Health Check: Does a Communication Gap Exist in My Organisation?

Health checkOver the past two decades, and with business environments becoming increasingly complex, the technique of breaking complex challenges into supposedly manageable parts became popular. This worked well initially. It still works well when root causes of problems are located within such parts. Today the question is this: What happens when the parts and their dependences become too many?

Organisations cannot Afford to Address all the Parts

In recent years the parts to manage and their dependencies became too many to understand and too expensive to address them all. A new pattern emerged: Certain parts and dependences received insufficient attention. Issues and problems located within these parts and between the parts were not solved anymore. As employees tried to address the ‘foreign’ problems from within their parts, they could only address the symptoms, not the problems. With each round of addressing symptoms, the negative impact of unsolved problems increased. This pattern can be observed in organisations across the globe.

A typical field in which this pattern can be observed is the communication space between central organisations and the field (in both directions) and between departments. As organisations move beyond a threshold of unsolved issues and problems, a communication gap is created.

A communication gap undermines the execution of corporate strategy, projects, productivity and more. Ever-more of the budget must be moved from productive tasks to unproductive tasks, such as control efforts, fire fighting and financing ongoing failure. Together, it weakens the competitive position of the corporation.

The Opportunity

One of the highest-impact cost-saving and service-improvement opportunities is unlocked by identifying and overcoming the unsolved problems.

What You can Do

Do the health check (a PDF download) against 42 common issues and problems. It’s free. When done, you may be able to explore one or two quick hit cost savings and service improvement opportunities.

Posted in Agile, Avoiding Traps, Best Practice, Bridging the Gap, Bureaucracy, bureaucratie, Change Management, Communication Skills, Complaint, complexiteit, constructieve dialoog, Constructive Dialogue, Conversation, Effective Solutions, Governance, kwaliteitsmanagement, Leadership, Leadership Coaching, Leading, Lessons Learned, Management, Project Management, projectmanagement, Quality Management, risicomanagement, Risk Management, Root Cause Analysis, Scrum, valkuilen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What are the ground rules for creating a healthy alliance?

Whereas the sigSpreeuwenns of complexity in society become more apparent, social change increasingly takes place through an alliance of persons and organisations that team up for a while for a tough task. Last week, I was talking with some experienced social entrepreneurs to exchange what works (and what not) while developing an alliance that is fit for the task. That is where the idea of ‘ground rules’ come up.

What is a ground rule? One of us gave the example of a murmuration of starlings, which moves in beautiful patterns across the sky. How do they do this?

1. Fly as fast as possible.
2. Do not touch your neighbor.
3. Fly towards the center.

A flight of starlings seems to fly as a single body, while each individual starling just does what it has to do: find support and protection before the big trek.

The case we discussed was about the introducing smart ways to stimulate the physical and mental development of severely handicapped people (SHP) in a playful manner. An alliance of healthcare providers, motion experts, play-therapist and play-developers in Gelderland region (NL) is now working to design and test the effectiveness of techniques. The partners want a method that works.
Now, what are the ground rules for creating such an alliance? This is what we found:

1. An alliance is demand-driven.
An alliance centers around a question or problem that is relevant for all involved, but no one can solve it alone. In our case, the question was: “There are many ways to stimulate physical development of people with a severe handicap, but which one works best in what circumstances?” So, clarify the demand is the first thing to do.

2. There is a tangible goal.
An alliance is not a social club; it is about goal-oriented and practical action. The ‘SHP alliance’ aims to introduce an the activation method to 80% of the relevant SHP institutions in the Netherlands. Thus, they want to reach 80% of the severely handicapped persons with a method that works.

3. All contribute and receive.
Practical work is mostly done on the basis of reciprocity; all partners contribute their knowledge and capabilities, and all share in the results. In our case, all partners contribute to develop and test techniques for physical activation, and all can use the method for free. Commercial exploitation of products is possible if the conditions are discussed and agreed in some detail beforehand.

4. Everyone is free to come and go
At first we assumed that an alliance needs to operate on the basis of consensus, but this is not the case. Dissensus can be positive to sharpen discussions and stimulate creativity for new solutions. The driving force of an alliance is the interest of actors to cooperate with each other. Participants will stay as long as it is worth the trouble; otherwise, an actor will leave. This also means that an alliance is open to those who may want to contribute as well. So the rule is: We vote with our feet, partners come and go as they wish.

