Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding and managing the right simplicity complexity balance 4: operational and project-oriented approaches

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 28, 2012

This is my fourth installment in a series on more effectively structuring and managing a business, so that its overall organization and system of operational processes include the right details and complexities and no more or less (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 262, 276 and 281 for Parts 1-3.) As initially noted in Part 1: starting a new series, this is all about understanding and operationally finding what might be considered the Goldilocks point for functional and organizational structure. And as already noted in earlier series installments, that means continuously developing towards a moving target, as a due diligence-based homeostatic process. Business context, and needs and opportunities and challenges change. Finding and maintaining an organizational and process efficiency point with everything covered that is needed, and little if any waste is an ongoing process.

I am going to turn in this installment to discuss operational and project-oriented approaches to managing business complexity and will at least begin a discussion on implementation for both of them.

Most of the time and for most organizations, change simply happens and without overall planning or strategy, or alignment taken into account. A need arises for a new skills set and at a level that would prompt a new hire, or an in-house redeployment of employee assets already in place. Positions are found to be redundant and people are either reassigned to task areas and positions where they would be of more benefit, or staffing reductions and downsizings are made. Markets and market demands, and products and services provided change, and both seasonally and cyclically and as a matter of long term and more permanent shifts. And this is all done from a complex of local and functional area-specific perspectives and visions and organizations drift out of effectiveness. And then for whatever reason someone in a position to affect overall change notices. If this is because of crisis or the threat of potentially imminent crisis, this leads to change management solutions which by their very nature are almost always projects as they mean stepping out of and away from business as usual and a now-failing operations system. This series is not about that scenario, but is rather focused on finding ways to avoid it – through preemptive and proactive change and improvement that would forestall a need for crisis-driven change management ever arising.

I have seen systematic and ongoing attempts to manage change carried out on a project basis. Teams are assembled to manage and oversee this process and to develop actionable, prioritized reports recommending specific changes and adjustments needed. And thick reports are generated, and usually to no long-term affect with only some if any of those recommendations actually acted upon and that, only as single event efforts. Real, long term change has to be operationalized and made part of the basic pattern of the organization. And projects are by definition time-limited and when their specific goals are reached – here, generating and distributing that thick report, that project and its team are over.

When I wrote my series on committee best practices (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 206-220 for Parts 1-15) I had some specific working examples in mind. One was transition committees for identifying innovations that should be moved from research and development and into production, so as to capture the realizable value of a business’ innovation and insight (see Keeping Innovation Fresh – 7: translating and transferring innovation from the innovation center to the production line, Part 7 of a 16 part series that can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.) A second working example that I was thinking of as I wrote that, comes up explicitly for this blog here: a committee that would have the explicit charter of managing ongoing change and response to change and on an ongoing systematic basis.

If this effort:

• Is to be ongoing,
• Include and involve all necessary stakeholder services for obtaining support and buy-in, and
• Produce recommendations that are operationally effective and acceptable and that could be followed through upon,

then this has to be built into the business’ operations too.

As a project-based initiative this is often given names such as “continuous quality improvement” and the fact that this basic organizational responsibility keeps getting reinvented and renamed – as a project-based approach, indicates both its long-term importance and its long-term incapacity as that “now we will try this” project. The largest and most far-reaching such short-term effort I have ever participated in went by that name so for purposes of identification I will refer here to these operationally defined and supported committees as the continuous quality improvement committee. Note: if an organization has attempted this type of optimization process by another name or if a different name is more standard for their industry, they should use a committee name that would work more effectively for them, with greater ease of buy-in. And if they have tried this as a project by one name, just to see that effort explode into irrelevancy, they should find a new clean-slate name for their longer term, more operationally integrated effort.

I am going to outline some of the basic requirements and parameters for a continuous quality improvement committee in my next series installment. I will explicitly build that from Part 3: benchmarking from where your business is now – 2 and from this Part 4. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 (and also see Business Strategy and Operations.)

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