"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The 21st century´s paradigm to connect people and work to be done

Few days ago I had a phone call with a friend of mine. During our conversation she shared with me one of the challenges she is facing at work and wanted to check what I might think about.
Basically they have few issues when it comes to allocating people to work on a project they sold to a customer.

The challenges are multi-faceted:     
  • Finding people with the competences which fit that specific project
  • Finding people who are available to work on that project
  • Finding people who are willing to work on that specific project

Now the sweet point would be: a reasonable amount of people with the right competences, who are available at that time and willing to take on the project.

Very hard! Almost impossible! So what is usually the second best option?
Right! Put together on the project just who is available at that moment in time and hope it will not turn out too bad until someone with the right expertise can join and save the boat.

Does it sound familiar? I am sure it does, if we live in the same world.

But I have a second question: any guess what my friend’s job is?
Well, if you are thinking about anything among Project Manager, Development Manager or SW developer, you got it wrong. 
She is an architect: not a SW architect, a “real” architect.

If the fact that an architecture office might have similar problems to any product development company sounds unexpected to you, you have not considered the fact that the nature of the work is substantially the same in both fields: solving new problems which have undefined boundaries and multiple possible solutions within a complex environment where multiple entities influence each other in unpredictable ways.
To me this is just another confirmation of a pattern that I have seen in all organizations coping with work of such a nature and trying to apply traditional patterns to solve this challenge in the current century.

Can the situation be slightly improved by applying those patterns more efficiently? Probably yes and the PMI might have few ideas around that.
However my experience tells me that the problem cannot be solved if we do not embrace the fact that a totally different paradigm is needed.


  • Customer requests are more and more unclear: they do not know what they want. Problems are wicked: there is no pre-defined answer
  • Market is becoming more volatile: new and unexpected needs are emerging which require flexibility in companies
  • Professions are more and more specialized. Too many individuals I-shaped skills, which means they have deep knowledge and experience in just one area
  • Work is done in silos: lack of holistic view by individuals, but also knowledge domain in many professions is so big that is impossible for a single person to know-it-all
  • Having parallel projects competing for human resources is not sustainable anymore in the above context
  • Having people working on multiple projects reduces their effectiveness and productivity: context switching makes people waste time and produces stress, which can reduce IQ by 20%

So what is this different paradigm all about?

  • Understand the flow of value you create and setup stable, 100% focused, self-organized teams with a shared goal around your value flow
  • Bring highest value work to teams instead of allocating (or multi-allocating) people to work
    • Having the team as the atomic element simplifies allocation very much
  • Focusing on getting the most important thing out as fast as possible instead of focusing on making people busy (flow efficiency over resource efficiency)
  • Teams must be cross-functional: they must have all the competence needed to get work done
  • The holistic view of the work is kept at team level
  • Move from I-shaped individuals to T-shaped or even X-shaped professional who can do more things, so that you can have smaller teams with all needed competences
    • This can be partly achieved through synergies in teams, but also having the expert teaching to the others, to reduce the bus factor

Dare to take the journey? Do you have enough courage to address your own problems?

*In her book “Mindset”, Carol Dweck talks about the following concept: if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run. See also what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an interview last year about his effort to overhaul the company culture.

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