If we compare our rules about alliances with the ground rules for the starling murmuration, it becomes clear that our rules are not as neat and independent as the rules for a flight of starlings. We are also not even sure these are all the rules, but that does not matter much—it’s not mathematics. As long as rules are clear and accepted by all partners, they will help to improve the performance of an alliance.

 

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How to Reduce Bureaucracy and Complexity: You Can Start Today

If we know what creates bureaucracy as well as complexity, we should be able to reduce it, shouldn’t we? Let’s explore this through a specific example.

If situation = X, then do Y: When we look at how instructions, processes, and software tools were written over the past two decades, we observe that the following writing style is overwhelmingly present: “If situation = X, then do Y”. This works really well for predictable situations, when we can say “if this is the situation, this is exactly what you have to do”. This hasn’t changed. In today’s complex environments, for reasons of efficiency, consistency, and low risk, this remains a highly valid technique. Operating bank accounts, the Internet, or next-day goods delivery wouldn’t work without it. However, what happens when this style is applied to situations that are difficult to predict or unpredictable?

Applying “If situation = X, then do Y” in complex environments: In complex environments, countless situations are difficult to predict. When this style is applied to such situations, all possible situations that can occur must be foreseen. Instructions or code has to be written and tested.

As this style had worked well when complexity as low, people thought “let’s use what has worked before. A few additional instructions or lines of code in my project cannot do much harm”. What was extremely difficult to see from the individual’s perspective was the huge growth of the number of instructions, process steps, and lines of computer code as well as the complex dependencies between them.

Eventually, environments were changing more quickly than the instructions, processes, and software tools could be updated. Users experienced crippling bureaucracy as one consequence. Architects and project managers could not understand the implications of the changes they had to implement. From their perspective, a common pattern of overwhelming complexity was observed.

Writing style for difficult-to-predict and unpredictable situations: There is an alternative style for difficult-to-predict and unpredictable situations. It works this way:

If situation ≈ X, here is the boundary within which to make decisions. Here is why we think it is beneficial for you, your team, and your clients.

When applied, a document that would have been 300 pages and required its first update by the time it was approved became 60 pages and did not have to be updated for a few years.

What you can do: When you write instructions, processes or software code, ask yourself: Is the situation predictable? Does the situation occur again and again?

Both answers are ‘yes’?    →  “If situation = X, then do Y”

Otherwise                           →  “If situation ≈ X, here is the boundary…”

There is an exception to this: high-risk environments such as aircraft. While certain situations may rarely occur, there can be requirements for “If situation = X, then do Y” type of instructions. In such cases, extensive testing, training and/or drills are required.

Want to make a high-impact difference for your organization? Then propose a top-level policy along the lines of the solution above and a consistent format so readers can easily find the instructions in lengthy documents.

For more such techniques, feel free to contact the author.

Posted in Agile, Avoiding Traps, Best Practice, Bridging the Gap, Bureaucracy, bureaucratie, Change Management, Communication Skills, Complaint, complexiteit, Conflict Resolution, constructieve dialoog, Constructive Dialogue, Conversation, Effective Solutions, Governance, kwaliteitsmanagement, Leadership, Leadership Coaching, Leading, Lessons Learned, Management, Project Management, projectmanagement, Quality Management, risicomanagement, Risk Management, Root Cause Analysis, valkuilen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moe van al die bezuinigingsrondes? (Deel II)

English

In deel I hebben wij onbenutte oplossingen voor duurzame bezuinigingen en het verbeteren van de dienstverlening geïdentificeerd. In dit deel kun je nagaan of deze mogelijkheden in jouw organisatie bestaan en, als dat zo is, wat  je kunt doen om een écht verschil te maken.

Komt het volgende bekend voor?

Negatieve LoopPatronen

Klanten hebben redenen om naar de concurrentie te stappen. Voorbeelden: onvoldoende kwaliteit, slechte service.

Klanten en medewerkers hebben het gevoel dat er niet naar hen geluisterd wordt. Hierdoor gaat vertrouwen verloren.

Oplossingen missen cruciale (‘highest-impact’) problemen, waardoor kwaliteit en service achteruit gaan (zie afbeelding).

Extra geld en mensen moeten ter beschikking gesteld worden om de service problemen te managen, klanten te houden en mislukte projecten te financieren (=niet-productieve taken).

