Put the right people under the right conditions and amazing things happen.
OK. We are getting there now – we have the right people on the bus in the right seats – and they all have the right tools. We have talked about their environment a little – in terms of Value, Flow and Quality rather the Cost, Time and Scope and we have talked about Complex Work instead of Complicated Work and we have shared the difference between the Knowledge Worker and the Manual Worker. The former of each one of these drives a very different perspective into your environment and, if done correctly, can have a considerable impact on the productivity of your organisation…
Superman. Kal-El. A boy from space comes to our planet and has extra-ordinary powers. The one that really captures our imagination is his ability to fly – to defy the law of gravity and to be able to go anywhere at any speed. Take the physics and biology of Krypton and apply them in Earth and you have super-human powers and, as stated by Superman himself, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Other heroes are from other world’s or have been ‘altered’ through some form of DNA mutation or experimentation (e.g. Spiderman, Hulk, Wolverine, etc.). Finally, there is Neo, who realises that although he is of this world but he is not part of this world and therefore, physics doesn’t apply.
Put the right people under the right conditions and amazing things happen.
Here is the problem, we may not be setting the right conditions for our people to thrive in!
From Taylor’s Scientific Management through to the industrial revolution, man has optimised the methods and practices of Manual Work. This has transformed the world and we can design, build and support amazing products, from goods on your supermarket shelves, to Typhoon Jets. What the likes of Taylor, Ford, Deming and Ohno did for mankind has been truly amazing and they did this by creating the right environment for the optimisation of manual work. Taylor stated that “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.” – It was all about the system.
The dimensions that optimise Knowledge Work differ to those that optimise Manual Work:
Use the same terminology as the Agile Manifesto, although we value the statements on the right, we value the statements on the left more…
For complicated work; inventory is visible, requirements are defined, scope is bounded and the work is repetitive. Complicated work is optimised through improved processes and systems.
For complex work; inventory is invisible, requirements evolve, scope is unbounded and work is unique. Complex work is optimised through improvements in culture and environment.
For complicated work, the focus is on establishing the defined scope and delivering to an agreed time and cost. If the ‘system’ is optimised, quality will consistently be high. This is where the fundamentals of Lean and Six Sigma are defined.
For complex work; the focus should be on delivering value with consistent flow where quality is never compromised. Lean and Six Sigma principles still apply but in a manner which enables learning, course correction and fast feedback as the understanding of the output evolves.
For complicated work; process is king – optimising the ‘system’ delivers the goal of high profitability. As Taylor states, the system comes first over man. Goldratt in the Total Systems Thinking and Theory of Constraints teaches how to optimise the processes, bottlenecks, costs and measurements of the end-to-end process to increase manufacturing productivity. These are the cornerstones for the Industrial Revolution.
For complex work; people are king – optimising the ‘environment’ for knowledge workers delivers the goal of high profitability. In this case, man comes first, over the system. Agile represents this distinguishing factor through the Agile Manifesto:
The Agile Manifesto states that although the items on the right are valued, the items on the left are valued more. This is great illustration as the items on the right are artefacts of Manual Work, whilst the items on the left are artefacts of Knowledge Work.
DeMarco and Lister, in their book Peopleware (1987), describe the environment in which knowledge workers (in this case specifically developers) thrive. This great summary of the book is worth a read, the structure and the key messages of which follows.
We look at Google and their unusual offices, family days, unlimited holidays, free food, office and personal perks, pool tables, etc. and we partly wish we were there and partly wonder at why they have attributed so much time, money and thought to their workers environment?
Amazon’s culture has been seriously scrutinised but there is still so much we don’t know about what goes on behind closed doors. I have heard that there are two types of culture in play at Amazon; one for the manufacturing and distribution areas and another for the software area. I am not sure how true this is but it would reflect the difference between Manual Work and Knowledge Work.
Either way, from the research done by the like of Drucker, Collins, etc. and the recorded culture of organisations like Google, Netflix (This is a great article drawn from Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, McCord, a book about Netflix culture) and Spotify. Organisational culture orientated for maximising the productivity of knowledge workers has a marked impact on organisational performance.
These organisations break the iron triangle of scope, time and cost and replace it with value, flow, and quality as the key dimensions of work. They recognise the differences of complex work over complicated work by building environments of high trust and collaboration and they know what is needed for knowledge work in place of manual work by facilitating an environment of trust, energy, creativity and space to perform.
Local teams (squads, two-pizza teams, etc.) can develop a local culture which enables increased productivity and creativity. These teams are then loosely coupled to scale an organisation. To make substantial difference, this needs top-down sponsorship and bottom-up energy which needs to permeate through the organisations.
Organisations that have both Manual Work and Knowledge Work need to be able to segregate and traverse these at the same time. Where organisations have internal and external customers as well as a supply change for Knowledge Work, the challenge of nurturing the right climate (and contracts) for knowledge work becomes significantly amplified.
It was Mental Health Awareness week a few weeks ago and I was fortunate enough to attend an excellent Mental Health Awareness workshop. The early session was led by a professor of psychology and he called out the differences between someone who may have broken a leg to someone who may be undergoing a mental health issue such as stress. In many ways the two examples are great comparisons to Manual Work and Knowledge Work and Complicated Work and Complex Work.
A broken leg is complicated but repairable, with a set of routines and processes that when combined together and diligently followed will result in the repair of the leg and hopefully full restoration in a set period of time. There is a pattern, a process and the injury is visible to the person, the doctor and the people around them.
Stress is complex, invisible and there is no set pattern or process that is repeatable that addresses every situation. Psychologists will spend time on their patients and healing may takes months or years, it’s a voyage of discovery, feedback, failures, successes, etc. A very different set of practices and disciplines are needed than those used to fix a broken leg.
In the same way as different plants grow best in the right conditions, as leaders, as teams, you need to think about your environment and you need to look at the rules that you operate against. If you are Knowledge Workers, your productivity is essential and if you are involved in Complex work, you need to learn, understand and apply a new set of rules that will boost your productivity, increase the value you deliver and improve both morale and customer satisfaction.
“There is a superhero in all of us, we just need the courage to put on the cape.”