Maybe.
- Waiting, handovers and other stuff familiar from lean studies
The key idea is to request knowledge (created together), instead of service (created by You):
I own the change/feature, also what happens at YourArea. I request consultation, advice, knowledge, pair work etc. from you. We need to schedule the co-work. There is however more flexibility in adjusting the interaction and how much effort is needed from You.
- creating new knowledge
- more short term cost (?assumption?), but even more value
- overlapping ownership
- I learn more
- more possibilities to optimized solution
- small risk investment, owned by designers
In a similar way, when the business and the team work together with critical details, it creates understanding of the others’ perspectives and values.