Een negatieve feedback loop

Onvoldoende resultaten van de verbetertrajecten hebben nieuwe verbetertrajecten tot gevolg.

De concurrentiepositie verzwakt omdat na iedere ronde meer en meer geld van productieve naar niet-productieve taken verhuisd moet worden.

 

Voorbeeld negatieve feedback loopVoorbeeld.

Bij een bedrijf dat wij ABC noemen is het volgende gebeurd: haast (‘quick fixes’) en eisen voor meer controle hadden nieuwe bezuinigingsrondes tot gevolg. Met alle aandacht op de bezuinigingen was er onvoldoende aandacht om de problemen van de onderste twee vakjes aan te gaan, waardoor er weer druk voor nieuwe bezuinigingsrondes ontstond.

 

Inzichten en oplossingen

Publicaties zoals Good to Great (Jim Collins), Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo) en Power to the Edge (Alberts and Hayes, U.S. Department of Defence) en frameworks/modellen zoals Scrum and Cynefin (Dave Snowden) leveren inzichten en deeloplossingen voor de boven aangegeven uitdagingen. Bij initiatieven zoals Denktank Project NL, het Stoos Netwerk en Stichting Zelforganisatie krijgt men het gevoel dat de nodige oplossingen vandaag de dag bestaan. Opvallend is dit patroon: Bij complexe uitdagingen werken ‘eenvoudige’ en ‘low-cost’ oplossingen beter dan grote en prijzige oplossingen.

Met aan de ene kant de druk om te bezuinigen en aan de andere kant ‘low-cost’ oplossingen zou je verwachten dat deze oplossingen met de hoogste prioriteit worden ingevoerd. Echter, vooruitgang is ontzettend traag. Het is zo traag omdat:

  1. Individuele oplossingen slechts een deelaspect van de ‘highest-impact’ problemen aangaan.
  2. De overblijvende obstakels de individuele oplossingen blijven ondermijnen (zelfs de meest vooruitlopende oplossingen kunnen falen).
  3. Onopgeloste obstakels de mensen in oude denk- en werkwijzen laten terugvallen
  4. De negatieve feedback loop hierdoor intact blijft

Wat ontbrak was een geïdentificeerde toekomstige situatie waarin de ‘highest-impact’ problemen zijn opgelost. Wat verder ontbrak was een plan, om vanuit de bestaande situatie individuele oplossingen naar één geïntegreerd pakket van oplossingen te laten groeien. Hieruit ontstaan nieuwe mogelijkheden:

Bezuinigingsinitiatieven kunnen doelgericht ingezet worden waar ze het grootst mogelijk effect hebben: bij de niet-productieve taken die de negatieve loop verergeren.
De negatieve feedback loop kan in een positieve feedback loop veranderd worden.

De gewenste toekomstige situatie

In de toekomstige situatie hebben ‘lowest-effort but highest-impact’ oplossingen de ‘highest-impact’ problemen zodanig opgelost, dat er een positieve feedback loop is ontstaan. Indirecte resultaten verschijnen zonder dat er een project voor nodig is.

Positieve loopDirecte resultaten

Prijzige vertragingen van projecten zijn voorkomen doordat obstakels worden geïdentificeerd en opgelost voordat ze het project ondermijnen.

Eenvoudige toegang tot ‘lessons learned’ voorkomt dure fouten en verbetert de kwaliteit en de dienstverlening.

Snelle besluitvorming spreekt klanten en medewerkers aan.

Klanten en medewerkers hebben het gevoel dat er naar hen geluisterd wordt.

Indirecte resultaten

Een deel van de controlefuncties is overbodig geworden omdat het aantrekkelijk is compliant te zijn.

Oude en nieuwe klanten worden vanuit betere service en groeiend vertrouwen aangetrokken.

Budget dat eerder door niet-productieve taken moest worden ingezet komt vrij voor productieve taken, concurrerende prijzen en het afbouwen van schulden.

 

De eerste stap

Hoewel het geaccepteerd lijkt dat er frisse oplossingen nodig zijn, bestaat er een belangrijk obstakel: oplossingen waarmee goede resultaten zijn bereikt gaan in de dagelijkse routine, de bureaucratie en de information overload verloren.

