Inherent Problems at Scale

The inherent problem

Before trying to fix a problem, it is important to understand what is causing it. In most modern organizations there is a discontinuity between the way we manage work and the way work takes place.

Figure 1 represents a typical company hierarchy. People report to managers who are responsible for the work done by the people reporting to them. This continues down until it includes the teams actually doing the work.

Figure 1: A Common Organizational Structure

Figure 2 illustrates the  value stream, the flow of work across the organization (the up and down arrows represent management approvals). This, of course, is an extreme simplification. If we actually graphed how the work went across the organization we’d see a lot more green arrows going in all directions.

Figure 2: The Nature of Our Work

This sets up a challenge shown in Figure 3: we manage people in a top-down manager within management hierarchies while our work goes across the organization.

Figure 3: We manage one way and our work flows another

Focusing on our people tends to have us take our eyes off the flow of work and focus on where the work is being done. But this takes our eyes off of two important things- 1) how much is the work waiting, 2) how is the environment within which the work is being done helping or hurting us.

Instead, we tend to focus on the productivity of the individuals in this workflow and implore them people to work harder. We should be focusing on creating a better eco-system within which they should work. This shift is a central tenet of Lean and is incorporated into SAFe. Another issue is that no one is managing the value stream well. In most companies it’s a combination of people with this responsibility. It needs to be called out explicitly.

Imagine the work in your organization, how much of the time is the work waiting for someone to be available? How much does making sure everyone is busy contribute to this? How well can you see the cause and effect of keeping people busy and the actual impact it has on the work going from concept to consumption?

This can be more readily seen if we map out our value stream – the discussion of the next chapter.