When the pace of management is slower than the pace of business…

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agile, 3D rendering, blue street sign

Today, speed is key to business. Jack Welch, GE’s former CEO, once said that “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” In a fast-changing world, two things matter : speed and adaptability.

And businesses got it. To avoid “tunnels effects” and never-ending projects that don’t meet their goal the day they’re delivered because the context changed between the day they were designed and the day they were delivered, they changed the way they do things. The most common approach has a name : agile. An approach that helps to deliver operational things on a short period of time and, most of all, to reframe the project specifications on the flow, taking into account the evolution of needs and context. Agile was first used for IT projects but it scope is getting wider every day.

Agile solves the speed problem between inside and outside

So agile is a part of the response to Welch’s statement. It helps business to stick to the changes in their client’s needs, it helps providers to stick to their client’s needs themselves sticking to their own customers needs.

It’s a part of the response but not all the response. As a matter of fact it’s about the way projects are delivered. But it requires that the project exists. It requires that, when a significant issue surfaces and  requires escalation, the highest layers of the organization makes decisions as fast as the team must move.

When the head is slower than the legs

It’s undisputable : when the speed of field teams is measured in days, the speed of management is measured in weeks.

Agile teams have daily reviews to share alerts and warnings. Anywhere else in the organization, when something happens (issue, opportunity…) people wait for the next schedules meetings to tackle the issue because it’s difficult to gather all the needed people in the meantime and they have few opportunities to interact outside of these moments. The pace of management is one or even two weeks. So people pile up things as they come until the next meeting.

Regarding driving, people know that the faster one wants to drive, the fastest his brain can capture, analyse information and make decisions. That’s the same in business : if things go faster outside of the organization, if thing go faster when the organization meets the outside, they must go faster everywhere else in the organization.

What is speed in business ?

Going faster. A idea that may lead to misunderstandings because it does not mean working faster. Instead it means augmenting the rate of interactions and shortening their duration in ordre to go faster collectively. As a matter of fact, we know the downsides of individual speed.

What matters is not how fast one does is job but how fast information flows, is processed and decisions are made. To achieve collective speed people need to talk more often, for shorter durations.

In a recent post I mentioned IBM’s move towards agile management. I have no idea of what they want to achieve or how far they want to go but that’s exactly the same approach.

Why wouldn’t any team, either IT, HR or marketing take 10 minutes every day to raise alerts about any issue or sticking points ?

Benefits are obvious :

• things do not worsen during days or even weeks before the issue is acknowledged.

• the person accountable for the team/project is alerted and can work on solving the issue and get in touch with the right people is needed. Problem solving is in progress.

• issues are tackled as they come and not piled up and processed all of a sudden what saturates the people in charge in causes even more delays and cumbersomeness.

• “heavy meetings” can happen less frequently and will only be used to share directions, not to solve problems. So their nature changes.

Do you notice that in your company or around you this approach is gaining ground beyond IT projects or that the difference of speed between operations and management is a real pain ?