Wat ontbrak was iets, waaruit op te maken was dat de belangrijke elementen aanwezig zijn om de negatieve feedback loop te doorbreken. Een gevolg was dat iedereen op iemand anders bleef wachten om de eerste stap te doen. Met een kleine ‘health check’ is na te gaan of deze elementen aanwezig zijn (link verder beneden).

Ben jij van mening dat het tijd is het tij te keren?

Wacht dan niet op anderen. Jouw bijdrage helpt de verandering op gang te brengen. Wat je meteen kunt doen:

    • Nodig minimal drie vrienden of collega’s uit iets te doen om de verandering op gang te brengen (ideeën: zie hieronder).
    • Breng deze blog post naar plekken waar je een verschil kunt maken:
      • Werkgevers en leveranciers (management, sales,
        risicomanagement en servicemanagement processen)
      • Traditionele en sociale media
      • Politici
      • Bonden en werkgeversorganisaties
    • Vraag voor een beoordeling van de huidige situatie door middel van de health check.
    • Vraag naar de uitkomst van de health check en hieruit voorkomende acties.
DownloadHealthCheck Word NL Download health check

Contributing authors: Karen Zimmermann, Charles de Monchy

Posted in Agile, Best Practice, bureaucratie, Change Management, complexiteit, constructieve dialoog, Governance, kwaliteitsmanagement, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Management, projectmanagement, risicomanagement, valkuilen | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moe van al die bezuinigingsrondes? (Deel I)

English

Challenges

In organisaties over de hele wereld zijn patronen te zien zoals verlammende bureaucratie, veel te veel mislukte projecten en regelmatige bezuinigingsrondes. Velen lijken dit als de ‘normale’ gang van zaken te hebben geaccepteerd en zeggen dat wij moeten leren ermee te leven. Met een open insteek ontstaat er echter een heel ander perspectief.

Verborgen problemen, die nauwelijks of helemaal geen aandacht krijgen, komen dan boven tafel. Met aandacht voor deze problemen blijkt het mogelijk eindeloze discussies om te zetten in overeengekomen oplossingen. Bureaucratische processen zijn eenvoudiger of zelfs overbodig te maken. Technieken en oplossingen zoals klantfocus, gebruik van gezond verstand, Scrum, Constructieve Dialoog en Guided Self-Organisation hebben laten zien dat zij een écht verschil kunnen maken.

Mogelijkheid:

Onbenutte oplossingen wachten erop ingezet te worden voor duurzame bezuinigingen en het verbeteren van de dienstverlening.

Ben jij van mening dat het tijd is het tij te keren?

Lees dan verder in deel II.

.

Posted in Agile, Best Practice, bureaucratie, Change Management, Complaint, complexiteit, constructieve dialoog, Governance, kwaliteitsmanagement, Leadership, Management, Project Management, projectmanagement, risicomanagement, Scrum, valkuilen | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tired of all of These Cost-Saving Initiatives That Keep Hitting Us? (Part II)

Nederlands

In part I, we identified untapped cost saving and service improvement opportunities. In this part, you can explore whether opportunities may be waiting to be explored in your organisation and how you can start to make a lasting difference. .

Does the Following Sound Familiar?

Patterns Negative Loop

Clients are given reasons to move to a competitor. Examples include ongoing quality and service issues.

Clients and employees feel they are not listened to, which fuels mistrust.

Solution attempts miss critical problems, which fuels quality and service issues (see drawing).

Extra budget and resources must be made available to manage service issues, keep clients, and finance ongoing project failure (= unproductive tasks).

A Negative Feedback Loop

Insufficient results of improvement projects lead to the need for new solution attempts.

With each round, more of the budget has to be moved from productive to unproductive tasks. The competitive position weakens.

 

ExampleExample

At company ABC, the following happened: Quick fixes and demands for more control created new cost saving needs. Top-level priority on cost saving led to insufficient attention for solving the problems in the two lowest boxes, which fuelled the need for more savings. .

 

Insights and Solutions

Various publications, such as Good to Great (Jim Collins), Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo) and Power to the Edge (Alberts and Hayes, U.S. Department of Defence), as well as models and frameworks, such as Scrum and Cynefin (Dave Snowden), have provided insights and solutions to challenges, such as those mentioned above. Through initiatives such as the Think Tank Project Netherlands, the Stoos Network, and Stichting Zelforganisatie, one gets the feeling that the needed solutions are available today. Moreover, a pattern that can be seen again and again with complex challenges is this: ‘Simple’ and low-cost solutions work better than large and expensive solutions.

Pressure to cut costs is observed in organisations across the globe. ‘Low-cost’ solutions are available. One would expect the available solutions to be implemented with the highest priority. However, progress is painstakingly slow. It is painstakingly slow because:

  1. Individual solutions address only a subset of the highest-impact problems.
  2. The remaining obstacles undermine the individual solutions (even the most advanced solutions can fail).
  3. Unsolved obstacles make people fall back into old habits.
  4. The negative feedback loop remains intact.

What was missing was an identified future situation in which the highest-impact problems were overcome, as well as a pathway that enables individual solutions to grow into an integrated solution package. With those created, new possibilities emerge:

Cost savings initiatives can be targeted to where they have the highest-possible effect: the unproductive tasks that fuel the negative feedback loop.
The negative feedback loop can be turned into a positive feedback loop.

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The Desired Future Situation

In the future situation, the highest-impact problems are overcome by lowest-effort but highest-impact solutions. The negative feedback loop has turned into a positive feedback loop. Indirect results show up without a project to make them happen.

Positive LoopDirect Results

Costly project delays are prevented by obstacles being identified and addressed well before they hit projects.

Easy access to lessons learned prevents costly mistakes and improves quality as well as service.

Quick decision making for the situation at hand delights clients and employees.

Clients and employees feel they are listened to.

Indirect Results

A part of the control tasks become obsolete, as it is attractive to be compliant.

Old and new clients are attracted to the improved service and from trust building up.

Budgets previously locked in unproductive tasks become available for productive tasks, price reduction, and reducing debts.  

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Getting Started

Though it appears to be generally accepted that fresh solutions are needed, the challenge at hand is this: Solutions that have demonstrated to make a difference are lost in the daily routine, bureaucracy, and information overload. What was missing was guidance to whether the fundamental building blocks were in place to turn the negative loop around. One consequence is that ‘everybody’ waits for somebody else to make the first step. A little health check provides such guidance (link below).

Do you think it is time to turn things around?

Then don’t wait for others. Let’s get the ball rolling. Here is what you can immediately do:

    • Invite at least three friends or colleagues to help get the ball rolling by doing something (ideas: see below).
    • Get this to places where your contribution could make a difference:
      • Employers and vendors (management, sales, risk management, and service management processes)
      • Traditional media and social media
      • Politicians
      • Unions and trade organisations
    • Ask for a situation assessment per the health check.
    • Ask for the outcome of the assessment and the corrective actions.
Download the health check Download health check (PDF)

Contributing Authors: Karen Zimmermann, Charles de Monchy

Posted in Agile, Avoiding Traps, Best Practice, Bridging the Gap, Bureaucracy, Change Management, Communication Skills, Complaint, Conflict Resolution, Constructive Dialogue, Conversation, Effective Solutions, Governance, Leadership, Leading, Lessons Learned, Management, Project Management, Quality Management, Risk Management, Root Cause Analysis, Scrum | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tired of all these Cost Savings Initiatives that keep Hitting us? (Part I)

Nederlands

Challenges

In organisations across the globe, patterns, such as crippling bureaucracy, high project failure rates, and ongoing costs saving initiatives, are observed. Many appear to have accepted these as facts of life and argue that we have to live with them. However, when looking at these problems with an open mind, a different picture emerges.

Hidden problems surface, some of which receive little to no attention. Endless debate, fuelled by complaints and finger pointing, can be turned into agreed solutions. Bureaucratic processes can be simplified or made obsolete. Techniques and solutions such as client focus, common business sense, scrum, constructive dialogue, and guided self-organisation have already made a difference.

Opportunity:

Untapped cost saving and service improvement opportunities are waiting to be explored.

Do you think it is time to get the ball rolling and turn things around?

Then read part II.

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Posted in Agile, Avoiding Traps, Best Practice, Bridging the Gap, Bureaucracy, Change Management, Communication Skills, Complaint, Conflict Resolution, Constructive Dialogue, Conversation, Effective Solutions, Governance, Leadership, Leading, Lessons Learned, Management, Project Management, Quality Management, Risk Management, Root Cause Analysis, Scrum | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment